Stories from Hilltop – Joan Birkland – Denver native and Sportswoman Extraodinaire!
By Ann Spoor
June 17, 2019 – It’s with a heavy heart that we update the neighborhood on the passing of Joan Birkland. We are so grateful we were able to sit down with her so recently and talk about her extraordinary life. Rest in Peace Joanie. May the fairways always be green! Ann Spoor and your Bellaire Street neighbors.
Hilltop’s own Joan Birkland who lives in the 600 block of Bellaire is one of Denver’s special residents, known as one of the greatest Sportswomen in the state. Have you ever been to the Gates Tennis Center where the “Joan Birkland Pavillion”, one of the show courts, is named for her? Joan is best known for her record setting golf and tennis. Joan and her late husband Orm, were members of the Denver Country Club and Joan is a member to this day. Joan dominated the well-known DCC Golf Tournament- she won 30 years consecutively!! There were a couple of years where she won both in tennis and golf which was unheard of and Joan is a honorary lifetime member at the Denver Tennis Club but doesn’t play much at 90 years old. You know, knees and fast court play, ouch! She still however gets out to play golf with friends.
Orm and Joan moved to the home on Bellaire because of the beautiful Cherry and Apple trees, which at the time were commonplace in our neighborhood but are now mostly gone. There is still one Apple and one Cherry tree on Joan’s property. Joan’s neighbors come to pick cherries and apples every year (this author is one of those guilty parties). These trees would now fall into the again popular heirloom category!
Joan’s family is old Colorado. Both her father, George Packard Jr., and grandfather, George Packard Sr., were renowned physicians and surgeons in Denver. George Sr and his wife Caroline came to Colorado from the East Coast in the late 1800’s due to George’s tuberculosis. He recovered and went on to be the first president of The Children’s Hospital Association. George Jr., Joan’s father, was the first pediatric surgeon in Colorado and he established the residency program and CU Medical School. Joan grew up with 2 sisters, Carol and Babe, at 1825 York on City Park. At one point later, Joan’s parents owned the Temple Buell home. Her late sister Carole lived in Country Club and was a State Legislator. Her other sister Babe, formerly of Hilltop, now living downtown, is a lifelong learner and student, attending classes downtown to this day.
Joan is one of Denver and Hilltop’s most interesting people!