Friday, November 9, 2012

Couple grew up in the same neighborhood

By: R. Stephanie Bruno, The Times-Picayune

Richard Kuntz and Sweetie Pie Voebel grew up just a couple of blocks away from each other in Mid-City and have known each other almost their entire lives. "My mother used to send me to Canal Street to pick up things at the florist shop owned by Sweetie Pie's grandmother, Emma," Richard Kuntz said. "I was 12 years old when Sweetie Pie and her sister Cookie were born, but I think I had my eye on her even then.

"Sweetie Pie" is not just a nickname, it's her given name. Her birth certificate says "Doris Sweetie Pie Bottinelli Voebel." Likewise, the name "Cookie" is on her twin sister's birth certificate.

"I don't know myself by any other name," she says. "Even my credit cards say Sweetie Pie."

Richard Kuntz's romantic fortune took a positive turn when Sweetie Pie bought the North St. Patrick house in 1970, immediately next door to his parents' house. They wed in 1974 and raised their children there. Their grown children haven't moved far: One lives in a house on Bienville Street catty-corner to the Kuntz home and the other nearby on Canal Street.

"We are only the second family to own the house," Richard Kuntz said. "It was built in 1910 as a home for the two Bertoniere sons who married the two Montanet Sisters. The two couples shared the house. Each had two separate bedrooms and a bath, but they shared the kitchen and dining room."

Sweetie Pie and the Colonel made a few respectful changes to the house when they got it, to better suit their lifestyle and to afford their family more privacy. A doorway connecting a parlor to one of the bedrooms was eliminated, a stair was hand-built by Richard Kuntz to reach the second floor (formerly the attic), and the bottom of the raised house was enclosed. There is one room, however, that has remained virtually unchanged.

"One of the Montanet sisters died in childbirth in the house," Sweetie Pie Kuntz said. "We acquired her bedroom furniture when we bought this house and keep her room in near-original condition."

Throughout the decades that the Kuntzes have lived in the house, its expansive front porch has been an integral element in their lives.

"I decorate the porch for all holidays," Sweetie Pie Kuntz said. "Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mardi Gras and Easter. I always have. I think it was in my blood from growing up around the flower shop and then running it after my grandmother, mother and uncle died."

Holiday time or not, the couple likes to take advantage of good weather in the fall and spring to sit on the front porch in the afternoon, sipping Pimms Cups and Mint Juleps as they keep each other company.

"It's such a delight to talk to people as they pass by," Richard Kuntz said. "That's how I was raised. When I was growing up, everyone knew everyone else's business, and if you got into mischief somewhere in the neighborhood, the news reached your home before you did."

 The proliferation of dog owners in the area has provided the couple plenty of opportunities for afternoon chats with neighbors.

"It seems like everyone has one or two dogs these days, so there are always people out walking them," Richard Kuntz said.

Porch-sitting has its own recreational merits, but the Carnival season in particular affords the couple additional opportunities to socialize from the porch. It's a tradition that started nearly 80 years ago, when the Bertoniere/Montanet families still lived in the house.

"In the 1930s when the Krewe of Mid-City formed, Charlie Bourgeois, the captain, talked to the Bertonieres about letting the court sit on the front porch like a grandstand so that the king could stop and toast them," Richard Kuntz said.

More recently, not long after the couple moved into the house, another krewe would pass the house.

"Way back in the '70s and '80s, Crescent City, the truck parade, used to pass the house, and we'd watch it from the front porch," Richard Kuntz said. "We miss it."

And even though the Endymion parade follows a Canal Street route two blocks away from the Kuntz home and its storied porch, Sweetie Pie Kuntz says that her favorite night of the year is the Saturday before Mardi Gras when the mega-Krewe rolls.

"We stay on the front porch all night long and have fun with the people going to and from the parade," Sweetie Pie said. "We toss them beads, and sometimes they toss beads back to us. Everyone is in a happy mood."

Not all porch-oriented events involve Carnival parades or interaction with strangers: The porch often hosts family celebrations, such as a party the couple gave recently for a granddaughter who had just graduated from Mount Carmel Academy.

And though the family's annual Easter egg hunt takes place in the couple's expansive backyard, everyone ends up on the front porch at one time or another throughout the course of the day.

As alluring as the porch is for sitting, street-watching and celebrating, there is something additional that makes the Kuntz house the center of family life: Sweetie Pie's genius in the kitchen.

"Sweetie Pie is such an amazing cook," Richard Kuntz said. "My mother knew how to cook seven meals that she would rotate through every week. She cooked them well, but she never strayed from the path. Every meal that Sweetie Pie makes is a surprise, because she is always experimenting with recipes. There is no repetition."

A pantry filled with more pans than a professional restaurant kitchen testifies to Sweetie Pie Kuntz's culinary passion.

"I know what every pot and pan is for, and when to use it," she said. "I just love to cook."
Sweetie Pie's delicious meals are served inside at the dining table and occasionally on the back porch, overlooking the backyard, but never, ever on the front porch.

"The gourmet meals take place on the back porch," Richard Kuntz said. "But we save the front porch for our evening libations."

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