CMC’s roots: A folder, list of names and a gray horse
January 7, 2017
One day in 1966, Jim Nieslanik, a young rancher in remote Spring Valley near Glenwood Springs, was working in his milk barn. His neighbor, Jim Quigley, rode up on a gray horse.
"What do you think if we give some land and we'll have a college up here?" Nieslanik recently recalled Quigley saying.
"And I'm thinking, you know, maybe Jim's got a loose screw," Nieslanik told a gym full of Colorado Mountain College employees in May 2016, to much laughter.
But that unusual idea picked up momentum like a stampede, and 50 years later, exists as a multicampus college that's served a half-million students in 11 small towns on the state's Western Slope.
That college has trained the region's nurses, firefighters and law enforcement personnel, the bookkeepers and early childhood educators. It has taught English to countless adults, and helped many earn GEDs or extend their curiosity through innumerable continuing education courses. It has provided an affordable start on a bachelor's degree for thousands of local residents, in recent years extending its offerings to five bachelor's degrees – giving local residents the third-most-affordable such degree in the country.
"We demonstrate we are stewards of our shareholders through the graduates who walk across the stage at our campuses every year," said CMC's president and CEO, Carrie Besnette Hauser. "We are so genuinely, absolutely grateful."
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To express that gratitude, this year Colorado Mountain College is collecting and sharing stories of those who brought CMC to life, ushered it through economic booms and busts, and forged it into the regional icon it is today. These stories are about the visionary community leaders and taxpayers who nurtured their college, and the students who used CMC to change their lives and hometowns for the better.
Colorado Mountain College will also be celebrating throughout its communities all year, honoring five decades of broad public support. These celebrations will be opportunities for the college to thank those who have made it all possible. "Our success, and the success of our students," said Hauser, "is because of you."
The concept for Colorado Mountain College was hatched in the mid-1960s when David Delaplane, part-time director of Glenwood's chamber of commerce, found a folder labeled "Education Committee." All it contained was a list of committee members.
"And I thought," said Delaplane, "maybe the community should think about a junior college here in Glenwood Springs."
The start was contentious, with three sites vying to be the West Campus, one of the first two campuses of CMC. The three potential sites included Spring Valley, a parcel on Four Mile Creek that William Stevens had purchased from Primo Martino, and the Unocal-owned land where Glenwood Meadows currently sits. Delaplane, as the chamber director and Glenwood representative on the organizing committee, was under pressure to keep the campus in town.
The Quigley and Nieslanik ranching families – along with the other land owners, persuaded by Jim Quigley and his brother Dan, doubled their offer to 588 acres, according to news reports. The college's organizing committee voted for, then against, then finally in favor of the Spring Valley location.
A handful of dedicated people then corralled voters in five counties to support the college in the years before Interstate 70. In the eastern part of the proposed college's footprint, major employer Climax Molybdenum agreed to join if there would be an East Campus in Leadville.
By more than a 2:1 ratio, voters in Garfield, Lake, Summit, Pitkin and Eagle counties voted to create their own local, property-tax-supported college. And on Oct. 2, 1967, CMC's first classes started at both the East and West campuses, which were and continue to be residential.
Over the years, classes met in rooms in the basements and spare rooms of hotels, churches and public buildings. Gradually, as demand from students and local employers increased, the college established a physical presence in 11 communities – including in Steamboat Springs, where the small, residential liberal arts college that Lucille Bogue started, Yampa Valley College, was adopted into the CMC family in 1981.
CELEBRATE WITH CMC
As the college celebrates this milestone, it is researching every campus's stories about the dreamers, ranchers, chamber directors, miners, hippies, skiers, immigrants, business owners, teachers and students who made Colorado Mountain College. Anyone who has memories or photos to share – whether as a student, employee or community supporter – is invited to post them at http://www.CMCBecauseOfYou.org.
This year Colorado Mountain College will host many on-campus anniversary celebrations. Students, alumni, and former and present employees and community members are invited to attend any of these free public events, which are supported by sponsoring partners Alpine Bank, Jim and Connie Calaway, Holy Cross Energy, Morgridge Family Foundation and Sodexo, as well as local sponsors.
The college will also participate in community events throughout its service area. For the latest information on any 50th anniversary activities, or to see Hauser's May 2016 interview of David Delaplane, Marianne Quigley Ackerman, and Jim and Sharon Nieslanik, go to http://www.CMCBecauseOfYou.org.