Mountains of memories at CMC Spring Valley’s 50th anniversary party |

Mountains of memories at CMC Spring Valley’s 50th anniversary party

It wasn’t billed as a reunion, but Colorado Mountain College’s 50th anniversary gathering Friday at Spring Valley sure had the look and feel of a “family” reunion, as founders joined past and present faculty, students and other college associates for a celebration just up the hill from the town where it all started.

A rather typical late April day at the mid-elevation campus southeast of Glenwood Springs, complete with intermittent snow showers and biting wind, made popular the indoor display of memorabilia dating back to the mid-1960s when the idea of a multicounty community college district to serve the central mountain communities of Colorado was born.

There, CMC alum Dave Sheriff found a photo of himself from the late 1970s getting a pie in his face at some sort of campus social event.

“I’m sure I probably deserved it,” Sheriff quipped, as he showed off a photo he provided for the display of he and his CMC soccer teammates in 1977.

Also included in the display were several copies of the Spring Valley Messenger, the student newspaper that documented campus life in the 1970s, and an issue of Rolling Stone magazine from 1987 that gave CMC a big shout-out in a “Cool Schools” feature article.

The University of Colorado at Boulder might think it’s the premier ski country college in the U.S., the Rolling Stone writer offered.

However, “If skiing is your life, consider heading to the heart of the Rockies, where a little known two-year community college makes skiing a major part of the curriculum.”

CMC President and CEO Carrie Besnette Hauser noted during the celebration program that a 50th anniversary kick-off event last year resulted in a coming to terms between the “father” of CMC, former Glenwood Chamber chief David Delaplane, and Jim Nieslanik, who was among the local ranching families that donated the 800 acres of land that became CMC-Spring Valley.

“It was way out of town, still is … and there was some tension about that,” Hauser said.

She related that, during the event last year, Delaplane admitted to Nieslanik that it ended up becoming one of the most beautiful college campuses he’d ever seen.

Hauser recognized the founding families in attendance who donated that land, including Jim and Sharon Nieslanik, Marianne Quigley Ackerman and Sheila Quigley Allen, and Mike Foster representing the Foster family.

Jane Lappala Larson and Liz Lappala, daughters of the late Ginny and Paul Lappala who donated the land in downtown Carbondale for CMC’s Lappala Center, were also on hand for the anniversary event, as were honorary chairs and longtime financial supporters of CMC, Jim and Connie Calaway and Bob Young, founder of Alpine Bank.

A highlight of the ceremony was hearing the stories of three current CMC students from the Roaring Fork Valley.

Adele Craft, age 17, will be graduating concurrently in May from both Bridges High School, an alternative high school program of the Roaring Fork School District, and next week from CMC with an associate of arts degree. She plans to continue her college work in CMC’s sustainability studies program.

She said her love for higher learning began at age 12 when she took a geology class with longtime CMC instructor Gary Zabel, and just two years later took her first credit class at the local college.

“I had always struggled growing up, feeling like an adult but being inside a kid’s body,” Craft said. “The minute I walked into that classroom I was treated like an adult, and I had never found that before.”

Carla Cortes and Jesse Monsalve both found their way to CMC via the Alpine Bank Hispanic students scholarship fund.

“I grew up with lots of obstacles and challenges, and had to move out from mother’s home at a young age and go to work,” Cortes said. “I thought it was impossible to go to school and get an education, but a teacher at Bridges saw something in me and convinced me to apply for scholarships. They believed in me.”

Monsalve is pursuing his passion to work in the entertainment and theater business, and CMC is giving him a good start, he said.

“We moved to the U.S. looking for a better future, but I wasn’t able to do theater until my senior year at Glenwood Springs High School when I finally was proficient enough in English.

“Thanks to the Calaway and Alpine Bank scholarships and to CMC, I’m now able to say I’m a computer graduate and a business graduate, and I’m working towards a theater degree,” Monsalve said.

The students themselves introduced and interviewed now-retired longtime CMC administrative leaders Nancy Genova, the former Spring Valley campus dean and college vice president, and Bob Spuhler, former CMC president from 2003-08.

“What makes this place special is the students,” Genova said. “They come to us at different points in their education with different aspirations and dreams, and they are truly amazing people.”

Spuhler was part of a team of administrators hired in 1987 by then-CMC President Dennis Mayer to help get the college’s finances in order after the district nearly folded in the mid-1980s.

Rather than cave in, though, that group worked hard to push forward an aggressive facilities master plan, razing the 20-year-old temporary buildings at Spring Valley and the Timberline Campus in Leadville, and building new academic buildings and student quarters.

“That was important,” Spuhler said. “We finally looked like a college.”

Current Vice President and Roaring Fork Campus Dean Heather Exby said the future for CMC at Spring Valley includes conceptual plans for a brand new building focusing on leadership studies and wellness, as well as planned renovations to the Summit Student Center where Friday’s event was held, and an expansion of the residence hall.

“We are creating a campus that models a new way of thinking,” she said, pointing to one effort where cafeteria food waste goes to feed Jim Nieslanik’s pigs. Nieslanik, in turn, donated one of his pigs for the pig roast feast that followed the Friday ceremony.

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