“Every person in the world should have a chance to achieve something, they should not be stripped of this opportunity simply due to the location of their birth.” A Fort Lewis College student from Arctic Alaska
One of the reasons that we chose Durango as our home 37 years ago was that it is a college town. Through the years Fort Lewis College (FLC) has enriched our lives in many ways.
After graduation from college Gail, my wife, earned a master’s degree in secondary education. After moving to Durango she became more interested in educating young children. Our two sons were still in elementary school when Gail earned her second bachelor’s degree at FLC. She found some of the professors there on a par with Harvard!
Gail and I have enjoyed musical performances at the college. We learned what fine performers professors in the Music Department are when they started the “Raising the Roof” concerts to help fund the Community Concert Hall. The College and the Durango community financed this fine facility together after a heavy snow crushed the prior venue. Go there for concerts, plays and even the Chinese Golden Dragon Acrobats!
We have sung with the Durango Choral Society since arriving in Durango, along with college students and faculty. Our current leader is Linda Mack Berven, who raised choral music at “The Fort” to a very high level.
In addition to our personal enjoyment, FLC is a vital resource for the county. The students are important economic drivers who bring money to the local economy. Many students hold down menial jobs in the community. Some stick around after graduation and put their new skills to use.
Have you attended any of the talks in the stimulating “Lifelong Learning” series? They are held Thursday evenings when college is in session. This program is possible because many very interesting people live in or have retired in the area, forming the Professional Associates. A volunteer group under the auspices of the President’s Office, it serves the college in many ways in addition to Lifelong Learning. The Associates offer four student scholarships and assist with the Honors Program. They also have a unique “Host Family Program” that matches incoming students with local families.
Referred to as the “Campus in the Sky”, it is appropriate that the college’s varsity teams are called the “Skyhawks”. Teams include a championship cycling team, women’s lacrosse and men’s golf. Recently we went to an exciting football game against rival Adams State, with a very close win. Also important are the club sports and intramural sports, including rugby (for both men and women), ultimate frisbee and badminton. It is not surprising that exercise science and athletic training are two of FLC’s majors.
The name “Fort Lewis” bespeaks the college’s history. It started as a military outpost near Pagosa Springs in 1878, then moved to Hesperus two years later. In 1891 the fort was decommissioned and the campus transformed into a boarding school for Indians. At the beginning of the 20th century it became a technical high school, next a two-year agricultural college and finally a 4-year college in 1956 when it moved to its present campus in Durango. FLC now recognizes the importance of Native cultures, which it honors with the Native American Center, a major in Native American and Indigenous Studies, and by observing many Native traditions and ceremonies. About a fifth of all students are Native American; it is one of only two colleges in the USA that offers free tuition for Native people.
When I taught a class at FLC I was pleased to make the acquaintance of Native students. They often have a different approach to life, with fine appreciation of the natural world.
I have been frustrated by the few connections between the College and the community. The Concert Hall is a wonderful example of collaboration where both entities benefit, but I would like to see more interchange.
The community misses out on the excitement of intellectual stimulation and of young people. FLC could harness more of the experience in the community. I have two specific suggestions to increase relations: offer free parking on campus for community visitors, and allow senior citizens to audit FLC classes for a small fee, the way the University of Colorado does. Increasing interaction with the community will increase financial support, I am convinced.
Our society’s future depends on today’s students. Some of the best study at the Campus in the Sky. We should do whatever we can to support them!
© Richard Grossman MD, 2014