1970s Memories

NEW! TOUGH TIME FOR THE STUDENT BODY, by Elizabeth Gaggini, '77

Well it was a tough time for the student body at Ft Lewis and for institutions in the US in general. During my term we had major student strikes and moratoriums related to the Vietnam war and to actions by the college administration to shut down the student newspaper and over the administrations requisition of a fund, supplied by student fees that was line itemed specifically for the student senate’s discretion.

On that last part, essentially if the senate did not spend money on what the admin wanted us to, they were just taking the money from the fund and spending it as they pleased. My recollection is that the paper was shut down prior to this for some other reason, but it could have been for reporting on this situation. I just don't remember the timing. Any way, one of the items that the administration bought was a marque for the road leading up to the college. They had come to the senate requesting funds for it and the senate voted it down. As it was mainly to announce athletic events and the athletic department had significant funds, we felt that there should be a significant contribution for the marque from that fund. I resigned the presidency when I was informed after several meetings with the administration that they would not reverse their actions in this matter and would, in fact, take full control over the student government fund and any actions of the student government that required funding could be submitted as a requisition for administration approval from that point forward.

We were in touch with the national student body association and there was talk of them funding a legal defense but there were so many situations needing attention in the US at that time, we eventually were not able to get that outside support, which we would have needed to fight the administration. I did not want to continue working under that sort of oversight.


My junior year at Fort Lewis College brought an unexpected opportunity ~ traveling with Dr. Jim Ash and 24 other FLC students to study in Japan for the entire winter semester in 1975.
The cost was $1,800 for a five-month program that included airfare, three home-stay opportunities, exposure to the culture (Kabuki Theater, Geisha restaurants, sushi, and warm sake, among other things), a tour of the entire country, and 15 college credits in classes as diverse as Japanese Language to Chinese Political History. We had the experience of a lifetime, particularly in Osaka, where we attended Kansai Gaidai and stayed almost three months with one family.
In preparation for the trip, we read Hiroshima, which created a justifiable amount of guilt in my 21-year old heart, and the first night with the Hayashi family in Osaka, I apologized “on behalf of all Americans” for that terrible ordeal. My home-stay father (Obaasan), Yoshiki, and my home-stay mother (Okaasan), Mitsuko, listened intently to my desperate plea for forgiveness in and around a complex set of language barriers. Yoshiki was the head chemist for Panasonic, and once he understood my position he told me something I never forgot.
[Synopsized for sake of space.] “No, Gigi, No! The Bushido Code of the Warrior that inundated our culture would not let our government surrender. As a result of the embargo around our country, I was literally starving to death as a young boy, as was my whole family and village. To die a good death was more important than life, and death was preferred to dishonor. Your country had no choice. Sadly, it took the atomic tragedy to ensure our survival as a country. It was the only way our government would surrender, and horrifically, it took two bombs –Hiroshima and Nagasaki– before they would give up.”
Fort Lewis College gave me the opportunity to learn how to think differently, to see how students, faculty, staff, and other cultures experience life in different ways. I believe this is the hallmark of a liberal arts education: looking at the world from many different angles, and coming to terms with how limited our singular perspectives can be. I still find it amazing how my choice of FLC created a golden thread of lifelong learning that still enriches, blossoms, and expands my experience of life! Fort Lewis College is the greatest school on earth, as far as I’m concerned.

SWIM TEAM, by Les Sommerville, '80, Professor of Chemistry '92-present

Fort Lewis had a co-ed varsity swim team from the late ‘70s into the early ‘80s.  I swam butterfly and free style events for the team and once swam breaststroke (my worst event) because the coach, Marvin Giersch, currently Professor of Education and Exercise Science Emeritus, was mad at me.  The team was never very good, but we had lots of fun and many adventures like jumping off the 10 meter platform at the Air Force Academy.  A very prominent memory I have is of a rather tragic adventure which involved driving to Gunnison on a very snowy winter day for a swim meet at Western State College.  In 1978 or ‘79 we were driving from Durango to Gunnison going over Red Mountain Pass and had to stop in a line of traffic, waiting for plows to make a swath through a snow slide that happened at the East Riverside slide.  Just as we were starting to move down to the slide path, behind the CDOT snowplow, a second slide came down and took out the snowplow right in front of us.  There was a huge cloud of white.  Before the snow even settled the driver of another plow was out and running into the thick of it to see if he could find the truck. It was an impossible endeavor. The snowplow driver died.  Needless to say, we were all in a bit of shock and did not make it to our swim meet. It took a while, but we got the bus turned around and headed back to Durango. It was such a bad snow year that they weren’t able to dig out the buried plow (and driver) until spring.  That event was the final straw that forced the State of Colorado to provide the funding for the snow shed currently at that spot. Today the driver of that snowplow is listed on the headstone at the pullout just above East Riverside slide. 

THE "VIRGIN ISLANDS" AND THE PUMPKIN TOWER, by Marchell Patton Fletcher, Class of '79 (Geology)

Some of my fondest memories of Ft. Lewis College were my freshman and sophomore years. My first year at the Fort I lived in the Sheridan Hall. At that time the ratio of guys to girls was about 7-4. Needless to say it was hard to study! At that time the dorms were separated between the girls and boys dorms. All the girls’ dorms were the Bader and Sheridans, and all the rest were guys dorms except for one cooed dorm, way across campus. The guys named our dorms "the Virgin Islands" because we were so hard to get to.

Also, on one Halloween night, a student, who will remain nameless, he knows who he is, decided to paint the water tower orange. Well, he was successful except for about 1/4 of it near the top. I remember him mixing orange paint in a room next door while I was doing my radio show at KDUR. I asked him what he was up to, and he said, "painting the water tower like a pumpkin". It made most of the papers, and everyone was amazed that he even able to do it! That's a long way up.

ART MAJOR IN THE 70s, by Karyn Gabaldon, attended '74-'78, '87, '88

Being an Art Major at FLC in the early 70's was an unforgettable experience. There were quite a few Vietnam Vets who were extremely talented and much older than the rest of us...they were the students I looked up to!  

Mick Reber, Stanton Englehart and Gerald Wells were the main instructors.  The one I studied under the most was Jill Diemer.  Alot of the students didn't take her classes (pottery) because she was very strict and made it a point to teach thoroughly.  I loved it!  I would be in the studio from 8 a.m. until midnight...along with a few others who were as determined as I was.  One of those was Dalen Stevens, who now, 38 years later, I represent in my Gallery on Main Ave. Who would have known back then!

Long philosophical art discussions with Stanton Englehart gave me the inner passion to follow my dream, though he would often warn against trying to make a living at it, as did the other professors.  Being who I am, that was all I needed to make sure I would succeed as a professional artist!

The Beauty of Durango and especially up on Campus influenced my art more than I knew.  I am ever grateful for the years studying at Fort Lewis College!

JUST TEACH, by Reece Kelly, '71, Professor '92-'03

Rexer Berndt was the John Wayne of college campuses, he strode across the campus in the same gait as John Wayne. He was a big man, had a big man attitude.  It was his damn college.  Rexer was in charge.  He was so tight.  It starts right with his office.  When you went in his office you didn't see any fancy wood paneling, you didn't see any fancy carpets, you didn't see any fancy desk.  He had asphalt, with probably a little bit of asbestos mixed in, tile…institutional all the way. He didn't have a picture on the wall that I recall and certainly no shelves of books.  His desk reminded me of the first sergeant's desk when I was in the Air Force.  It was steel gray, government issue.  At that time you called Rexer's office to get an okay to make a long distance call from your department.  You got okayed to do more than, I think, a dozen pages of copying.  He ran a tight financial ship.  Rexer was a business professor and thought in terms of the college as a business.  The way to build the college was to grow the student body.  In some ways that was good because he did that.  When everybody else was shrinking we were growing by at least 2% a year.  But he did it by offering the most inexpensive product and the best quality he could harangue, berate, entice, invade his faculty to be.  His philosophy of the faculty was, teach…just teach.

STUDENTS TAKE TO THE AIR, by James Vlasich, Class of '75 (Southwest Studies-History)

Listen to the first-ever broadcast (then called KCIK)!

In the Fall of 1974 I was quite frustrated by the lack of good music on the local Durango radio stations and decided to do something about it. I mean here was a period of some of the greatest rock music ever made and students and people of the community couldn't hear it on their radios.  I had just moved from Denver where I was a constant listener to KFML, which was a free format type station with a very laid back style and I thought that Durango should have a similar forum. What better place to do this than at the local college. I approached the FLC activities director and I told her my desire to put the station on the air but she was not very impressed. After all, there had been a series of attempts to do this but all had failed. She assigned me some mundane task thinking that I would probably grow tired of it and give up but it was not my nature to leave a job incomplete. After a while she could see that I wasn't going away so she told me to go see the Dean of Students. This began a lifelong relationship with Dr. Mike Nyikos.

Mike could see that I was determined and he told me to call a meeting in the student newspaper for anyone who might be interested in working on this project. It was then that I was elected as the first station manager and we began to move forward to obtain a license from the federal government. We also got a local guy to serve as our engineer and started to broadcast in the student union. It was all student volunteers who obtained a temporary license and took their work seriously even though our audience consisted of students and teachers who were simply grabbing a bite in the cafeteria. After much cajoling I was able to get to the final steps in Washington D.C. but found out that we lacked call letters. I had asked for KFLC but that was taken so I suggested KDUR.

Few people knew that we were going on the air that day in May 1975 but one of my friends taped my initial sign-on and I still have it. "Your not going to believe this but this is radio station KDUR in Durango, Colorado" I stated excitedly. The first song was one of my favorites-Tim Weisberg's "Because of Rain". What a thrill it was to make all of this come together. We were only a ten watt station and didn't know how far our signal would carry so I asked someone to drive north on highway 550 and see how long he could hear the signal.

I still listen to the Wiesberg song and remember the day that it all began. (He even played a concert at FLC and I interviewed him on the air!!) It was magical, fulfilling and inspired. It also demonstrated what a group of people could do if they all cared enough and were willing to pull together to make something special happen. It's a great lesson for all of us and a lasting legacy for the college that helped me start my career. I will be forever thankful for the opportunity.

PART TIME JOBS, FULL TIME INTEREST, by Joan Kellogg, Class of '77 (Elementary Education)

Many of my memories of Fort Lewis revolve around my part-time jobs on the campus.  Several summers I worked on the grounds crew, driving dilapidated old jeeps and dragging hundreds of yards of watering hoses to the many flower beds.  I am sure all the watering is now handled with a simple switch.  I was responsible for maintaining the rose bushes in President Berndt's yard which, at that time, was located right on campus.  Every so often he would invite me to share a cup of coffee with him on the little patio by the roses.  During those early morning coffee breaks, he would ask me to tell him what the students were saying about their experience at FLC.  He was always looking for ways to improve his school.  I never had the heart to tell that sweet man I didn't really enjoy drinking coffee.

Jack Sylvester was another sweet man at Fort Lewis.  He was the manager of the bookstore where I worked during the school year.  Most of my time was spent selling 55-cent packs of cigarettes and trying to catch glimpses of my friends playing hearts in the snack bar across the hall.  During finals, Jack would take over the cash register and let me catch some study time in the back of the store.  I always felt that I was obligated to do the best I could on the tests since Jack allowed study time and I knew he would want a full report of my grades.

CoCo Taggart's Powder Puff team
CoCo Taggart's Powder Puff team

TEAMMATES FOR LIFE, by Susan "CoCo" Taggart, Class of '77 (Physical Education)

The Intramural Program set up by Dr. Joan Sanders proved to be the gateway to sincere lifelong friendships with the girls on our team. For example, I met Heather because our maiden names were in the same alphabet section (on registration day). We then took a class together and walking across campus we met a group of girls on their way to practice for powder-puff football. Little did I realize at the time but for the next 35 years I would maintain friendships over the miles with Patti, Brenda, Kathy, S.D., Sharon, Kim, Melissa, Joni, Carol, Dot, Sue, Eileen & others.

BAPTISM BY FIRE, by Page Lindsey, Professor 1992-2009

I was hired to coordinate the General Biology program, which at the time included majors and non-majors in the same class.  There was a VP for Academic Affairs (no Provost, no assistant Deans), which was Dr. Arthur Brintnall when I came to FLC.  The Dean of Arts and Sciences was Dr. Larry Johnson.  I met both on my interview and was offered $13,580 for a salary, which I eagerly accepted.  I didn’t ask any questions about benefits, housing, moving expenses, or anything else that I can remember.  About 15 years after my hiring, I found out that I got the job out of 128 applicants because I was female.  The Biology faculty had chosen a man for the job but when they submitted his name to Dr. Johnson, he told them that they had to hire a woman.  They had to throw out 120 of the 128 applications.

I was one of two women in all the sciences at the time.  Dr. Doreen Mehs in Chemistry was the other.  She was hired a few years before I was.  Geosciences, Physics (no Engineering at the time), Agriculture, and Math were all staffed by men.  It never occurred to me that this was odd since I had been surrounded by men in my discipline all my life.

My first class assignment on Day One was in the old 570 stair-step lecture hall in Berndt Hall (since superseded by Physics classrooms and the labs upstairs occupied by Chemistry and Biology).  We had no personal computers at the time and no class lists before the class started.  I walked into that large lecture hall to 230 students.  It was baptism by fire.

That term I also taught at least three Bio 100 lab sections and a Freshman Composition Seminar at 8:00 am, 4 days a week.  I remember driving in from Whispering Pines in my 2-wheel drive Chevy LUV pick-up every morning at about 6 am to furiously write lecture notes and to run off hand outs for my classes. These were run off on a ditto machine, hand-cranked, in the departmental “office” area.  We had no departmental secretary.  There were two secretaries down the hall, way down at the other end of Berndt, for all the sciences. Many times they were less than happy to do our typing, so we did it and they would run it off on a stencil. There were no Xerox machines.

DINERS AND DEATH THREATS, by Jeff Solon, Class of '78 (English)

As a Jazz D.J. at KDUR in its first years, I helped put up the tower on the CUB for that 10 watts of mega power, and also fended off caller death threats for my jazz play list.

I found the brilliant mind and personality in Librarian John Crowder, hidden behind columns of books smoking cigs. He became a mentor to me, and our discussion of life continued for decades.

And of course Durango then: Jim at the original Durango Diner; or Don at the Cat and the Fiddle who, with coaxing, would come up through the floor of the bar playing the organ and singing; coffee at Parsons Drugs, and the NY Bakery where you could find whatever you were looking for if you waited long enough; the cowboys and the hippies; pickups with rifles mounted on the back window; professors who wanted small town living.

THE PLACE HAD SOME CHEMISTRY, by Bill Buslee, Class of '77 (Chemistry)

The chemistry classes I took at Fort Lewis all stand out to me, but the Advanced Inorganic Chemistry class with John Ritchie was the pinnacle of my experience.  It really was a true application of synthesis and all that we had studied up to that point.  Some of the labs ran overnight - it was intense.  But it was a very, very good class.  He had a way of getting students involved and invested in what they were learning.  I thought that was great.  The fact that he was fair was something that always impressed me too.  John Ritchie wasn't the only fantastic teacher though.  Jim Mills was excellent as was Rodney Hamilton who taught Organic Chemistry.  Rodney was a laid-back guy with a laid-back style.  He was just outstanding in building student relationships and helping people realize their potential.  Of all my Fort Leis memories, my time in the Chemistry department always stands out.

WELCOME TO THE COMPUTER, Gayle Giguere, Class of '79 (Mathematics)

I remember my last year of college, 1978-79, was the first time I saw a computer.  I'd taken computer programming classes and that year, 1979, Fort Lewis got its first PC.  It was this huge box!  That was the first time I'd ever seen one.  It was the first desktop I think the college, or at least the department, had purchased.  And if you look back in time, that was such a big deal.  I remember being very proud to go to a school that had purchased a PC.

CHANGING LIFE, ONE REPUBLIC AT A TIME, Peter Mesard, Class of '77 (Engineering-Geology)

I remember when I got to Fort Lewis, my very first semester I took a pre-calculus course.  It was extremely hard.  The first exam had three questions and I failed all three.  I thought, "This is not going to work."  I was failing and I was terrified of failing out.  A friend of mine was taking a political science course from Dr. David Bass, so I decided to take that instead.  We had to read Plato's Republic and one weekend, I read it in one day.  That changed my life.  Dr. Bass was such a great teacher.  I took a lot of classes from him after that.  He was this classic liberal arts guy who loved exploring why we're here, the bigger things than ourselves.  He was a thinker.  We got into Hobbs, Socrates, Plato and Locke and explored those big questions.  So, I always remember that weekend.  If I had to put a finger on one day that changed my life, that was the day.  Dr. Bass seemed to pay attention to students.  He really cared.  I think that was my first true experience of a college-level, sophisticated subject that wasn't just me learning something for a test.  It raised life questions that a 17-year-old kid would think about - where do I fit into life?  It was a valuable opportunity to learn from him.


If you can think back to when I first came and first started, there was no distinction between Division I, Division II, etc.  We were all the same, so we played BYU, we played the University of Arizona, we played the University of Utah, we played UNM, we played all the big schools.  I think one of the biggest thrills I used to get was watching my kids scrap - just to give those big names something to look at, and they did.  There was one time I can remember that my team was not playing well.  We were at BYU.  I said, "I did not drive over here 8-9 straight hours for you to stand around in awe of BYU.  If you are not going to play the way we've practiced then let's go home."  So I walked off the court and they turned around and went there and started scrapping.  I was watching from behind a post.

This was volleyball.  They started picking up some of those hits those girls were making and they started scrapping and I couldn't hold it anymore, I just started yelling and went back out.  I think in my 17 years of volleyball, we had two losing seasons, maybe, so the kids really wanted to play and they gave it their all.  So those were the highlights, when we played everybody.  You know, you weren't limited to your size of school.  You just got in there and played.  By golly, you might not always win, but you really gave them a heck of a game.