Dene Kay Thomas
President, Fort Lewis College
Greetings from Fort Lewis College!
In 1956 -- 60 years ago -- there was a big hairy audacious change, one that saved Fort Lewis College. President Charles Dale Rea, president from 1949 to 1961, oversaw a move that few colleges have ever gone through. Faced with declining enrollments and the unwillingness of students to travel to the rural Hesperus campus, President Rea set about moving Fort Lewis to Reservoir Hill, the current location.
As Duane Smith puts it in Rich Heritage, Shining Future, “Over objections, particularly from rural people who did not want to lose their school, and townspeople who feared the school might change Durango for the worse, Rea succeeded in getting permission to move the college.”
What has changed since the 1956 move: Fort Lewis has grown from 384 students to 3,800 students, from a 6,279-acre campus at Hesperus to a 250-acre campus in Durango. The institution changed from the two-year Fort Lewis A&M to the four-year Fort Lewis College, and our mascot evolved from the Aggies to the Raiders to the Skyhawks today.
Yet there is a great deal that has not changed over the years, such as our commitment to southwest Colorado regional education, our pursuit of a diverse student body, the 105-year-old commitment to Native American education, our goal of personal attention and engaged learning, and finally our pride in the graduates of Fort Lewis College!