Since he was a kid, Gary Schlessman (Business, ’79) has always determined to carve his own path. While his father and siblings chose Colorado College, Schlessman opted to get as far away from the Front Range as possible while still staying in Colorado. He headed to Fort Lewis College in Durango in 1975 and discovered an education to live by and friends to last a lifetime.
“My time at FLC not only gave me the foundation I needed to pursue success but also the friendships that I still have to this day,” says Schlessman. “Those relationships matter more than anything to me.”
With a business degree, Schlessman could pursue any future he wanted but, first, he took a job with the family business, Greeley Gas (now Atmos Energy), as a ditch digger. Over the years, he held other positions, from meter reading to installation and service and eventually management. His favorite jobs were the ones that connected him with customers and provided a chance to roll up his sleeves and “fix stuff.” To this day, he’s the unofficial neighborhood mechanic, a role he happily embraces when he’s not busy plotting outdoor adventures with his kids or grandkids.
Forty years after digging ditches, Schlessman is still in the family business, helping to build one of the largest energy companies in the West. Schlessman has never forgotten his roots at FLC and has been a proud supporter of FLC for the last 33 years. In April 2020, the Schlessman Family Foundation gave $2 million to the school, the largest gift in school history, prompted by a desire to follow Schlessman’s grandfather’s wisdom.
"My grandfather’s philosophy was to always give back to the communities and organizations that gave you the opportunity to have what you have and do what you do. For me, that’s Fort Lewis College."
“My grandfather’s philosophy was to always give back to the communities and organizations that gave you the opportunity to have what you have and do what you do. For me, that’s Fort Lewis College,” says Schlessman, vice president of the Schlessman Family Foundation.
The gift completes the 10% match required for Capital Construction funding to begin on the long-awaited $33 million FLC Health Sciences Center, a cutting-edge academic research and teaching facility that will include new construction and revamped spaces in the Whalen Gymnasium building. After years of planning and analyzing community needs – and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated health disparities in rural Colorado – funding for the HSC will be transformative for FLC students, faculty, and the Four Corners region.
“This is an extraordinary gift in extraordinary times that will reshape the future of Fort Lewis College students for generations to come,” says Keith Newbold, chair of the FLC Foundation.