A century at the Campus in the Sky
Duane Smith book commemorates Fort Lewis Centennial

by Joe Foster

Rich Heritage Shining Future: Fort Lewis College 1911-2011, by Duane Smith. Fort Lewis College, 2011. 132 pages.

Fort Lewis has always felt young to me. I can’t explain why this is, precisely, other than it feels so vibrant when I’m up there. There’s always something going on, dynamic with the energy of an active student body. The truth is, however, that the Fort is turning a stately 100 years old this year. To celebrate its centennial, Fort Lewis College has recently published a large-format pictorial history of the school with text by Southwest Colorado’s grand historian, Duane Smith.

From its history as a military fort, an Indian boarding school, a high school, a junior college, all the way to its current incarnation as a four-year liberal arts college, Fort Lewis has been an integral part of the culture of the Four Corners area. Whether its role was protection, trade, government-sponsored forced assimilation, education or as a center for the arts, the events and personalities of Fort Lewis College have been intimately connected to the history of the area. This book is less an in-depth study of the history itself and more a study of the personalities and faces that make this history a little more real. Peppered with more than 200 photos, this book is alive with faces. Focusing mostly on the experience of Fort Lewis College throughout a century, Smith has compiled a compelling snapshot of a century of life at the “Campus in the Sky” and its many former incarnations.

There’s something about looking through old photos that makes me look closer than usual, scanning group shots to try to suss out the dynamics. Who was the clown, who was the loner, which one is sitting there with a broken heart? One of the first group pictures in the book shows soldiers sitting around a porch with a black bear on a chain and two sleeping dogs. One of the men looks bored out of his mind. Another photo, from 1947, shows a young married couple (as indicated by the caption) in the most cramped living quarters I’ve seen. She’s cooking and he’s lying on the bed, mere feet away, studying, their dining table taking up the space between the bed and the kitchen counter. There’s a VW bug parked in the snow outside their window. Neither one is smiling or looking at the camera, but something about them seems happy, if not hopeful. The photo from the 1930s of the football game being played in the spot where the post office now stands had me staring for minutes.

There are two pictures of the class of ’22, one as incoming students and one as they stand, slightly taller, with their diplomas. Each person is standing in the same spot in both pictures so you can see the effect in carriage of a span of time and a bit of learning. The second photo shows a more powerful bunch. One can’t help but wonder, though, of the dramas and arguments, crushes and romances that may have happened in the time between the photos. Ten men and five women, you can see between the photos that they have become comfortable with each other, if nothing else. No longer strangers, perhaps even lifelong friends.

Also, as a timeline of facial hair trends, this book is a goldmine. My personal favorite is on page 17. Take a look and guess which style wins “Most Impressive.”

The book Rich Heritage Shining Future is also being sold for a good cause. According to Margie Dean Gray, executive director of the Fort Lewis College Foundation and Office of Development, “To celebrate the first 100 years of Fort Lewis, we wanted to have a book available to our alumni and friends of the college to help them remember their time as students at the college.” This is a great idea, and the book itself serves as a promise for the future. Proceeds from the sales of this book go into a fund for scholarships for the Fort Lewis College Foundation’s $1M Scholarship campaign. What a beautiful idea: future students able to attend college with the help of the students and faculty of the past. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before in so many ways; in this way is progress made. Buy a book, help a kid get some smarts. Not a bad deal. •

 

 

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