Steamboat Springs As a student, employee, supporter and administrator, 85-year-old Benita Bristol has looked upon Steamboat Springs' Colorado Mountain College campus from just about every angle.
The Steamboat Springs native was present with her husband, Everett Bristol, 60 years ago when plans for the college were set in motion. Twenty years ago, Bristol fulfilled a lifelong dream by earning a college degree at CMC. Ten years ago, she began working the front desk in Bristol Hall - the building named after her husband.
On Dec. 3, Benita Bristol was elected to the statewide Colorado Mountain College Board of Trustees in Glenwood Springs. Bristol said she will use the position to look after the students whom she calls her extended family.
"I love these kids," she said. "This is the first time many of them are away from home and they are scared, but they don't want to admit to it and ask questions because they are afraid they may sound stupid. But I'm old. I'm not a threat, so they ask questions to me like they would their mother."
Brian Hoza, director of student services at CMC, said Bristol's passion for education was evident from the moment he met her.
"She and her family always have been supporters of bringing opportunities to the local area," he said. "She has a passion for the students, and she is very close to the students. They really love her and check back with her after they leave."
Bristol said CMC's early years were often difficult for students, who boarded in local motels and attended classes in church basements or storehouses. Acting as an ambassador for the school, Bristol said she still chuckles at the thought of one young couple from New York City who came to Steamboat on a college visit during those early years.
"They got off the train and they started through town with me, and the young man asked me, 'Where's the campus?'" she said. "I told him, 'The whole town is the campus.'"
Bristol said she has hundreds of stories to share about CMC, but one of her favorites is about how students initially treated her when she enrolled as a 63-year-old student.
"I was a bookkeeper for almost 40 years before I enrolled in accounting classes here," she said. "They all kind of looked shocked when I first came into class, but once they figured out I knew all the answers because of my experience as a bookkeeper, they all became very friendly."
Bristol also oversees two scholarships at the college, one in her husband's name and one in their family name.
Working at the school's front desk, answering phones and welcoming visitors, Bristol said she spends most of her time talking to the students.
"These kids mean a lot to me," she said. "I know a lot on a first-name basis, but I can promise you that a lot more know me than I know of them."