Steamboat Springs Ask The Lowell Whiteman School faculty and staff about their favorite Walt Daub story, and they come quickly.
After his 12 years there, the stories about the head of school begin to pile up.
Like the time Daub slid off a snowy Routt County Road 36 into two Whiteman vans that had previously done the same and gotten stuck in a yard on North Park Road. Before he left, science teacher Gina Wither recalled Daub saying something at the time like: “I can drive in the snow. I’ll go get them. What’s wrong with these people?”
There also was the time Daub joined the school’s Desert Week trip two years ago and was excited to ride the Porcupine Rim mountain bike trail in Moab, Utah, for the first time, French teacher Erin Davis said. A student on the trip wasn’t feeling well, and Daub “graciously and selflessly” offered to stay behind with the student, Davis said.
Lane Malone, the school’s director of advancement, said Daub washes dishes every year after the Whiteman holiday party.
“He’s not a man who’s afraid to get dirty,” she said.
Daub, who took the helm at Whiteman in 1998, is retiring at the end of the school year.
He paused and pondered Wednesday, trying to recall his favorite memory. Sitting in his office, Daub was surrounded by photos of famous former students and his family, posters depicting the Whiteman foreign travel program and books — lots of books.
He mentioned a few memorable days of skiing with students through waist-deep powder at Steamboat Ski Area. He smiled as he described helping lead a month-long trip with a dozen students to Guatemala and Belize — “days that were glorious and stimulating, others were a challenge and hard. Take that experience as a whole, it was really very special.” And of course, there were others.
Daub couldn’t pinpoint just one.
“That’s the kind of school this is,” he said. “You get a lot of special moments.”
The right place
Ask how Daub got to Whiteman and he’ll tell you he previously led Albuquerque Academy in Albuquerque, N.M., a day school for about 1,100 sixth- through 12th-graders.
He wanted to run a school but stay connected to the students — which he said was becoming increasingly difficult at a large institution. So he began looking for jobs all across the country, but he wanted to be in the Rockies.
Daub, who was born in Connecticut and grew up near Princeton, N.J., is a self-described “die-hard” Boston Red Sox, Celtics and New England Patriots fan. He had never heard of Whiteman — a private school with competitive skiing and snowboarding and foreign travel programs — before he began his job search.
Daub found the school to be a perfect fit. It allowed him, he said, to combine his outdoor recreational passions with a school that embraced them.
But more so, Daub said he was immediately taken with Whiteman’s “natural setting, people and programs.”
“It was a dream come true,” he said.
Daub immediately became immersed in the school, where dogs roam the halls and only inverted aerials are prohibited on its ski hill. He joined students and faculty on outdoor trips.
“He has loved and valued Steamboat, the skiing, mountain biking, and he has done that with the kids,” said Joanne Lasko, Whiteman’s academic dean. “Some heads wouldn’t think that’s important.
“There’s not a doubt in my mind he believes 100 percent that the kids are the lifeblood of the school.”
Senior Phillip Bishop, one of the two students Daub is advising this semester, said he’s always available.
“You just knock on his door, and say you need to talk,” Bishop said. “He’ll say, ‘I have a meeting here and here, but I can squeeze you in here.’ If he can’t, he’ll say he’ll meet you tomorrow for breakfast. … It’s cool that he can do what he needs to do as head of school but help us out with our problems.”
Ask Daub what he’s most proud of during his tenure at Whiteman, and there are several answers.
He described the significant improvements to staff housing, an old ski house that was converted to offices and upgrades to infrastructure at the campus that will benefit Whiteman in future years.
But three things stand out: staff and academic programs, the foreign travel program and the ongoing development of the new boys dorm.
“Our faculty team and our academic programs have never been stronger,” he said. “The foreign travel program has been special since the first year Lowell took the kids to Mexico, and it’s never been better. I’m proud we’ve sustained that program through 9/11.”
But the development of the new 6,000-square-foot boys dorm and the establishment of a $1 million endowment may top the list. The $1.5 million dorm, which is expected to be completed in the spring, is part of a $2.3 million investment to date as part of the school’s “Building on the Experience Campaign,” its campus master plan.
A majority of the additional investment, $500,000, was dedicated to adding infrastructure at the campus. The remainder went toward expenses related to the campus master plan — what Daub calls a 10-year plan with a 25-year vision.
“In this economic environment, to be able to put up this new dorm, the design with which I’m so pleased, is a real accomplishment to the school. It’s a credit to the Board (of Trustees). It’s a credit to the financial strength of the school. It’s a statement about the commitment to the residency program, and it was about time.”
Margi Missling-Root, Whiteman’s director of experiential education, said Daub’s “undying energy” has helped him with all the contributions he’s made to the school.
“He is just so dedicated to whatever it is he’s involved in with The Lowell Whiteman School,” she said. “His dedication is profound.”
Lasko said Daub’s vision for Whiteman has ensured that the school will continue moving forward during tough economic times.
“His love for the school is palpable,” she said. “His belief in this school I think has come through over the years.”
The next chapter
Ask Missling-Root what Whiteman will miss after Daub leaves, and she’ll tell you:
“A dedicated educational leader is leaving us, and those are very large shoes to fill,” she said.
The faculty and staff said Daub understands the school’s rich history, something that also will be missed.
“He’s someone who’s such a true believer about what the school is all about,” said Julia Oxenhandler, Daub’s assistant and the school’s office manager. “The next head of school will have to learn that. It will take some time for he or she to learn that.”
Daub said he and his wife, Jaynie, were at a point in their lives where there’s still so much they want to do. And now is the time to start doing some of those things.
He said they have no plan to move but will do some traveling. They want to visit their daughters, who live in Albuquerque and Alexandria, Va., and three grandchildren. Daub said there are a few backpacking trips they would like to take and that he’d like to try skiing 100 days.
Daub said his goal has been to leave Whiteman in the best shape he could, as his predecessor did for him. Daub thinks he’s done that for the person who will follow him.
“As much as I’m sad I’m leaving, I’m more excited about the things we’ll be able to do,” he said.