Photo by Scott Franz
Yampa Valley College alumni, from left, Willy Markowitz, Charlie Eckstrom and Bob Sides stand in front of Colorado Mountain College’s Willett Hall, one of the college’s first academic buildings in Steamboat.
Steamboat Springs When Charlie Eckstrom arrived at Yampa Valley College in 1964 from Tacoma, Wash., classes were taught in Methodist churches and basements.
“It was pretty much a shock,” he said about his arrival in Steamboat Springs. “You came into town looking for a college, and there wasn’t one. But I was thrilled I was in the mountains.”
The campus wouldn’t begin to develop until academic buildings were constructed a few years after Eckstrom’s arrival at the site of what is now Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus.
Although decades of development have brought more stoplights, homes and ski runs to Steamboat Springs in the past 50 years, Eckstrom said Thursday that the view from the college campus he graduated from in 1968 hasn’t changed a bit.
“It’ll always be the same,” he said from CMC’s Bristol Hall.
Eckstrom and more than 60 other Yampa Valley College graduates were in Steamboat this week to reflect on their college experience at the campus that predated CMC.
Before their reunion ends, the graduates will have toured the old buildings, swapped countless stories of mischief and revelry and had yet another soak in the Strawberry Park Hot Springs.
“To be able to be back up here and to be a part of this is therapeutic,” Eckstrom said.
With the appendix of Lucile Bogue’s book “Miracle on a Mountain,” which chronicles the history of Yampa Valley College, as their guide, reunion organizers reached out and invited hundreds of pioneer graduates to reunite in the Yampa Valley this week.
Pioneer student Bob Sides said the gathering’s roster includes students from all walks of life.
“Many of the students have today become self-made people,” he said. “Many have gone on to start their own businesses.”
A unique experience
1968 Yampa Valley College graduate Willy Markowitz said it took an adventurous spirit to attend Steamboat’s flagship college at a time when there were no stoplights on Lincoln Avenue. He said some parents drove straight through the town of less than 2,000 people with their sons and daughters after they were unable to locate a campus.
“It wasn’t the right place for some people,” said Markowitz, who moved to the Yampa Valley from a small town in Illinois to attend the school. “It took a real adventure in life to come here and be a part of this. I’m amazed my parents let me stay in such a remote place.”
But hundreds did make the trip from across the globe to what was then a more rustic Steamboat. Markowitz said that even before the college had a campus, it attracted students from Japan, Guam and Europe. And when the skiers, rock climbers and academics did arrive, they became members of an active Steamboat community.
Embracing a community
Markowitz said the college always was finding ways to strengthen the relationship between the new school and Steamboat. He said this was evident when he joined his classmates to help pack the 90 meter ski jump on Howelsen Hill and when Steamboat Springs High School students reached out to Yampa Valley College students when they needed help finding prom dates for girls who didn’t have one.
The college also increased its presence in the community by launching a radio station and by having students play soccer alongside The Lowell Whiteman School students.
“You knew everyone in town,” Markowitz said. “And when the students went downtown, everyone was as friendly as could be.”
On the same day the leadership of Colorado Mountain College took turns at a podium outlining the future of the campus in Steamboat Springs, Yampa Valley College alumni reflected on their past.
Sides, Markowitz and Eckstrom watched Thursday as CMC officials paid tribute to the Alpine Campus’ new $20 million, 58,000-square-foot academic and administrative building. And while they said they enjoyed the ceremony and were excited about the expansion, they also reflected on the now-demolished Monson Hall.
“It’s difficult for a lot of people to see that,” Eckstrom said. “That’s the end of the old and the beginning of the new.”
But Eckstrom stressed that it was an exciting time for the campus and that the renderings of the new building looked beautiful. He also said it was fortunate the pioneer graduates chose to reunite at the same time the campus marked a new milestone.
“This is our history, too. This is our school,” he said. You can put any name on it you want, but it’s our school. We’re the people that plowed through and stuck it out.”
— To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com