FRCC’s History: Personal as the People Who Lived It

Teri Sanchez approached a barracks-like building and wondered where the college was.

Mark Boyko recalls a student protest when parking went from a quarter to 30 cents.

Tom Gonzalez remembers what John Swenson said upon seeing what would become a site for Front Range Community College – there were cattle grazing.

Phyllis Abt says she was hired as a temp by someone who had never hired a female administrator before.

These were some of the stories shared at a “50 Years of FRCC” Roundtable during the fourth annual History Conference at the Westminster Campus. The conference, a daylong event put on by the History Program, featured a wide spectrum of student presentations. The roundtable, to mark FRCC’s 50th anniversary, took place at lunch.

Each of the speakers had long tenures at FRCC.

Once Inside, a Change in Atmosphere

Teri started as a student at FRCC’s first location at 62nd Avenue and Downing Street in north Denver. It was Community College of Denver’s north campus (CCD-North).

She has, in a sense, come full circle. She was a student in 1972 and now, in 2018, is an instructor for the Small Business Development Center housed at FRCC. In between was graduation from FRCC and what is now Metropolitan State University of Denver, and a career owning a business.

Back then, she remembers CCD-North having no parking lots and that aforementioned military, industrial look. But when she walked inside, the atmosphere changed. It was a college. The classes were small, the teachers attentive and caring. When she comes to campus now she muses, “What an incredible difference from a barracks in an industrial part of town.”

A Variety of Duties in a Career

Mark worked at FRCC for 30 of its 50 years in a wide variety of student affairs areas at the Westminster and Boulder County campuses. He and a small staff opened one of FRCC’s locations on Wilderness Place in Boulder in the 1990s. The site has since consolidated with other Boulder and Longmont locations into the current Boulder County Campus on Miller Drive in Longmont.

You make a lot of friends who influence you over a 30-year career, and Mark tearfully remembers three who, in the passage of that time, were lost to cancer.

FRCC Was ‘Going Places’

Tom was president of FRCC for 14 years, retiring in 2004. When serving as chancellor of the Seattle (WA) Community Colleges, Tom—a Colorado native—knew that “Front Range was the only place I’d come back to. I knew it was going places. I spent time finding out what this place could be.”

“I knew it would grow,” he said. “The question was how to make it happen.”

One key to success was found in the communities FRCC serves and the partnerships that developed from the marriage of college and community. A good example: joint-use libraries at the Westminster Campus (with the city of Westminster) and at the Larimer Campus (originally with the city of Fort Collins, and which has continued with the Poudre River Public Library District).

Changing Lives Halfway Around the World

Such partnerships enrich lives locally, and Phyllis gave an example of a community partnership that has changed lives halfway around the world.

A primary school with deaf students in residence in Nepal knew that many of its female students dropped out at puberty. Students in Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for community college students, raised about money for a restroom for girls. Fort Collins Rotary, of which Phyllis was and is a member, matched the funds, as did Rotary District 5440. The result: Girls continue to go to school. The next year, funds were raised for a retaining wall to divert floodwaters away from the school buildings and other projects.

You’ve often heard the observation from former Speaker of the U.S. House “Tip” O’Neill that all politics is local. After hearing from these panel members, I came away thinking that, sometimes, history is the personal stories of the people who were there.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Feeley is director of public relations at Front Range Community College.