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2017 Founders' Day Hall of Fame Assembly Honors John Pitman

On October 6, 2017, The Colorado Springs School honored the school’s past and present with Founders’ Day. The 2017 assembly inducted Mr. John Pitman, a former faculty member from 1963-1976 into the school’s Hall of Fame.

The Upper School’s Vocal Ensemble opened the ceremony with a performance of John Lennon’s Imagine (written in 1971) as a musical tribute for the honoree and guests. The choir was under the direction of our Vocal teacher, Mr. Adam Hooper.

As part of the Founders’ Day assembly our Head of School, Aaron Schubach welcomed the audience, including many alumnae from the 60s & 70s Reunion weekend to the Louisa Performing Arts Center.

Today we welcome back our distinguished Hall of Fame inductee, Mr. John Pitman, and alumni and former faculty from the 1960s and 1970s who’ve returned to CSS for a reunion this weekend. We are glad you are here.

In the last six years, we have honored graduates and former faculty from the 1960s and 1970 including Valerie Morgan-Alston ‘69, Margaret Gilbert ‘70, Susan Barker Day ‘70, Jennifer Cogswell ‘72, Powys Gadd ‘75, Debbie Scaling Kiley ‘76, Leslie King ‘77, and Rebecca Dahl DeVere ’79. These alumnae are accomplished and passionate professionals. With careers in the law, architecture, healthcare, filmmaking, archaeology, writing, and art, respectively – they embody the purposeful lives we believe all our graduates will attain. Today, John Pitman will join former faculty members from the 1960s and 1970s, Al Adams and Ava Heinrichsdorf, both present today, in the Hall of Fame.

History is important. I believe as William Faulkner did, “The past is never dead. It is not even past.” Like the relationship between a river and canyon, both people and places are formed from their interactions and they leave indelible marks on each other. As a young person, being part of a school where all teachers believe in you and expect the best from you, can change the trajectory of your life. Honored guests, you’ve left your marks at this school and we know that the core values of CSSG and CSS —preparation for a dynamic world through ingenuity, leadership, and personal integrity, are a part of you.

Though I am not a graduate of the school, this is the institution where I’ve spent the most time and it is the place that has affected me the deepest. As one of many who loves this place and what it does, I’m indebted to those that founded it, including John Pitman, and all of those who’ve sustained it.

In my role as the school’s chief spokesperson, it is never lost on me that this institution means an enormous amount to many people. Time and time again, alumni and former faculty tell me that their time at CSS(G) was the single most formative time in their lives. They met their best friends here. They literally rappelled off cliffs in Cheyenne Canyon and took similar leaps of faith in the classroom. From studying the Civil War with Colonel Rupp or dodging Mr. Pitman’s chalk, they were held to high standards and as (Mr. Pitman required) they responded. We, the current teachers and students of the school, know that we are standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before us, to paraphrase Isaac Newton. Dr. Young, I just have to ask, did you get the idea of shooting students with a nerf gun from Mr. Pitman?

Speaking of history, let’s turn our attention to the decade of the 1960s and 1970s for a moment. These years are hard to explain if you didn’t live through them. Those of us who are currently addicted to the news might think that this is the most controversial decade in American history. That remains to be seen. The 1960s and 1970s are difficult to beat.

Let’s pick 1965, the year of the first graduating class of The Colorado Springs School for Girls (CSSG):

  • LBJ was president
  • The Vietnam War was in full swing and accelerating.
  • The average cost of a new home was $23,300, almost exactly equivalent to 2017 Honda Accord.
  • The top songs of 1965 included The Rolling Stones, “I can’t get no satisfaction,” Barry Maguire’s, “Eve of Destruction” and Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan had a hit with “Like a Rolling Stone”

In 1965, the school was housed in the Pourtales house, which sat beyond Boddington field. I believe Mr. Pitman will talk more about that. Our founders and board had not yet acquired the Claremont Estate and the Trianon. The beautiful theatre in which we sit wasn’t built yet. But the young girl it was named after, Ms. Louisa LeCompte was a 6th grader at CSS. Tragically, she passed away that year. Headmistress Margaret White Campbell wrote this beautiful tribute in the very first edition of the school yearbook. She wrote, “Her courage, wit, and capacity for friendship made her a leader in her class and a vibrant personality at the school”. Louisa made the most of her talents and the opportunities CSSG provided. She served on Student Council, she edited the literary magazine, she painted, and she sang in the Glee Club. Margaret wrote, “Louisa’s physical strength could not carry her burning spirit farther, but she lives in the hearts of all of us who (knew) her and she lives in every corridor and corner of the school”.

Perhaps, after hearing her story, our current students will be inspired by her energy when entering the Louisa Performing Arts Center.

Just like now, at CSS(G) clubs were a central part of life at school, but they were different.

  • Some of them require more explanation, like the blue team and gold team.
  • There was the hospitality club, which is fairly self-explanatory. Laura Branch Weerts has told me that it launched her career as an event planner and reunion organizer.
  • I like the idea of the Assembly Club, which planned performances and special events, perhaps we should bring that back.
  • In harmony with our current mission to prepare our students for a dynamic world, Social Welfare Club did purposeful work in the city and beyond, including Books for Africa, Meals for Millions, and volunteer work with the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind and UNICEF…
  • Deja- the literary magazine- noted in the yearbook that they loved Ava Heinrichsdorff. They have good taste. Thank you, Ava, for being with us today.

One of my goals this weekend is to learn more about Margaret White Campbell from alumni and past faculty. Her portrait in the terrace room of the Trianon has always inspired me. In my office, I keep a picture of Margaret and Lew Perry Jr., the head of FVS who served as consultant and friend to Margaret. In the school’s early years, Margaret expressed the ethos of the school and we are inspired today.She wrote, “Our school is dedicated to educating individuals, not faceless beings- individuals with unique personal attributes. Students are admitted on the basis not only of their ability and desire to complete the academic program but also of their character. Diversity in the student body is sought and (students) from various cultural backgrounds and with different talents and skills are welcomed. It is our challenge and our delight at the Colorado Springs School to release the inherent capacities of each individual (student) and I believe in large measure we succeed.

In the 1960s and 70s, CSSG and its faculty believed that students learn best when actively engaged with their teachers, their peers, the world around them, and with themselves. These remain our guiding principles.

Please welcome Mrs. Laura Branch Weerts, class of 1972 to the stage. Laura and her committee have been instrumental in organizing this reunion. We are grateful for her efforts.

Laura Branch Weerts ‘72 then offered a tribute to John Pitman, the teacher:

Imagine a 13-year-old girl that was sent to a boarding school called The Colorado Springs School for Girls. Now, this girl had never been away from her Mom so she was frightened and homesick. She was also unusually quiet and did not think she was allowed to have a thought or even speak because that was how she had been brought as the youngest of five.

She went to her first class in the basement of the Trianon. The room was called Flanders but soon became known as Pitman’s Room. This young girl saw a big pair of feet and she kept looking up and up until she finally saw the face of John Pitman. He seemed like a giant carved out of a New England mountain. Not only did he have the stature of a very strong man, he also had a booming voice. Her first thought was to run home. Funny thing is that CSSG eventually became her home.

John was part of the founding faculty assembled by Margaret White Campbell. He taught humanities and philosophy. When this young girl tried to slip down under the table so he would not call on her, he immediately did. Somehow, she answered that question correctly and that was when she started to learn that not only could she have opinions but sometimes her opinions were different but not wrong and that there are many ways of seeing things. He pushed us to think, to go beyond our first reactions and to dig down deep to find all the different meanings that we could find in a book. If we did not respond to something he asked he would throw a piece of chalk and with his booming voice yell, “Just respond.” John wanted us thinking and have a reason why we would respond the way we did. He taught us to expand the boundaries of our young minds. He did not just teach us but he prepared us for what was to come after graduating from CSS.

He also taught Math and was the Dean of Students. As Dean of Students, when he called you into his office you knew you probably would not be having a good day. He made sure we respected our surroundings both outside and inside the Trianon.

He also taught a class he called Discovery but the students called Pitman Bound. It was based on Outward Bound practices and was part of the P.E. program. He took students up to the highest mountains in Colorado and down the fastest flowing rivers with the toughest rapids. Most of all taught us ecology (a cutting-edge idea in the 1960s) and to love and respect the great outdoors. His ideas of ecology and leaving a small footprint were applied even on campus.

When I was asked to speak today I spoke with alums about how John Pitman affected their lives. I received so many responses that I had to choose from the many special remarks and stories I have heard about John from other CSSG/CSS Alumni.

Deborah Scaling Kiley, class of 1976, penned a personal inscription to John on her book The Albatross, a true story of a woman’s survival at sea.

On March 28th, 1994 she wrote, “Dear Mr. Pitman, I was always scared to death of you in school and when I look back I still don’t know why the memory of you came back to me at one of the most difficult times in my life. How could anyone be afraid of the one person who taught them to believe in themselves? Sincerely Debbie Scaling CSS class of 1976.”

In her book, Deborah describes a disaster a sea and her subsequent time on a life raft. After two weeks, she was near giving up. She wrote ” I closed my eyes and a swirl of scenes filled the dark screen of my mind. I saw the Coast Guard plane swooping down on us, the vanishing tip of Trashman’s mast, my father, my mother, my half-brother.

Then I saw the yellow fire of September aspens, snow on a craggy mountain summit, and the stern face of Mr. Pitman, my high school English teacher–the one who had led the wilderness trips, who had taught me about survival. Mr. Pitman……..

I had not thought of him in years. And yet here he was, in a dark-paneled classroom, looking at me, waiting for me. “Why did the Ancient Mariner shoot the albatross, Miss Scaling? Are you with us Miss Scaling? The albatross, why the albatross? And why did he wear it around his neck? Not an albatross, Mr. Pitman, a plane, I am saying. Hear the plane? They’ve come back for us.”

Clearly, John Pitman had a large impact on every student who studied with him.

Joy Goldstone Baker has called John the “Father of our Education.” Every time she speaks with him he gives her more books to read. When John gives you something to read, you read it.

Many other students have stories they want me to tell about John Pitman teaching them and mentoring them. Sarah McPhee class of 1971 remembers herself as a wild child acting out because of very difficult family problems. John Pitman was tasked by Margaret to take Sarah under his wing. He would take her to his office and they would talk about books. He would give her more books to read. As he helped her every week; she stopped being a wild child and became a true student of John’s and CSSG. Eventually, she became the president of her class and graduated as valedictorian.

Many students remember the smell of his pipe. All students knew that if you were called to his office, and he did not light his pipe, as was his custom, you knew you were not going to have a good day.

John has made a remarkable difference in the lives of many of his students. He taught us how to find ourselves and took us on a journey. A journey that started when we were his students and has continued as we have grown. I have been blessed having John in my life. He continues to teach me and when I finish one task, he always challenges me to a new task where I learn even more.

Most importantly for you students today is that he established the norm and standard of experiential learning that is a foundation for today’s The Colorado Springs School.

Please join me in welcoming Mr. John Pitman.

Mr. John Pitman came to the stage to give his acceptance speech and share a bit of history about the school.

Natalie R. ‘18 and Emma W. ‘18 then led the audience in the school’s alma mater. They were accompanied by Madeline K. ‘21 and Annika W. ‘18 on the ukuleles. The school’s alma mater was written and composed by former faculty member Mr. Sam Johnson.

Mr. Schubach closed the assembly with the following words:

We have come to the end of our time together.

  • Thank you, alums, and past faculty members for joining us today. Welcome back. We are glad you are here. I look forward to learning more about you and the school’s history over the course of the weekend.

  • Thank you, again to Laura Branch Weerts, our tireless organizer, and sparkplug, and to Jessica James, our Director of Advancement and Communications, and Amaya Firestone ‘11 our Advancement Assistant.

The honorees, alumni, guests and students gathered in the lobby for cupcakes at the conclusion of the assembly.

View more photos from the 60s and 70s Reunion Weekend and Founders’ Day celebrations.