Over the past 26 years, George Weber and Lynn Pulford have transformed Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS) and, in return, it has transformed them. As they wrap up their final semester of teaching before retirement, they reflect on the value of their time there: introducing them to each other, giving them purpose and even preparing them for their lives post-retirement.
Before working for CRMS, Weber spent 10 years getting to know the school through a friend, Bob Campbell, who worked there. When Campbell turned in his own resignation, he left Weber’s resume with it. At that time, Weber was playing vibraphone in a successful, touring Dixieland band.
Years prior, he had visited and played a jazz show on campus. “I was playing music I didn’t think would be listened to much by high school kids, and so I was worried — this may not work. But just the opposite happened. The kids were extremely respectful, warm, welcoming and appreciative of what I did. It blew me away.”
He began teaching music at CRMS in 1996 and has only continued to experience that same supportive community. One year later, Weber was leading the 10-day backpacking trip that every new student embarks on prior to the academic year, when Lynn Pulford was assigned to the same trip as a wilderness assistant.
Pulford had been teaching at Colorado Mountain College for several years when Meredith Ogilby, a CRMS teacher, took one of her courses. Ogilby was planning to leave CRMS and encouraged Pulford to apply for the job. “It just sounded like one big adventure with all the different things they did there,” Pulford reflected.
While Weber taught music, Pulford taught photography and dove into new arts such as silversmithing. “It was experiential learning at the beginning, because I really didn’t have a lot of training. All the kids just stepped up. We all learned together and we melted things and tried again.”
Over the course of four years, working together in the art department, leading trips together, and seeing each other connect with students, a relationship developed between Weber and Pulford. They admired each other’s care for the students.
It wasn’t always easy, though, as Weber explained, “Friction developed based on spending a lot of time in the same place. But, we worked through that and we worked together really well.” Other faculty sometimes commented how they themselves could never spend that much time with a significant other. “They’re pretty amazed that we literally have for years done everything together. We’ve led trips together.”
“We’ve canoed together!” Pulford interjected, laughing.
Weber laughed along, then finished, “Caring for kids is what we do on trips. We’re really like-minded around how we want kids to learn and enjoy. Our first goal is a safe environment, then a fun environment and then let’s get some skills along the way. Teaching how to cook, or how to hike safely, or how to boat safely; it all comes from the same place: our heart.”
For Pulford, love of the students has also been a highlight. She recalled a few weeks back when she and Weber were packing food and gear for all of the week-long trips leaving the following day. They were way behind and worried about finishing when, out of the blue, a group of students showed up to help. “What the students do inspires me. After their experience here, they’re such good people,” she said.
For Weber, the musicianship that he was able to foster also marked his time at CRMS. Under his leadership, the music program grew from kids playing in the dorms during evenings to a full academic program with five classes per semester and several Coffee House concerts per year. “I really, really enjoy being with kids and watching them learn. When I see somebody learn and get as happy as they get at the end of a rehearsal or a concert — they’re just jumping up and down, squealing and hugging each other and running around — that is just incredible to watch happen!”
He continued, “A lot of my students get better than me and pass me right up. I get them started and they just kind of skyrocket past my own skill level sometimes, and it’s really incredible to watch kids become really, really good musicians.”
Time with students outside of the classroom has also taught Weber and Pulford new skills and given them a better grasp on what they want to do with their retirement. Not only did they both learn outdoors skills, but they’ve led trips all over the Mountain West. “I learned how to canoe here,” said Weber. “We both did.” They’re excited to continue exploring the region while checking out new areas like the Pacific Northwest.
When they’re not out canoeing, camping and hiking, they are excited to live in their home in Paonia, grow a garden and continue to pursue their crafts. Weber will have time to complete half-written songs and wants to try filming and editing videos of himself playing music.
Pulford is excited to revitalize her own photography and silversmithing practices while also diving into new crafts. She wants to carry forward a student’s willingness to try anything. “They don’t even second guess some things! I love that, so I’m hoping to take that from them and say, yeah, I’m just going to get out there and give it a shot.”
Reflecting on his last semester teaching, Weber said, “I don’t want to leave here, but it’s time to stop.” He paused. “Not time, but we can. I want to sleep more, read more, eat slower, take longer walks and chill a little bit. We have a place to live. We still have energy. We want to save some of our selves for ourselves.”