How I Got Here

Raised in a small town in northern Illinois, I moved to Aspen, Colorado upon graduation from college in order to pursue the hedonistic endeavour of being a ski bum. I was quite successful at it for several years. Along the way I learned to cook in some high end restaurants, worked as a landscaper, and finally became a carpenter. Stops along the way included Park City, SunValley and Jackson Hole.

A nine month long trip to South America to experience that part of the world and climb high mountains had a profound effect. Most of my travels were among the very poor – people struggling for survival on a daily basis. I was continually impressed by how little one really needs to survive, and returned to the U.S. with a heightened need to do something worthwhile – to contribute to society. So I returned to school, earned a teaching certificate at the University of Idaho and decided to teach in an underserved area.

I spent two years teaching in an elementary school on the Navajo Reservation. The community of Redrock consists of a trading post, chapter house and scattered residences ranging from tarpaper shacks to trailers, Hogans, and tribal tract houses. It’s located on the Arizona/New Mexico border thirty miles from Shiprock and sixty miles from Farmington. At almost 6000 feet in elevation it sits at the base of the Lukachuki Mountains. It’s a truly beautiful location, much of which was captured photographically during the 1930’s by Laura Gilpin in her book, “The Enduring Navaho”. There’s a photo of my Navajo teaching colleague, Jess King’s grandmother as a young girl holding a lamb. I loved living among the Navajo. It’s a very foreign culture eptiomized by a peaceful stocism that marches to a much different drummer than our society. While there I built a small house behind the trading post (financed by the trader) which he used to house employees after I left.

As I couldn’t convince my then girlfriend, now wife to leave her good job and family in Denver and move into a mobile home thirty miles from the nearest town (and Shiprock wasn’t much of a town) I returned to Colorado where I taught for five more years in an alternative high school in Commerce City amidst the oil refineries. The student body consisted of kids who didn’t fit into the traditional high school. Many were young girls with children of their own and kids who had gotten into trouble and had figured out that it was time to get on with life – that working fast food was a path to nowhere. The graduation rate at the local high school is under 50%. We provided a means to move forward with either a GED certificate or credits in enough classes to graduate. Our wonderful guidance councellor, Judy Sanderson, did an excellent job of placing graduates in vocational and technical training programs, and some went on to traditional colleges.

About this time my woodworking business took off. I tried teaching and building furniture, but I’d started a family and found that there weren’t enough hours in the day to do all justice. So with some trepidation I went into furniture building full time – and am still at it.

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