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RANGELY — Steve Swymer remembers the first time he stepped foot in northwest Colorado.
It wasn’t quite the reception he was anticipating.
“I was expecting a band and cheerleaders to greet me,” said Swymer, who came from Massachusetts to Colorado Northwestern Community College on a basketball scholarship in 1968. The school was called Rangely College in those days.
Instead, the only person there to greet him was Paul Conrad, who was an assistant basketball coach at the time.
“Coming from the city, I looked around, and there were tears in my eyes,” said Swymer, who was dropped off in Dinosaur after taking a bus from Denver. “I remember thinking, ‘What did I do?’”
It was a culture shock for a big-city kid. Swymer grew up in Woburn, Mass., an industrial town near Boston portrayed in the book “A Civil Action” and in the John Travolta movie by the same name.
“The first week or so, I remember thinking, ‘My, God, look at this place,’” Swymer recalled. “But the transition, I’ve got to tell you, was quick for me. Something just clicked.”
Turns out, his time in Rangely was a life-changing decision.
Swymer spent only one year at what is now CNCC, but it was one of the best years of his life and set him on a course that led to a 36-year career as educator and administrator and consultant. When Swymer was principal of a middle school in Pennsylvania, the school was nationally recognized three times.
“I really took to this place,” Swymer said of the one year he spent as a college student in Rangely. He went on to receive a master’s degree and a doctorate degree. “If it wasn’t for this place, none of that would have happened. That’s why I feel so strong about this school.”
Not that he considered himself college material back in 1968.
“I had no inclination to go to college,” Swymer said in a phone interview last week while he was visiting the CNCC campus for a foundation board meeting. “My father didn’t graduate from high school. I was the first one in my family to go to college. I had never been out of the area. I had never been in a hotel. I had never been on a plane. We were poor, but we didn’t know it.”
A basketball scholarship paved the way for him to attend college.
“I had had a very good senior year, and my name was floated out there somewhere,” Swymer said. “One contact led to another, and (Coach Lee Vickers) offered me a scholarship sight unseen.”
Even though Swymer spent only one year at the college in Rangely. He’s been a supporter of the school ever since.
“He’s been a great asset to our foundation board,” said CNCC President John Boyd. “This place means so much to him.”
For Swymer, he’s grateful for the impact the school had on his life.
“We had instructors who said, ‘You’re a bright kid,’” Swymer said, adding no one had told him that before. “My first semester I made the dean’s list. I didn’t even know what that was. They had to tell me.”
Swymer is proud of having attended CNCC, and he’s proud all six of his children have graduated from college.
Swymer, who recently retired and lives in Pennsylvania, has maintained his close ties with CNCC and still returns for regular visits. A one-time basketball player here, he now enjoys being a fan.
“I usually go to a couple of games a year,” he said. “I get to see Coach Conrad. He still lives in Rangely, so I always see him at the games. I love doing this (serving on the foundation board). Hopefully I do some good. I even stayed in the dorm (when he was back last week). That was great. When you raise six kids, living in a college dorm is nothing.”
CNCC is well on its way to reaching an $8.3 million major gift campaign goal. The college is glad to have Swymer involved on the foundation board.
“He’s been a great asset to our foundation board,” said Steve Schrock, director of the CNCC Foundation. “He has a great story.”
Swymer thinks the college is headed in the right direction.
“The leadership, between John Boyd and Steve Schrock, they are committed,” Swymer said. “They believe (in the school). They are bringing in programs. They are thinking outside of the box. That feeling alone can be somewhat contagious. When you have that commitment to this place in your leadership, other people will follow.”
For Swymer, talking up the benefits of CNCC comes naturally. He believes in the role of the school.
“This place has unbelievable potential,” Swymer said. “People have to look at this place as a tremendous resource. This is the kind of area, when you’re looking at something to invest in, this has to be at the top of the list, because it impacts so many people.”
People like Swymer.
“I see such tremendous potential here,” Swymer said. “Potential for changing lives, like mine. (In his role on the foundation board) I want to encourage those people here that what they are doing is the right thing. You’re saving lives here. You might not see it. But I’m a perfect example of that.”