By Katie Raymond
Reprinted from The Leader, Summer 2000, Vol. 16, No. 3, NOLS 35th Anniversary Insert
When Allen Macomber's son convinced him to take a NOLS course in the summer of 1989, he had no idea what he was getting himself into. Eleven years later, Macomber finds himself immersed in the life of the outdoor school. He is now a NOLS parent, an alumni, an instructor, and most notably, chairman of the board.
Macomber's first experience with NOLS was on a Wind River Wilderness Course for people 25 years of age and older. He and one of his sons completed their first NOLS experience at about the same time and enjoyed sharing that experience. A couple of years later Macomber returned to NOLS and took a backpacking course in the Brooks Range of Alaska. "It was on this course that I began to think about being a NOLS instructor," says Macomber. "A friend asked me to consider it and I thought, "Oh, wouldn't it be fun to do that sometime. . . It planted a seed but I didn't really think it would be a reality.'"
In 1993 Macomber took yet another NOLS course, this time mountaineering in the Pacific Northwest. By now the ball was rolling and Macomber was hooked. He was impressed with the quality of his NOLS education and everything he had experienced with the school so far.
In 1997, Macomber's life took on a new beginning. After 32 years he retired from CitiBank and by the end of that summer he had officially become a NOLS instructor and led his first course. "Being able to teach," he says, "made the loop complete. I was the oldest one on my instructor's course," he notes. "But one of the greatest compliments I received was from a girl who was only 19. She said to me, 'At first I thought of you as a friend of my parents, and then you became my friend.' That meant a lot."
While working with NOLS, Macomber has entered a world much different than the one he left behind at the bank. "I think I was extremely lucky that I developed an interest outside of a business career," says Macomber. "It helps me stay balanced. Having a passion for NOLS and the outdoors was something I was able to parlay into after leaving the bank," he adds.
"If you like being in the outdoors so much you might as well teach others," Macomber notes. "I find it very rewarding. What I like most is to see the evolution of students of every age enhancing their skill level, in both hard and soft skills, throughout the course. I see them leave with a much deeper appreciation for wilderness and the ability to be comfortable outside," he adds.
On average, Macomber instructs two courses a year, which usually works out to about six to eight weeks spent in the field. He prefers leading 25 and older courses because "you have a little bit more life perspective and a greater ability to appreciate what a unique opportunity this is." Still, he feels confident in his ability to relate to younger people and enjoys leading a few adventure courses now and then as well.
"I taught my first course in August of 1997," he says. "It was an adventure course for 14 and 15-year olds based out of Idaho. I enjoyed learning how to relate to young people. It wasn't that hard. There is so much going on, age seems to blend in. I think if you treat people with respect it really doesn't matter how old you are," he adds.
Today Macomber's three children are all graduates of NOLS courses and even his wife participates in alumni and board events. "It's nice that I can share my interests and passion with my family," says Macomber. And as far as Macomber's concerned, he's only just begun. He continues to look forward to a lifetime relationship with the school.