|John Gans celebrates NOLS' 40th anniversary in October with Fred Kleisner, chairman of the NOLS Board of Trustees.
More than 400 people gathered on a beautiful fall weekend to celebrate NOLS’ 40th anniversary, and WMI’s 15th anniversary. Fun runs, awards, dancing, stories, late nights, laughter, and tears of joy filled the weekend, honoring a 40-year-old mission that has stood the test of time.
During the celebration, we took time to relive old stories, gather for our annual State of the School presentation, board meetings, and hikes in the golden fall glow.
But the gathering’s true culmination was probably less about events and more about the people who joined to commemorate an idea that has positively influenced NOLS’ 85,000 alumni around the world. So many people who have played a key role in building NOLS were in attendance. Every time you turned around, you ran into folks like legendary instructor Tap Tapley, former executive director Peter Simer, long-time trustee Joan Chitiea, and veteran instructors Doug Dalquist, Lucy Smith and Cody Paulson. The draw to reconnect with old friends spoke to the power of friendships formed in the mountains. It was a constant reminder of why “community” is one of our core values.
At the State of School presentation, Fred Kleisner, chair of the NOLS Board of Trustees, reflected on what it takes for an organization or business to not just survive for 40 years, but thrive. Kleisner commended NOLS for knowing its core and sticking to it, avoiding the swings that come with not having a strong mission.
In his evening address, Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal highlighted the importance of having an organization that teaches people to value wilderness. “The thing that’s important about NOLS is that you use the outdoors as a classroom not just about nature, but about human beings,” Freudenthal said. “You have graduates who have an appreciation and understanding of nature in the context of the decisions they make in their lives.”
The weekend also kicked off the start of our renovation of Lander’s historic Noble Hotel. The old building has been a touchstone for NOLS practically since our beginning. Its renovation will take almost a year and lead to an expanded library, kitchen and dining room. We’ll also be adding a larger classroom and a new student lounge. Finally, we’ll complete a historic renovation of the classic lobby that has provided a key first impression for so many NOLS students. The funding for this project is coming from the International Base Camp Campaign. It seemed fitting that, while celebrating our history, we also commenced the facelift of the Noble, a necessary step to prepare for the next 40 years.
Finally, I want to thank our grads for making the anniversary weekend so meaningful. Leading up to the weekend, we dug through our archives in search of interesting pictures and stories to add to the celebration. Images of NOLS in the early days are mostly pictures of Paul Petzoldt, our charismatic and powerful founder. In contrast, 40 years later the stories we tell are about our graduates. Whether they are park service superintendents, wolf biologists, climbers, astronauts, CEO’s or teachers, our graduates are leaders who make a positive mark on the world. This progression is noteworthy and fitting—any successful school should go through a similar evolution.
40 years…from one person’s idea to a movement of 85,000 leaders who in their time out of the wilderness are leaving one big trace!
John Gans, NOLS Executive Director