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Summer 2005 Issue
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    The Pyle Family: 3 Generations of NOLS
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The Pyle Family: Three Generations of NOLS
By Julie Hwang
Wilton Pyle

When Wilton Pyle met Paul Petzoldt, he couldn’t have known the impact it would have on his entire family. He just knew that he loved the idea of educating people in the outdoors instead of dragging them around, as well as the challenges of being a leader and an instructor in the outdoors. In 1966, Petzoldt invited Pyle to his new school in Wyoming, and shortly afterwards the young Princeton student became an instructor.

Pyle worked with Petzoldt for three years until he was drafted by the Marines to go to Vietnam, where he was killed in duty.

Pyle’s mother, Ginny, watched her oldest son’s interests shift from a general love of the outdoors and mountain climbing to align more with Petzoldt’s love of helping young people. When her son died, Ginny asked for memorials to be donated to NOLS to honor his commitment and dedication to the school. This bequest totaled more than $5,000, the largest donation NOLS had ever received. In thanks, Paul invited Ginny to attend a screening of 30 Days to Survival in New York. The two immediately became friends and eventually married many years later.

“Paul was a wonderful person, and he was doing so much for young people in trouble,” Ginny says of her late second husband. “Often these kids who weren’t really going anywhere at all found themselves in the mountains and were able to become worthwhile people.”

Dallas, Ginny’s youngest son, remembers Paul’s impact on the rebelling generation. “He was a magnet for young people trying to figure out what they wanted out of life,” says Dallas. “Even if a student had no money for tuition, Paul would send them off, saying that he would appreciate it if they could reimburse him later in life — 80% did just that.”

Two years after Wilton’s NOLS experience, his sister Sharon attended a NOLS course and also became an instructor. An adventurous, athletic girl, Sharon embraced the NOLS philosophy. When she left the school, she ended up working in the Philippines as a Didi (“older sister”), an order of nuns within Ananda Marga. With this group, known for its social activism in some of the most dire places, Sharon dealt with incredible physical challenges with a tolerance for adversity that she credits to her time with NOLS.

During her 15-plus years abroad, Sharon set up primary and secondary schools with curriculums including a physical component for children who otherwise would have gone without. The former NOLS Instructor also adopted several orphans and taught them the joys of the outdoors until she passed away from breast cancer in 1999. Dallas compares her social activism with Paul’s vision for the young people he met.

Dallas joined his siblings in the NOLS legacy in 1971 when he took the classic Wind River Wilderness course. “It was pretty wild and woolly back then,” Dallas laughs as he describes riding from the airport in the back of a pickup truck. “It was fantastic. Being in the outdoors with just enough to stay warm and feed yourself, and to appreciate that sense of independence without those other trappings… I had the opportunity to experience that.”

NOLS founder Paul Petzoldt and Ginny Pyle met at a NOLS gathering and later married.

With some help from his parents and his grandmother, Ginny, Dallas’s son Nate explored the same mountains on the same course 30 years later. For this third generation grad, who at 17 had never been away from home, his NOLS course presented an overwhelming number of new experiences. “It was great. Everything happened so fast, and it was just crazy,” the 21-year-old says. At first, all he wanted to do was go home. But when Nate started letting go of his discomforts and recognizing the beauty surrounding him, his experience shifted.  “I started realizing that I was more fortunate than not, that I should try to take in more,” he says. “It changed my whole outlook as far as taking risks, holding higher expectations for what you can accomplish, and dealing with adversity.”

When he came home, Nate told his older brother to check NOLS out, too.

Not one to be left out, Ginny herself took a course in 1974. Why? Because it was an adventure. “If you’re involved with someone who has been up against risks in life, you’re apt to take risks yourself,” says the 85-year-old, who still walks an hour almost every morning. “Survival is always fun.”

For the Pyles, NOLS has definitely become a family thing. From Paul and Ginny through Wil, Sherry, Dallas and down to Nate, NOLS definitely runs in this family’s blood.

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