Colorado Mountain College celebrates 50th anniversary with Fine Art Show

Photo of Sunset over cliffs yy Scot Gerdes

The CMC Rifle Fine Art Show featuring works from photography to sculpture to painting and more, all by Garfield County artists, will open on April 21 at 6:30 p.m. The exhibit opening is part of Colorado Mountain College’s 50th anniversary celebration held the same evening. Photo Scot Gerdes

It’s part reunion, part birthday party and open to everyone. Colorado Mountain College Rifle is celebrating two milestones this year: the college’s 50th anniversary and the 10-year anniversary of the opening of CMC Rifle at the Airport Road location.

To celebrate, CMC Rifle will open its doors on April 21 for a free Rifle-style college reunion and fine art exhibit featuring Garfield County artists.

It’s hard to find a person in western Garfield County who hasn’t taken a class, earned a certificate or degree, or seen a family member or friend graduate from Colorado Mountain College Rifle. That means the entire region is full of alumni and fans of CMC.

“This celebration is to honor those people who made this college possible from the start, and to thank our community that has supported us over the years in Rifle,” said Laura Hardman, CMC Rifle assistant dean of instruction. “We are all here today because of you.”

A chance to reconnect

Photo of new Colorado Mountain College in Rifle campus building

CMC Rifle came of age when it moved into a new, purpose-built campus building in 2007, the Encana Academic Center. Besides the Clough Auditorium, the campus has high-tech science and computer labs, “smart” classrooms and spacious art and ceramics studios. Many of the artists featured in the CMC Rifle Fine Art Show opening on April 21 are either students or faculty members who benefit from the campus’s improved facilities. Photo Ed Kosmicki

Everyone is invited to attend an opening reception for CMC Rifle’s annual juried Fine Art Show featuring work from more than 60 artists from Garfield County’s diverse creative community. Guests can enjoy hors d’oeuvres and beverages, conversation and music while connecting with old friends and new.

Art show jurors Randy Milhoan, owner and operator of Milhoan Studios in Minturn, and Jim Cotter, owner of J. Cotter Galleries in Vail and Beaver Creek, will announce the show’s prize winners, with cash awards ranging from $50 to $250.

Also that evening there will be a 50th anniversary program, celebrating a half-century of learning and community support, as well as 50th anniversary cake.

RSVPs encouraged

 Colorado Mountain College is celebrating its 50th anniversary throughout 2017, thanks to presenting sponsors Alpine Bank, Jim and Connie Calaway, Holy Cross Energy (a Touchstone Energy Cooperative), Morgridge Family Foundation and Sodexo. Support is also being provided by Atlantic Aviation; Terra Energy; Chevron; FCI Constructors, Inc.; Grand River Health; Marble Distilling Co.; Mountain Town Coffee; Obermeyer Wood Investment Counsel, LLLP; Premier Party Rentals; Sopris Engineering and Mountain Temp Services LLC.

Stormy Anderson is the honorary chair of the event, in recognition of the Genevieve Clough Endowed Scholarship and Anderson’s gift of service as a CMC Foundation Board member. And special guest David Delaplane, considered the “founding father” of CMC, is expected to attend.

Colorado Mountain College Rifle is at 3695 Airport Road. RSVPs are requested for the Rifle Fine Art Show and 50th Anniversary Celebration. To RSVP, visit or call 625-1871.


In Rifle, CMC flexed with the times

Photo of former Colorado Mountain College Rifle campus

Colorado Mountain College’s Rifle campus moved into an unused Re-2 school district building after years of holding classes all over town wherever space was available. CMC on Railroad Avenue opened for classes in 1978. Colorado Mountain College archives

In 1972, Robert Wamsley was scrambling to find a space – any space – where he could fit eight to 10 people and some folding chairs for Colorado Mountain College continuing education classes in Rifle. At that time Wamsley was director of Rifle’s CMC center.

Rifle’s classes, offered to the public, were what CMC Continuing Education Director George Stricker called the “sidewalk college.” In the early days, in Rifle and at the college’s other community campuses, classes were held anywhere they’d fit. And that could mean a store front, a church basement, the local library or someone’s living room. In Rifle, “The pickins were pretty slim,” Wamsley recalled in a memoir written after he retired from the college.

In the first couple of years, hundreds of people signed up for classes. “We didn’t make a dime,” he said. But the program kept growing. The first offerings were basic education and vocational classes.

In 1975, continuing education had grown out of its two-rooms-and-a-folding-chair office in downtown Rifle. CMC opened discussions with the Re-2 school district to lease an unused building on Railroad Avenue. CMC and the school district reached an agreement, and extensive remodeling work began. The doors opened on the West Garfield County Center in 1978.

Photo of a graduation at Colorado Mountain College in Rifle

In the early ’70s, CMC offered basic education and vocational classes in Rifle. Since then, the college and the campus alike have grown both in size and in the wide range of educational opportunities offered. Last year, CMC Rifle graduated so many students two ceremonies were held to grant associate degrees, certificates, GEDs and bachelor’s degrees. And high school students were honored through a concurrent enrollment graduation, acknowledging both their college and high school achievements. This year’s commencement will be held in a hangar at the Rifle airport. Photo Dominique Taylor

The new building was a big step up, with nine classrooms, two offices and a gym. Classes were offered in New Castle, Silt and Parachute, as well as Rifle. The offerings included 10 vocational/technical, 15 academic, five basic skills and six recreation and avocational courses.

The early 1980s were watershed years for the college, and especially for Rifle. The oil shale industry was booming. The college was inundated with requests to provide training for workers. By the fall of 1981, the Rifle center offered 164 classes to over 900 students.

Then, as many longtime western Garfield County locals know, disaster struck. With a national recession holding the country in a firm grip, on May 2, 1982 – infamously known as Black Sunday – Exxon closed and locked the gates of its Colony Oil Shale Project on Parachute Creek, putting 2,200 people immediately out of work. The repercussions were great. Thousands of secondary and service jobs disappeared, and an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 people abruptly left the area.

It was a period of soul searching for the college. Enrollment took a sharp decline, but true to its boot-strap roots, the Rifle center looked for new opportunities. It redirected its focus from vocational training and began to market Associate of Arts and Associate of General Studies degrees, with the marketing tag line of “Earn a Degree in Your Hometown.”

In 1984, Rifle students celebrated the first CMC commencement ceremony held at a non-residential campus.

Anyone who’d like to share, or read, more stories of the people who’ve created and shaped Colorado Mountain College is invited to go to