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This is the tenth installment in a multi-part series published in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent celebrating Colorado Mountain College’s 50th anniversary.

Photo of Alexandra Yajko

Alexandra Yajko, who, during her tenure as CEO of the CMC Foundation, brought in millions of dollars of support to the college, was recently honored when Colorado Mountain College dedicated a room to her at Morgridge Commons. The plaque reads, in part, “With gratitude to Alexandra Yajko, who opened the gift of education to countless students through her own generosity and work.” Photo Charles Engelbert

By the turn of the 21st century, Colorado Mountain College had evolved and matured along with the communities it served. The small, scattered towns of the 1960s were now connected by robust and interdependent economies, better roadways and the new information highway. The college had successfully weathered economic hard times during the oil shale bust, and had adapted to meet changing community needs without losing its plucky, independent, small-mountain-town character.

Many of the changes that had been put into play in the late 1990s came to full fruition in the new millennium. Among the drivers were speed-of-light changes in technology, most notably the internet. It brought both global communication and unfettered access to information. The Technology Revolution was one that CMC embraced wholeheartedly.

Thanks to the Morgridge Family Foundation, which gave CMC one of the college’s first million-dollar gifts, Colorado Mountain College was able to provide improved technology for the college as a whole. In their honor, in 2000 the Morgridge Family Academic Center was built – a new Aspen Campus building designed by noted architect Harry Teague.

Along with the expansion of technological access, the college planned for facilities upgrades. Major building projects were targeted for Edwards, Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs, Chaffee County and Rifle. Many of these would require funding beyond the usual revenue sources, so the college sought private donors who would support its mission.

The CMC Foundation’s CEO at the time, Alexandra Yajko, led the many-fronted fundraising effort across multiple counties and communities. She developed support from diverse and unexpected sources, while also raising the profile of the college as an organization worthy of philanthropic gifts.

Chaffee County residents were well aware of the college and its benefits. Classes had been offered there since 1971. But because Chaffee County was outside the CMC taxing district, residents had to raise all funds for a new building from external sources. They stepped up. Ronald Southard and Carole Perrin donated 36 acres near Buena Vista. Local bank president Charlie Forster led the citizens’ effort to raise the majority of the rest of the funds. Thanks to community support, the new Chaffee County Academic Center in Buena Vista opened for classes in 2005.

The new CMC building in Edwards opened in 2004; with increased demand for courses, an expansion was built in 2010, nearly doubling the size of the building. CMC Vail Valley in Edwards is part of a community collaboration that, within a handful of acres, allows a student to start in pre-K and continue through to earning a bachelor’s degree.

Several natural gas development companies gave substantial gifts to the college in 2005 to expand workforce training and help to build a new campus. Western Garfield County was rich in natural gas, exploration companies were looking for trained workers – and local residents needed well-paying jobs.

Two of the leading energy companies operating in Garfield County at the time, Encana and Williams, made sizeable donations to kick-start a capital campaign to build a new academic building in Rifle. Encana’s $3 million gift, followed by Williams’ $1 million, put the college well on the road to meet a $6 million goal to build a new campus in Rifle.

Thanks to community, tax and philanthropic support, in the early 2000s new CMC buildings also were constructed in Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs.