Remembering a Legend: Chuck Froelicher

Remembering a Legend: Chuck Froelicher

November 25th, 2014–

My name is Peter O’Neil; I am the executive director of the Colorado Outward Bound School. I am also the proud parent of three Colorado Academy children, so Chuck touched my life in many ways. I would like to tell you about Chuck’s impact on education in this country — through the Colorado Outward Bound School.

When Chuck engaged in something that he felt passionate about, he was relentless. He epitomized the Henry David Thoreau phrase, “I want to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” And he did just that all the way up to October 17th when he left us.

Chuck was the founder of the Colorado Outward Bound School in 1960, at which time he was also leading Colorado Academy as headmaster. Chuck believed that as educators we must develop these character traits in our students: leadership, courage, and an ethos of service. It was Chuck’s belief in the importance of instilling these values in the youth of America that led him over to Great Britain to seek out a German-born, Jewish educator who narrowly escaped the Nazi persecution: a man by the name of Kurt Hahn, the founder of Outward Bound in the 1940’s in Europe.

To say that Chuck was a pioneer would be an understatement. He was more of a visionary, who truly understood the importance of character development as an integral component of a well-rounded education that complemented traditional academics. And so Chuck brought Kurt Hahn’s philosophy back to the United States and he set out to found the first Outward Bound school in this country, the Colorado Outward Bound School. It grew quickly, and it thrived. Since its inception, Outward Bound has changed the lives of more than 1,000,000 students through challenge and discovery.

But Chuck had his dream almost dashed 15 years ago, a time of turmoil and uncertainty at Outward Bound when the organization lost its way and almost dissolved. And Chuck distanced himself.

And yet, when I met with him on May 15 of 2012 he was quick to re-engage, to have faith that his dream could be resurrected. He did not hold back even though he had spent the previous 15 years on the side lines watching as Outward Bound headed towards a serious decline. When I told him where the Colorado Outward Bound School stood and where I thought we could take his school, I distinctly remember his words. Two simple words: “I’m in.” And so it began. It is hard to express what it meant to me personally to have the original founder at my back, as our small team of staff and board of directors worked to resurrect COBS.

On the first weekend of September, less than 2 months ago when the aspen were just starting to turn, Chuck returned to where it all began to re-tell the story. At the re-dedication of the first Outward Bound basecamp in the United States, he referred to it (Marble) as the Plymouth Rock of wilderness, experiential, character-development education. It was a home to him. After 54 years he still had a solid belief in what we were doing, and he made the trek to Marble even though his health was failing him.

Very few organizations make it to their 50-year anniversary. How many companies in the Fortune 500 have been around for 54 years? Less than 15%. And of the 200,000 or so non-profits that were around in the 1960’s, less than 2,000 are still around today. One of these is the Colorado Outward Bound School. Chuck’s dream has endured because of his unwavering belief in the importance of character development in young adults. It is as relevant today as it was back in 1960, perhaps even more relevant.

“There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives, we will be unwilling to settle for less.” -Kurt Hahn

This is what Chuck brought to those students, and to me. Following is an excerpt from an email I wrote to Chuck on Friday, October 17th, the day he left us, and soon after our last conversation. I believe this is one data point of how this truly remarkable man touched one life. And you can multiply that impact on one individual, many tens of thousands’ of times over.

I want you to know that the Colorado Outward Bound School has truly shaped me into who I am today. Of late, I have been thinking a lot about those moments in my life that I refer to as “Frost Moments.” As in the poet, Robert Frost, for whom “two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” In January of 1973, during my freshman year at Colorado College, I was a student on a 23-day winter ski mountaineering course in the San Juan Mountains with the Colorado Outward Bound School. That course changed the direction of my life, and it has made all the difference. And that Frost Moment would never have happened for me if you had not pursued your dream of bringing Outward Bound to this country. So thank you for that. I personally understand the value of the transformational power of the Colorado Outward Bound School. Therefore I am passionate about making sure that your school, our school continues to thrive.

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.