It’s been more than 50 years since Joel Knight ’67 graduated from Colorado Academy, but stories about legendary headmaster Chuck Froelicher are still fresh in his mind.
Knight was a student in the days when CA was an all-male boarding and day school. At Thanksgiving, he ended up staying on campus, rather than flying home to Alabama.
“There were a group of us who were left on campus, and I will never forget Chuck Froelicher picking us up in his Bentley and driving us to the Brown Palace for Thanksgiving dinner,” Knight says. “We thought we were very sophisticated. And I remember thinking, ‘Please let me use the right fork!’”
That Chuck Froelicher mix of serious sophistication and high expectations made an indelible impression on years of graduates. Many alumni from the years 1961 through 1976 returned to CA for Homecoming weekend to witness the dedication of the Upper School building, which has now been renamed the F. Charles Froelicher Upper School.
“Chuck died in 2014, but his presence is felt every day on campus,” said Head of School Dr. Mike Davis at the dedication ceremony on Saturday, September 18, 2021. “When we made the decision to replace the Froelicher Theatre with the Leach Center for the Performing Arts, we knew that the Froelicher name would not fade from view. It was an easy decision to place his name on our Upper School.”
The Froelicher legacy
Froelicher came to CA in 1955, and in the 20 years he served as Headmaster, he transformed the school from a boys-only military academy into the coed college preparatory school it is today. He hired outstanding teachers and developed traditions that still live on.
But the task of saving and building CA was not easy. He liked to tell the story of sitting in his office and watching as a car would drive onto campus. He would jump up and chase the car down, in the hopes that he could persuade one more family to send their child to CA and move the school one step closer to financial stability.
Knight still remembers Froelicher’s office. “You did not want to get called into that office,” he laughs. “Chuck was just an all-important figure, and you were always aware of his presence. You wanted to please him because he was a father figure to many of us.”
Froelicher was a 20th century Renaissance man with a unique combination of talents and skills. He described himself as an indifferent student, but he was inquisitive, classy, outdoorsy, and entrepreneurial. He brought Outward Bound to the United States by establishing the Colorado Outward Bound School in 1961.
He was also the first executive director of the Gates Family Foundation, a founder of the Copper Mountain ski resort, a champion of Denver Botanic Gardens as an independent nonprofit organization, and a force behind establishing both the Sangree Hut in the Tenth Mountain Division hut system and the South Platte River Greenway that runs through Denver.
“I am proud to say that he was also my mentor,” said Davis to the gathering of alumni, faculty, and family that assembled to honor Froelicher. “He left a legacy unmatched, and those of us who follow can only try to live up to his ideals.”
Retired Lower School Principal Dr. Tom Fitzgerald and members of Froelicher’s family also attended the dedication, including Franz Froelicher ’72, Rica Froelicher ’76, nephew Peter Froelicher with his wife Linda, and granddaughter Sarah Emery ’10. Rica spoke on behalf of her family.
“Thank you so much for supporting this,” she said. “I know my dad would be completely excited. CA has always been a special place for our family and we greatly appreciate it.”
‘The secret sauce’
Knight spent his visit to CA walking the campus, looking for old landmarks, and marveling at the new buildings, including the Froelicher Upper School, the Athletic Center, and the Leach Center for the Performing Arts. The one building that still looks familiar to him is the iconic Welborn House.
But Froelicher would be the first to point out—and Knight would agree—that CA is more than its buildings.
“CA has the secret sauce to success,” Knight says. “It’s the camaraderie that comes from being in a smaller school where you know everyone very well. And when it was a boarding school, your classmates became your family—your brothers.”
All the alumni who gathered for the dedication had CA and Chuck Froelicher memories. After their weekend together, they went home with even more memories, knowing that the era of Chuck Froelicher will now be remembered on CA’s campus for all time.
“We thought that to have this new building named after him was fitting and appropriate,” Knight says. “Were it not for Chuck Froelicher, the institution would not be what it is today. Even when it was hard to make ends meet, he found teachers, he found students, and he got the backing of the community. He was the glue that held it together and made people want to be here.”