Every year for four decades, Gordo Stonington ’61 has made a gift to The CA Fund. Forty years of giving to Colorado Academy—and he doesn’t even need a reminder.
“I do not wait to be asked,” he says. “And I always say, ‘Just use it where it is needed.’”
Stonington’s philanthropic faithfulness goes back to a conversation he had with then-Headmaster Chuck Froelicher, when he was a Senior. It also reflects discussions he had with his parents who gave to causes they believed in.
“I think you should set an example,” he says. “I’m not a major donor, but my consistency sends a message, and that is a contribution in and of itself.”
To understand Stonington’s loyalty to an institution where he spent only three years takes a bit of time travel, but the journey—which includes a PhD, blacksmithing, and Labrador Retrievers—is worth it.
A lifelong learner
When Stonington came to CA in 1958 as a Sophomore in the Upper School, he immediately found his niche.
“I am a math and science person, and at CA, I found teachers like John Bradford and John Vance,” he says. “I clicked with them and the sort of progressive educational programs CA had. I think I became a teacher in large part because of the teachers I had at CA and because my father was a professor at the medical school.”
At CA, he also played soccer and joined the ski team.
He went on to complete his undergraduate degree at Williams College and his PhD in molecular biology at the University of Colorado. He was doing post-doctoral work when a chance meeting redirected his life.
“I was at a CA gathering, and I asked [then-Head of School] Frank Wallace if he needed a science teacher, and he said, ‘No, I need a math teacher.’”
Not long after that, Stonington’s fellowship lost its funding. He made a call to Wallace.
“Still need a math teacher?” he asked. “Sure, we will try you out for a year,” Wallace replied.
And that’s how Oliver Gordon Stonington Jr. began a decades-long career in education. He taught at CA for three years and then joined the faculty of Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS), a college prep school for grades 9-12 in Carbondale, Colo., where he worked for 29 years.
At CRMS, he taught math, physics, geology, advanced biology, astronomy—and blacksmithing. He was also a soccer coach and taught backcountry skiing, backpacking, and mountain biking. At the same time he was educating students, he was learning new skills. At CA, he had learned technical theater, and he had continued doing tech theater in college. At CRMS, he had the opportunity to expand his knowledge of electricity and wiring and slipped into the role of campus electrician. He helped build new buildings. He loved working in an environment where “you could do it all.”
“So much of what I have done in my life I can trace back to CA,” he says, “because I had experiences there that piqued my interest.”
But he believed there was one gap in his education—he felt he was missing an art form. And then he found blacksmithing. He apprenticed himself to the world-famous blacksmith Francis Whitaker, learned the craft, and passed on his knowledge to CRMS students. It became his favorite thing to teach.
“It’s an unusual art form,” he says. “It’s individual and hands-on, and the person I learned it from really inspired me.”
From his first days at CA to decades of learning and teaching others, Stonington embodies the lifelong learner, always curious, always sharing his knowledge with others.
The birth of the Alumni Association
When Stonington was a Senior at CA, he was a leader of student government, and he met with Froelicher about starting an Alumni Association. He remembers discussing how important alumni could be for CA and how they could help the school financially. He also gave Froelicher some advice.
“I told him, ‘Remember, those of us who are starting this organization will not have any earnings for a few years, so you will have to support this organization until alumni can get involved at a higher level.”
Decades later, the CA Alumni Association is thriving, and Stonington has come through on his promise to support CA year after year. His gifts to The CA Fund go to academics, financial aid, arts, athletics, and technology and help bridge the gap between tuition revenue, endowment income, and the full cost of a CA education for each student. He credits his willingness to remember a school he attended more than 60 years ago to the teachers he had at CA.
“The most important thing I experienced at CA was the interest that the teachers had in helping us learn,” he says. “The teachers were truly dedicated.”
These days, Stonington is still busy. He harvests the fruit from his apple orchards and he also grows cherries and peaches. He helps his wife garden and raise Labrador Retrievers. They have 12 Labs and—at the moment—six puppies. So he is a busy man, still working hard, still learning. But he always makes time to remember CA and continue his record of giving.