#3910 Created 07/18/2018 Updated 05/19/2019
I started with the Community Free School in the spring of 1971, after talking with Stephen Foehr on the steps of Macky Auditorium, right after graduating from the School of Journalism.
He told me of a group of "hippies" on the hill that had a magazine, and needed some experienced publishing help with their "Free School Catalog".
I had never heard of the Community Free School, and when I arrived there I discovered that almost everyone there was relatively new, as many staff positions had just turned over.
Originally a student organization at the University of Colorado called Unincorporated University, it was formed by CU students Vic Reinking and Jack McGill in late 1968 or early 1969, and they pulled together around 40 classes, which were publicized by posters hung in the University Memorial Center loggia. Unic U had then been recognized by the Associated Students at the University of Colorado (ASUC) in 1969.
(Note: Vic Reinking is also remembered at the person who initiated the Athletic Department's use of live buffalo mascots at University of Colorado Buffaloes' football games in 1966.)
Students at CU had been inspired by sketchy tales of the Free University of Berkeley, which dates its inception to December of 1964. Their manifesto proclaimed "We dared to claim we could think for ourselves. We dared to think we were free citizens in a free country, standing up for what was right and being proud of ourselves for doing it." Their stated goal was to "heal the schism between current educational whitewash and the realities of our society."
From the beginning, CU's Unic U lacked organization, information did not flow effectively between school and students, and many classes failed. It's efforts were scattered, and the energy seemed to lay fallow.
That's when a new group of Free School people emerged, which included Walter Beckert, a student in the CU School of Education, who was agitating within his University classes, and musing into his notebook, about the ways that education should change to better serve both students and society. "Survival U," he mused. "What must we do to be saved?"
"Today, many institutions on earth are getting old and crumbling, starting to sag under continuing pressure – the education system is one of these."
Walter Beckert's 1970 spiral notebook -- complete with class notes from Education School classes -- contains the meeting notes of a group of students and townspeople who were talking of starting a "education experiment" in Boulder.
That notebook, somehow preserved for 45 years, came my way a few years ago, and survives as the testament of the Community Free School's early days.
That first organizational attempt was immediately followed by the creation of the Community Free School as a student organization, budgeted within the Associated Students of the University of Colorado (ASUC), and was immediately incorporated as a Colorado Colorado Corporation on Oct. 17, 1969, by Laura Canon, Marsha Moberly, and Walter Beckert. The application was signed by Pat Stimer, then-president of the CU Student Association, ASUC.
Tim Fuller, a local bookstore owner, arranged for rental space in the old Chrysler Garage, at 1030 13th, behind the Jabberwock Bookstore, and the Community Free School moved from Campus to the Hill. The staff at that point included Laura Canon, Marsha Moberly, Walter Beckert, John Brown, and Timothy Fuller, and was represented by attorney Dennis Blewitt.
The School immediately moved heavily into media, as Fuller launched the Boulder Express newspaper, edited by Bob Wells, which hit the streets in Boulder on Earth Day, April 22, 1970, and published weekly until October of that year, when it transitioned to a smaller-format publication, the Boulder Magazine.
There may have been a printed Free School Catalog or two during 1970, but I have never seen one. The oldest surviving Catalog, from early in 1971, features a cover photo with 29 staff members. My collection includes the CFS Catalog from the beginning of 1971 (printed on February 8, 1971 by Lonnie Nixon, at the Record Stockman, in Denver. That marked the beginning of long relationship between Lonnie Nixon and the Community Free School).
When I first arrived at 1030 13th street, four months later, the place was humming. I got to know Will Schaleben, Tatiana Soudakoff, Scott Gibbs, Shaw McCutecheon, Dave Hard, and a few others, mostly involved with publishing boulder magazine, which is why I was there, and Susan Tremaine, Jim Leuders and others involved in the Free School's class operations.
I was struck by the School's facility, which probably covered 1,500 sq. ft. There was a reception area up front, which opened to a large "page layout" room, with slanted work-boards lining the walls to facilitate the paste-up of photo-offset publication pages. In the adjacent room were two sheet-fed printing presses, a hand-cranked paper cutter, a large copy camera built into the wall of a photo darkroom, and a Singer-Friden Photo-typesetter. In the final, smaller room, were a handful of desks and tables, and typewriters.
Strangely, there were no classrooms.
And that's the beginning of my story. Just out of Journalism school, slightly square but thinking I was slightly hip, looking for an opportunity in publishing, and sitting in a room full of long-haired, wild-eyed hippies who knew how to type.
OK, so they weren't that wild-eyed, and not all of them had long hair. But it was journalism, I thought, comfortable territory for me.
And I knew how to type.
Seemed like a good beginning.
Boy, was I in for a surprise.