You have probably seen the portrait of Georgia Nelson, along with many photographs of all the past recipients, on the Georgia Nelson Building stairway. The most recent honoree is Dan O’Neill, who was recognized at an assembly on March 15.
You may wonder who Mrs. Gorham was and why a prestigious alumni award established in 2007 is named for her. Since Mrs. Gorham came to Graland as a young teacher in 1930 and served in many important roles before retiring in 1992, it is easy to understand why many current school community members may not know much about her.
I am pleased to share my own perspective of this wonderful teacher and what others admired about her as well. In fact, I should begin by listing some of the quotes former students, parents, and fellow teachers wrote about her in a special edition of “Graland Today” in 1992: Ruth Gorham is “the epitome of Graland’s best,” “an institutional keeper of the flame,” “the single most talented educator I have known,” “an inspiration and guiding light,” “nurtured a feeling of self-worth in all,” and “ageless, tireless, always smiling, always positive, totally committed.”
Mrs. Gorham is perhaps best known as a seventh-grade English teacher, although she also taught French, history, and other subjects at nearly every grade level. For many years, she walked to Graland from her nearby home on Albion Street. Prior to her passing in 2004 at the age of 99, she had moved to California to be with her daughter Nancy a few years earlier.
My first encounter with Mrs. Gorham was as a somewhat anxious rising seventh grader about to have Mrs. Gorham as my English teacher, following in the footsteps of my father, uncle, and sister, all of whom had her as their teacher. While my homeroom teacher, Mrs. Chambers, was also outstanding, I always looked forward to going next door to Mrs. Gorham’s room in the former Gates Science Building for English class.
Mrs. Gorham inspired her students not only to love to learn but to love the English language as well. With her skill in teaching us about grammar and diagramming sentences, she guided us in composing sentences and improving our writing. She also emphasized the importance of vocabulary; each week, we studied ten new words from a box of flashcards that I still have.
What stood out the most to many about Mrs. Gorham was that she cared deeply about her students, her colleagues, her school (having worked there for 62 years!), and, in her later years, all of her former students who were like a family to her. Mrs. Gorham’s warmhearted concern was frequently shown through her words of encouragement, inspirational messages, and advice.
Mrs. Gorham’s strong impact at Graland was felt not only during her long tenure on campus but also in later years with current traditions that she had initiated. One of the most prominent ones is Knighting, which she developed as part of the Middle Ages study. Mrs. Priest and others have continued this special event, the pinnacle of the Graland experience for many.
During Graland’s earliest days, there was an emphasis on school trips as part of the founding progressive education philosophy. Mrs. Gorham and the other early school leaders believed that the real world outside of the classroom’s four walls should be part of every student’s experience, and they used the community to enrich classroom learning. Meaningful outings to sites such as Union Station and the Denver Museum of Natural History, as well as to local businesses and government buildings, were part of everyday school life.
Mrs. Gorham expanded the importance of travel by chaperoning trips to Europe starting in the 1960s. Those students who accompanied her on those summer trips have countless fond memories of their explorations together. These special experiences have led to other school travels, including those to the Southwest by Mrs. Priest and to Russia by Mr. Rice.
Mrs. Gorham also became the school’s first historian and preservationist. She took charge of organizing precious parts of the school’s history—school records, publications, brochures, memorabilia, and other items—and even authored the school’s first history book in 1977, “Graland Country Day School - The First 50 Years - 1927-77.”
As head of alumni relations, after retiring from teaching, she devotedly kept in contact with former students. I fondly remember her invitations to return to campus and attend the annual holiday program in the gym, followed by an alumni reception in the library. She was genuinely interested in every former student or family member who returned to Graland. Visiting with her was always the highlight.
Here is one final fun fact about Mrs. Gorham. She and her husband, Paul, were members of the Colorado Mountain Club, and they were the first married couple to climb all 52 of the designated peaks over 14,000 feet in Colorado. After climbing Capitol Peak on July 15, 1944, “The Saturday Evening Post” celebrated their accomplishment with an illustrated article.
With the school’s motto being Ascende Omnem Montem (Climb Every Mountain), it seems fitting that Mrs. Gorham and her legacy are so well connected to Graland. She showed deep caring and encouragement for every student’s endeavors and inspired them to take every step toward attaining their dreams.
With Mrs. Gorham’s warmth and encouraging nature, It is not difficult to imagine her in the lobby of the Corkins Center greeting us and saying, “Keep climbing those mountains!”
Two Alumni Awards, What’s the Difference?
The Ruth Gorham Alumni Award is presented each year to a member of the alumni community whose dedication and service to Graland exemplify Ruth Gorham’s lifelong commitment to the school.
The purpose of the Nancy Nye Priest ’39 Alumni Award is to honor alumni whose extraordinary contributions in their chosen field of endeavor reflect the exemplary qualities of the person, Graland Country Day School, and the global community in which we live.