Long-time EVHS teachers to be honored at Fire and Ice Gala
GYPSUM — For more than three decades, teachers George McCollum and Bob Zimmerman were colleagues at Eagle Valley High School (EVHS) but even in retirement, their names will be linked in perpetuity.
McCollum and Zimmerman are the 2019 inductees to the EVHS Hall of Fame.
The pair will be honored at the EVHS Foundation Fire and Ice Gala planned for Saturday.
For a long time, retirement didn’t stick for McCollum. He retired from EVHS back in 2005, but ended up substitute teaching for a couple of years. Then he moved over to Vail Christian High where he taught for a few years and then substituted for a couple more. Finally, he spent a couple of years teaching at St. Clare’s. By the time he was finished, it was 2018.
“I decided that would be the last time,” said McCollum.
McCollum is a Colorado native who graduated from Boulder High School in 1950. However, McCollum wasn’t immediately drawn to a career in education.
“I waited about nine years. I had worked all around the country,” he said. But when he decided to enroll in college, he had simple selection criteria.
“I wanted to find the cheapest way to go,” he said.
He eventually enrolled at Northeastern Junior College where he took a very heavy course load after getting special permission from the college president.
“The deal was if my GPA dropped below a B average, I would go back to the recommended load,” said McCollum. That didn’t happen and eventually, he was able to finish up his degree at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.
As his college studies progressed, McCollum found he was doing well in the math program, so he focused his attention there and graduated with a degree in secondary education. But one of the biggest challenges of his career happened at his very first job — a one-room, seven-student school near Fort Morgan.
“I didn’t know a thing about elementary education and my second-grade student didn’t know how to read,” said McCollum.
Luckily, his mother was a veteran teacher.
“I asked my mother what do to and she suggested phonics.” So McCollum taught himself how to teach reading.
He only taught at the one-room school for one year, before moving over to New Rayner High School.
“One day the principal came to four of us and said, ‘How would you like to go to Eagle?’ I said, ‘What is in Eagle?’ and he said there was a job for us,” said McCollum.
“I enjoyed teaching — the math teaching. That was all I wanted to do,” said McCollum.
“The secret to teaching math is to talk slowly and explain the thing clearly and make sure that you have the students ask questions as you go along,” he added.
Anyone who ever learned math from McCollum can remember his booming voice and his number tricks and tips. Many students also can recall playing some epic pranks on him. McCollum certainly remembers his students’ shenanigans.
One spring, his students decided to empty his classroom and fill it with newspapers. “They proceeded to remove all of my stuff in my classroom. Everything — books, desks and chairs. Then they filled it up with newspapers. There was paper all the way to the ceiling. I took trash bag after trash bag full of paper out of the room,” McCollum said.
After he was done, a student asked if he could have the bags to play the prank on another teacher.
“I gave them the paper back and I didn’t ask them where they were going with it. Then at the end of the day, I found they had stuffed them in my car. They got to me twice,” said McCollum.
While he was a fixture at EVHS for decades, McCollum has also been a stalwart member of the Eagle community. He and his wife Pat will celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary this year and the couple raised sons George Jr. “Mack” and James and daughter Heidi in the community. McCollum has been a long time member of both the Eagle Lions Club and the Eagle Masons and a baseball and wrestling referee.
When asked about his fellow Hall of Fame inductee, McCollum said he is honored to share the honor.
“I thought Bob did an excellent job of teaching chemistry,” he said.
Like McCollum, Bob Zimmerman is one of those teachers you never forget. Along with his teaching duties, students could count on seeing “Zim” at sporting and special events, wearing a “Go Devils Go” ball cap that features horns on the sides.
“I started at EVHS in the fall of 1971,” said Zimmerman. “It was actually my second year of teaching in Colorado.”
Zimmerman earned his degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, but the mountains were already calling.
“I always had this dream of living in the mountains and the first time I saw them, they were even better than I thought. I decided I would live out here.”
Believe it or not, Zimmerman was actually a Husky before he was a Devil. He taught at the old Battle Mountain High School at Maloit Park for one year, from 1969-70.
“I found out there was money out there from the National Science Foundation to get your master’s degree,” he said. “I was offered a spot in the program from the University of Oklahoma and I had to accept that. It was a free master’s degree.”
When he returned to Eagle County, EVHS had an opening for a ninth grade earth science and eighth grade general science teacher.
“There were 250 students at EVHS, grades seven through 12. That is about the size of the freshman class coming up,” he said.
After a few years, the EVHS chemistry teacher left and Zimmerman was assigned to teach the subject. He also became the EVHS physics teacher.
“I really got into teaching chemistry after teaching earth science for several years,” he said.
Mad Scientist vibe
The foundation of Zimmerman’s classes was real-world applications and hands-on labs. One of his experiments was particularly epic. “But it’s the reason why I have ringing in my ears to this day,” said Zimmerman.
The demonstration involved putting some dry ice into a plastic bottle, pouring in some water, replacing the lid and sitting back. “It makes a pretty impressive explosion,” Zimmerman said.
The first time he performed the demonstration, Zimmerman made certain his students were safely removed from the impending blast, but he forgot to take into account how loud the boom would be in his cinderblock classroom. “This then went off KABOOM,” he said.
While Zimmerman said his style of teaching was very different from McCollum’s, he always enjoyed his colleague, especially because McCollum had experience teaching chemistry.
“George told me when he taught, he had all his students memorize the periodic table,” said Zimmerman. “So I told him ‘It was easier to do it back then, there were a lot fewer elements.’”
Zimmerman also shared McCollum’s fluid sense of what “retirement” means. After his first retirement, Zimmerman agreed to teach an ACT preparation course and then agreed to fill in for a colleague’s paternity leave.
“I got roped into it and then one week turned into two,” he said. He finally, fully retired in 2014. All told, he had a 43-year career at EVHS.
“I saw the school grow, get torn down and then built up again around me,” Zimmerman said.
Along with McCollum and Zimmerman, community member and EVHS graduate Ed Oyler will be honored Saturday night for his contributions to the school.
“He is always there for the kids and that is the reason, plain and simple, that he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame,” said EVHS Foundation President Scott Green. “It’s about his community support — his support for 4-H or the baseball team or whatever. I don’t think Ed has ever said ‘no’ to any kid in a fundraising capacity.”
Green added that Oyler also has been an example to other local business owners.
“I feel that Ed has been a huge impact on myself and other guys in the community,” said Green. “He leads a whole slew of people by example.”
Chris Anthony’s documentary film project chronicles post-war activities of the 10th Mountain Division.