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Q&A with Dr. Duane Vandenbusche

Duane Vandenbusche is a Professor of History at Western Colorado University in Gunnison since 1962 and has just been named Colorado’s State Historian, the first to be based outside of the Front Range in its 96-year history.

He is the author of 11 books including: “The Gunnison Country,” “Around Monarch Pass,” “Lake City” (with Grant Houston), “A Land Alone: Colorado’s Western Slope,” “The Black Canyon of the Gunnison” (with Grant Houston), “Marble, Colorado: City of Stone” (with Rex Myers), “Western State College: Mountain Mecca,” “Crested Butte,” “Early Days in the Gunnison Country,” “Around the Gunnison Country,” “Lake City Branch of the Denver Rio Grande Railroad” (with Walt Borneman). He is also a contributor to Colorado Central Magazine.

Vandenbusche coached track & field and cross country for 37 years at Western from 1971-2007 and won 12 national cross country championships, producing four Olympic athletes. he is a seven-time National Coach of the Year and is a member of the Western, Upper Michigan and NCAA halls of fame.

A new section of singletrack bike trail at Signal Peak near Gunnison was recently dubbed “Duane’s World” in honor of Dr. Vandenbusche. At 3.2 miles, it is the longest trail the nonprofit team, Gunnison Trails, has built.

CC: How long do you hope to continue teaching at Western?

DV: I plan to continue teaching as long as I enjoy it, am doing a good job and stay healthy.

CC: Where did you earn your degrees?

DV: B.A. from Northern Michigan and M.A. and Ed.D. from Oklahoma State University.

CC: What prompted you to choose a career as a teacher?

DV: I have always been interested in history and conveying it to young people.

CC: Why Western?

DV: I came to Western by chance—jobs were very easy to get in 1962 because of the baby boom and returning veterans. I was hired over the telephone while at Oklahoma State. I had never been to the mountains or Colorado before.

CC: Is there a particular graduating class which stands out to you?

DV: No particular graduating class stands out—I was always proud of all of them.

CC: What would have been your second choice for a career?

DV: My second choice for a career would have been playing baseball for my favorite team—the Detroit Tigers—unfortunately the talent was not there!

CC: What was your proudest moment as a coach?

DV: There were many proud moments during my coaching career in track and field and cross country. Winning eight national championships for men and four for women in cross country were high on the list, but probably most proud when they graduated. I always had three rules for the men and women—be a good person, a good student, and a good athlete—in that order.

CC: What are the official duties of the Colorado State Historian?

DV: The duties of the State Historian involved representing the people of Colorado and giving them a sense of the history of the state through writing, talks and podcasts.

CC: Do you have a favorite topic of Colorado history?

DV: I love everything about the history of Colorado but in particular some of my favorite topics include the narrow gauge railroad, the mining camps, ranching and the mountains.

CC: What are the origins of your family name?

DV: I asked my father who was born near Antwerp, Belgium, the origin of my name and he said it meant “people of the bush.” I guess we were not aristocrats!

CC: What year were you born?

DV: Born August 4, 1937.

CC: Do you still ski and mountain bike?

DV: I still ski at least 50 times a year mostly at my favorite areas—Monarch and Crested Butte, but also at Steamboat Springs and Vail when I give talks there. Another of my favorite areas is Cooper Hill. I also mountain bike almost daily in the summer and fall at Hartman Rocks near Gunnison and in the wonder trails at Crested Butte.

CC: How have you been dealing with the recent pandemic?

DV: I have been dealing with the recent pandemic by staying outdoors a lot—biking and hiking and keeping my mask on in public and teaching classes and podcasts via Zoom.

CC: Have you milked any cows since you were 18?

DV: Yes, I milked cows until I was 21 although not as frequently after 18 because I was at Northern Michigan University.

CC: Any advice for aspiring historians?

DV: My advice for aspiring historians is to follow your dreams and know that history gives everyone guidance and a road map to the future.

CC: Thank you, Dr. Vandenbusche!