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The Collegiate Peaks Forum Series stimulates and challenges

Article by Lynda La Rocca

Local lectures – May 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

“… all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid

effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth

conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore….”

— Herman Melville

“Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.”

— Walter Lippmann

WHILE HUMANKIND’S SEARCH for meaning is certainly the focus of Chaffee County’s Collegiate Peaks Forum Series, these lectures on philosophy, religion, and science are also designed to unite the community in an atmosphere where pondering, discussing, questioning, and of course, thinking, are not just welcome, they’re pretty much mandatory.

Since its 2003 inception, the Collegiate Peaks Forum Series has consistently fulfilled its vision to serve as “…|a bridge facilitating personal enrichment and constructive dialogue among individuals and groups … [one that] … is committed to communicating with integrity, listening openly and honoring the differences of its participants.”

Collegiate Peaks does this by engaging nationally known speakers — all experts in their fields — for a series of free public lectures held from June through September. Previous speakers have included former Colorado Governor Richard D. Lamm; Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel And Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America; leading Biblical scholar Dr. John Dominic Crossan; and the late Vine Deloria Jr., a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and a seminal Native American rights activist. Deloria’s acclaimed first book, the bestseller Custer Died for Your Sins, prodded the federal government and the anthropological community into amending their relationships with indigenous peoples in ways ranging from expanding tribal autonomy to returning sacred artifacts.

Even the titles of individual presentations are often thought-provoking, as with last year’s “Global Warming and Climate Change — Have You Been Presented the Full Story?” and this season’s “Does the Earth Need People?” Other times, while the subject is serious, the lecture’s title is delightfully whimsical, as with my personal favorites, “The Future of God” and “The Theory and Theology of Everything.”

BUT THE FORUM SERIES is more than an opportunity for scientists, theologians, authors, and politicians to talk about everything from classical Greek and Roman religious tenets to contemporary public policy and the challenges of aging. The series also inspires and encourages pubic participation through the always-spirited question-and-answer sessions that accompany each lecture.

“People are interested in these subjects because they all fall under the rubric of the quest for truth,” says series founder and Buena Vista resident John Cogswell. “Our stated goal is to bring in nationally recognized people to lecture on science, religion, and philosophy, but we also wanted to create and maintain a common meeting ground for community members. And in the back of my mind, I always thought of this series as a way to bring people together.”

That’s exactly what Cogswell, a lawyer and fifth-generation Colorado native, along with entrepreneur and former Presbyterian minister Phil Jones envisioned when they got together for lunch and came up with the concept of the Forum Series. Joined by fellow founders Butch Butler, an oil-and-gas-industry specialist, leadership-development consultant Doug MacKay, and all four respective spouses, the group established the series as a vehicle for accompanying some of the nation’s best and brightest on a journey of spiritual and intellectual discovery.

They started small, with a two speakers the first season, and then steadily increased the number of annual lectures to this year’s eight.

Cogswell, Jones, Butler, and MacKay still serve on a ten-member Board of Directors that oversees every aspect of the Forum Series, from securing speakers, promoting each lecture, and printing programs to setting out refreshments and providing pens and notepads for audience members.

AS A COLORADO NONPROFIT 501(c)(3) corporation with an annual budget of $22,000, the Collegiate Peaks Forum Series relies on contributions from individuals and local businesses and matching-grant funds to continue its mission. Donations help pay travel and lodging expenses for each speaker and his or her spouse, plus the standard $1,000 speaker’s fee. (“And it’s only $1,000 per speaker, with rare exceptions,” Cogswell emphasizes.)

“Even though we don’t pay much, over the years we’ve found that previous speakers tell their friends [often in the same field] what a good time they had here and that draws even more speakers,” he adds.

The opportunity to spend a few days in Colorado’s high country undoubtedly factors into the decision to accept a Forum Series speaking engagement. But why locate this event in Chaffee County as opposed to, say, Boulder, which already has a reputation as a hub of intellectual prowess?

“For the simple reason,” Cogswell chuckles, “that most of our founders live in northern Chaffee County.”

Those of us fortunate enough to reside in the Upper Arkansas River Valley know that Chaffee County encompasses vast areas of stunning natural beauty, making it a perfect setting for thinking deep thoughts about humanity’s relevance in a magnificent and mystifying universe.

During a break from his 2004 talk on Native American philosophy and religion, Vine Deloria seemed lost in such thoughts while gazing at the craggy hills behind the Buena Vista Community Center, a regular Forum Series’ venue. Plucking up my courage, I quickly introduced myself before blurting out a question: “Do you really think there’s a God?”

To my lasting delight, that query ignited a brief but intense commentary on the nature of the deity, the possibility of predestination, and anecdotal evidence of animal intelligence. And for the record, yes, Deloria did indeed believe in “not a European God, but a universal presence, a personality.”

That exchange left me, in turn, gazing at the hills — while congratulating myself for having settled in a place where I can participate, each summer, in the Collegiate Peaks Forum Series, an event that fills both mind and soul with new, and often breathtaking, insights and ideas.

Lynda La Rocca contemplates the upper Arkansas Valley from Lake Creek as it pauses at Twin Lakes.


The Collegiate Peaks Forum Series depends upon community support to continue to offer its stimulating and informative programs to the public.

To learn more about the series, its speakers, and its history, or to become a financial contributor, contact the Collegiate Peaks Forum Series, P.O. Box 1672, Buena Vista, CO 81211; 719-395-8059 or 719-395-4040;