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A century of making things happen

Editor’s note: Community Builder is a periodic Q & A series providing perspectives from local people who have been involved in significant change in Southern Oregon. Today’s conversation is with 100-year-old Dan Bulkley, teacher, athlete, coach and founder of the Mt. Ashland Ski Patrol — among many other accomplishments.

Q: How did you end up teaching at Southern Oregon College?

Dan: Southern Oregon College of Education, that was the total name. I was teaching in high school in Southern California and I had just signed a contract to teach at San Juan Capistrano High School when I heard about the job at Southern. I really didn’t want to teach at high school, I wanted to teach at college. Luckily, I was able to find another candidate to take the high school job so I could accept the job at Southern Oregon. That was 1950. Elmo Stevenson was the Southern Oregon College president then.

I grew up in Thailand. My father was a medical missionary. There were no schools in our area, but there was a boarding school for missionary children in India that I attended. We had a long vacation at Christmas time and only went home then. It took about five days. From Bangkok, Thailand, we took a train to Singapore, then we took a ship across to Madras, India, and then a train down from there. The school was up in the mountains down south at a hill resort. We’d spend the school year in India and only got home to Thailand during the Christmas break, for about three months.

Q: What did you teach at Southern Oregon?

Dan: I taught health and physical education and coached. Actually they hired me as the tennis coach, because I’d played tennis and coached tennis. They didn’t have a track team at the time. Some of the kids came around and said, “Can we get a track team going?” I said, “Well, OK, I’ll see what I can do,” and agreed to coach track if they got a team.

Q: So the story is that you hauled college students up to what is now Mt. Ashland to teach skiing?

Dan: I learned to ski in Southern California, so I already was a skier. I didn’t see snow until I was 18 and in college in the United States. I skied Mammoth Mountain when there was just a rope tow. The first year I was in Ashland, I found out that there was a defunct ski club in Grants Pass and they had this old rope tow that they had mounted on a toboggan. The club wasn’t doing anything with it. So I went to the business manager, Don Lewis, and said, “Don, we can buy a rope tow for $100.” He said, “That’s an awful lot of money.” In those day, the college wasn’t too flush. I said, “Tell you what. I’ll pay for half if the college buys the other half.” He said, “$50, OK, I’ll donate $50 for the college if you pay $50.” So I owned half the rope tow. That was our first adventure into skiing. I put the rope tow up on the Siskiyou Pass; we just found an open slope near the summit. So we put the rope tow up, but we had to take it up and down every year. I had to build a frame so it sat up off the ground.

Q: Did you transport kids up there? Did they have to get up on their own or did you run a bus up there?

Dan: Well, the first year, we didn’t have any equipment. I talked to the business manager again about buying a little bit of equipment. So we bought 12 pairs of boot, 12 skis, 12 poles, enough for 12 people to ski. We sort of got random sizes, and when I signed up kids for the class, I said, “Anyone who will fit the boots can get in the class.” So we got 12 kids to fit the boots, and the skis didn’t make any difference. Those 12 kids got the first crack at the class. I had two classes a day; the first ski class was from 11 to 12 and the next class from 1 to 2, so in between classes the kids would take off their boots and pass them on to the next class, and the next 12 kids put the boots on. I had two classes that way, using the same equipment. This went on for a couple winters. And what helped the program was that back in those days physical education was a required class. Every student had to take PE. So all those kids taking skiing got PE credit. After a while word got around the state, “Hey, go to Southern Oregon you can fulfill your PE requirement and do skiing too, pretty inexpensively.” It helped Mt. Ashland a lot, it helped the college and they gave us a really good rate. If a kid took a ski class and had time before or after class, they could continue to ski on the mountain that day.

Q: What year was this?

Dan: The mountain started in 1963 to really get skiing going. When I retired in 1980 from the college, we had 500 kids going to ski classes on the mountain. The word got around. It was a good place to go to school and also learn to ski and have a lot of skiing. We had people come from all over the state to go to college here. About a year after I retired, they cancelled the PE requirement for kids in college. When the requirement left, part of the incentive to come here was gone.

Q: Was the access road built by 1963?

Dan: They were just starting the mountain. You could drive to Bull Gap. From Bull Gap to the ski area was about two miles and it had a lot of switchbacks; it was a narrow road. The first year it was one-way traffic. You had to get up there early enough to get the uphill traffic. We shut it off so when the people were ready to come down again, you couldn’t go up.

Q: What other people were involved in the early development of Mt. Ashland?

Dan: Bill Dawkins and Cynthia Lord. Bill Dawkins was a good friend of Senator Glen Jackson. They got Glen interested in it, too. Bill Dawkins was one of those real pushers. He went back to Washington a couple times to kind of smooth things out for the mountain. Glen Jackson particularly was important, and Dick Hicks came along later when they got into trouble financially and bailed them out.

Q: Weren’t you one of the original ski patrol members at Mt. Ashland?

Dan: When we started skiing at the mountain and it started being commercial, they had to have a ski patrol. I was about the only one around who knew about skiing and ski patrol. So I started the ski patrol for the mountain. I was their first director. We had a very active and nice ski patrol. Matter of fact, I named the first few runs on the mountain. Balcony, Romeo, and Juliet — those were the first few that had names. I named Dream too.

The middle bowl used to have some big rocks. That has one bad memory for me. Our first and only casualty happened in the bowl. I happened to be standing at the top waiting to make a run. This family, a local doctor and two daughters, were really good skiers. One of the daughters never met them at the bottom of the bowl. Pretty soon one of the skiers waived at the patrol. I had a sled with me, we went down to pick her up and took her down. She took a spill at the top and evidently slid into those rocks, hit her head against the rock. She never really became conscious. She died before reaching the hospital. She was a twin. A sad, sad story.

Last weekend, the Mt. Ashland Patrol had their annual awards banquet, so they invited me up there for that. I hadn’t been on the mountain for a couple of years. I was real happy to get up there and see all the snow, because the last time I was up there it was pretty bare.

Q: What changes have you seen in the Rogue Valley since you first came here in 1950?

Dan: Everything has grown. When I got to Southern Oregon College in 1950, there were 600 students. I can remember every milestone. When we reached 1,000 kids, people were talking, “that’s a good size college.” Pretty soon we had 2,000 kids. “Oh, 2,000 kids, college is just right.” Then it was 3,000 then 4,000. At each 1,000 students, it was like, “We don’t need to get any bigger, let’s stay here.” But it never turned out that way.

Q: You’re 100 years old. What is it like being 100?

Dan: All you have to do is live one day at a time and one day you get there. You don’t slow down because you are getting old, you get old because you slow down. About a year ago I made a promise to myself and friends, when I reach 100, I’m going to run 100 meters. The word got around. The doctor who put in my artificial heart valves, Dr. Lou, thought, “Oh, that’s a great idea.” It was sort of questionable, can I do it or maybe not. He said, “Do it, go for it.” I expect to see him at my party.

Matt Sayre (athletic director at SOU) asked me to run 100 meters at the SOU track meet Saturday. I finally decided I could do that, I’ve been training.

Q: You will probably place first in your age group!

Dan: (laughter) I’ve been the only one in my age group for years. I thought he might have me running with a group or something. I said, “Who else is running”? He said, “Nobody.” So I don’t know what is going to happen. I’ve been going day-by-day, week-by-week as to how I feel. Couple weeks ago I didn’t think I would ever make it, but this last week I’ve got out to run a little bit and decided, “Yeah, I can go 100 yards.”

— Steve Boyarsky is a retired educator and longtime resident of the Rogue Valley. He continues to be involved in educational and youth programs.

Dan Bulkley, 100, ran a celebratory 100-meter race at the SOU track meet last Saturday. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]