The desk

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Durango Herald publisher, Richard Ballantine at his desk.

The excavation of Richard Ballantine’s desk began with the search for a single file.

Nancy Stoffer, diversity program coordinator at Fort Lewis College, was working on a project for the school’s 2011 centennial and needed background on a former college president. Ballantine, then on the FLC board, said he had a file on him and she could stop by his office and pick it up.

“When I walked in, I thought it was hysterical,” Stoffer said. “From the floor to the top of the desk was not as high as from the top of the desk to the top of the piles. That desk was one of the seven wonders of Durango.”

Come back next week and they’d find it, Ballantine assured her. It had to be there somewhere.

“That’s how it started,” Stoffer said. “He’d say, ‘You lift up here, and I’ll pull from the bottom,’ and we’d clear a little space.”

They went at the job week after week, like an archeological dig, aided by an industrial–size paper shredder. As some piles shrank, more piles grew. In the process, it became fun, Stoffer said.

“Richard is gentle, humble, funny, wise, smart and fun to hang out with,” she said. “To me, those mounds represented many things, all of Richard’s interests, things he read, things he couldn’t let go of, thank-you’s from people whose lives he and his family had touched. I thought of them as great mounds of possibilities.”

At one point, they actually came to the bottom of the paper glacier – without finding the file on the former president.

“When we got to the surface of the desk, it was like reaching the surface of the moon,” Stoffer said. “It made him uncomfortable. He said, ‘A newspaperman’s desk should not look like this. Can’t we just put something on it?’”

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