Living lives of accomplishment despite dyslexia

Southwest Life

Ann Butler

Current Columnist


Phone Number: (970) 375-4584

Living lives of accomplishment despite dyslexia

After confronting the challenges of dyslexia, three new accomplished adults were inducted into the Liberty School’s Dyslexia Hall of Fame at the Henry Strater Theatre. They are, from left, Clyde Church, Keeton Disser and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (Durango City Councilor Christina Rinderle accepted on his behalf).

Seeing the world through the lens of dyslexia provides both challenges and opportunities, as the newest inductees into the Liberty School’s Dyslexic Hall of Fame can attest.

On Saturday, at the school’s gala, Clyde Church, Keeton Disser and Gov. John Hickenlooper joined Rod Barker, Paul Folwell, Edward Jackson, Lisa Schuba, Quinn Harris, Ian Altman, Claude Steelman and Matt Kelly as stellar examples of how being dyslexic does not mean one cannot live a large and meaningful life.

Church is an old friend, and it was a pleasure to see him honored, although I didn’t know that he has dealt with dyslexia all his life. When he began learning to read, his natural instincts were to read in columns instead of from right to left.

Fortunately, in eighth grade, he became interested in math and science, and a reading course during his freshman year at Phoenix College taught him techniques to structure the language and increase word recognition.

After graduating from Arizona State University with degrees in chemistry and education, he pursued a career that took him to Motorola, Sperry, Burroughs, Winnebago and the Iowa State University College of Engineering before he became the engineering manager for Metal Craft in the mid-1990s. That job allows him to work in Durango, where he is incredibly active in Rotary International and is the district governor-elect for 2014-15.

Friend and fellow Rotarian Roger Ptolemy, a member of the Liberty School’s board, introduced Church. Hall of Famer Harris, who works in the technology and computer field, welcomed him into the fold.

Schuba, the principal of Animas High School, and Barker, the owner of the Strater Hotel, both Hall of Famers from 2009, introduced Hickenlooper.

He struggled throughout his school years, flunking seventh grade and having to repeat it. That’s too late for most remediation, he thinks, so he is putting an emphasis on reading in kindergarten through third grade in Colorado’s schools.

Despite his problems in his early years of education, Hickenlooper went on to graduate from Wesleyan University with a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in geology. After founding the successful Wynkoop Brewpub in Denver, he led our state capital city for eight years and has headed our state for the last two.

The guv was unable to attend the festivities, but Durango City Councilor Christina Rinderle was on hand to do the honors on his behalf. And he sent a DVD about the challenges he has confronted and the strengths he has discovered in his dyslexic journey.

Rinderle stuck around to introduce Disser, this year’s final Hall of Fame inductee.

Disser’s early school years are an example of how a child with dyslexia becomes a woman of achievement – through the support of her family and mentorship of a caring teacher. Her family moved as many as 15 times when she was young, and Disser spent her time in school struggling and trying to be invisible.

Fortunately, her grandmother helped steer her to Fountain Valley, a boarding school in Colorado Springs. Art teacher Jeff Brown took her under his wing and helped her explore her artistic talents, but it wasn’t until she was graduating from Fountain Valley that she was diagnosed as dyslexic.

After graduating from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, Disser taught at the Excel Charter School and in Aztec before turning entrepreneur and purchasing The Rock Lounge in 2011.

Disser’s fellow artist and Hall of Fame inductee Folwell, Class of 2010, presented her with the plaque.

Dan Guandolo has his master of ceremonies gig down pat, and Liberty School Board President Robert Harrington sent everyone out into the cold November night with a new understanding of just how amazing a dyslexic brain can be with the right teaching and nurturing.

Kate North, the chairwoman of the event, and her committee, dubbed the “Magnificent Seven,” did a lovely job, pulling in $27,000 for the school’s Scholarship Fund.

Cindy Atchison and Suzette Collard organized the school’s parents in collecting more than 150 silent-auction items. Teacher Pam Savage and volunteer Judy Abercrombie made the logistics and the complicated checkout flow, while Scott Griggs not only worked on the long-term organization, but also put his photography skills to work to document the evening for the school and yours truly.

Liberty Head of School Bill O’Flanagan might arguably be excused for coasting on some pretty impressive laurels after decades in the field, but he brings an extraordinary amount of passion and energy to the school. He shared all the different ways teachers and administrators have used during the last year to engage and teach their students – and how several graduates have transitioned successfully to local middle and high schools.

Want to learn more about how the dyslexic brain works? Liberty School founder Joyce Bilgrave recommends Daniel Pink’s The Whole Mind: Why Right-Brainers will Rule the World and The Dyslexic Advantage by Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide.

The event was successful in large part because of generous sponsors Harris Water Engineering, First National Bank of Durango, Fort Lewis College and Alpine Bank.

And belated happy birthday wishes go to Liberty School student Dermarr Harlan, who celebrated his birthday at the shindig.


Breaking out their mittens and hats for their birthdays are Sharon Gordon, Joanne Spina, Julie Shimada, Cory Gillespie, Heather Phillips, Taylor Peterson, Gay Smith, Mike Stone, Marie Davis, Everett Hoyt, Noreen Smith, Blaine Thomson, Mary Ruth Bowman, Robert Newby, Tom Hahl, Ryan Overington, Matt Patton and Betty Ann Beauregard.


The parents at St. Columba School have done it again! I wait every year to see what their theme will be for their gala and then can’t wait to see how they execute it.

This year, in its 19th outing, instead of being transported to another place, we went back in time for “A Moonlit Night at the Speakeasy.”

The Rev. James Koenigsfeld pointed out in his letter to the 280 attendees that speakeasies weren’t just places to go drink illegal potent potables, they were a place to come together and be social, and that’s what the gala was about Oct. 27.

Folks dressed up and got into the spirit, with variations vintage and modern of the flapper dress. Classrooms were divided by theme of the silent-auction items inside, with names such as the Cotton Club (food, fine wine, dinners at restaurants, etc.), Lefty’s Live Jazz (sporting goods, outdoor equipment, quilts and knitted goods), and the Flapper Lounge (items for the home).

I must attend at least 50 events with silent auctions every year, and this is the one that never fails to blow me away. Each classroom puts together a giant themed package each year. The fifth-grade parents might have ultimate bragging rights this year. They went all out on “A Taste of Italy,” creating not one, not two, but three baskets with a value of $569.

But the kindergarten class’ “Once Upon a Storybook” included a bookcase and enough books to provide hundreds of hours of reading pleasure; the sixth grade’s “South of the Border,” looked “muy delicioso”; and, well, you get the picture.

Every teacher and aide donated something cool, from Bridget Stowers’ hand-tied flies with the Little Red Book of Fly Fishing to the May family’s scavenger hunt mystery dinner party for children fifth grade and up created by Lynn May, Dianne May and St. Columba alumna Mariah May-Ostendorp.

The school was transformed (including the restrooms) with silhouettes of a who’s who from the 1920s and ’30s, such as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Babe Ruth and Sigmund Freud.

It was a true crush, with guests noshing on appetizers provided by the parents and coordinated by Janet O’Bannon as they strolled from room to room. And then it was time for dinner and the live auction.

St. Columba has had a couple of talented chefs during the last decade or so, and Scott Arbaugh demonstrated what the kids enjoy every day with his healthy scrumptious salad of baby arugula, roasted grapes, prosciutto di Parma and herbed goat cheese with champagne vinaigrette, beef braciole with roasted tomato chutney, ratatouille and grilled polenta; finished off with a delectable dessert of fried chocolate ravioli with coffee cream sauce. (OK, not healthy, but you want diners happy and awake for a live auction, and this fit the bill.)

Gillian Arnwine coordinated the bar, which was busy as befits the theme.

E.M. Taylor, Lonnie and Dena Malouff of Classic Auction led the group through quick competitive bidding for 42 items ranging from classroom art projects (way cool items that are great mementos) to excursions such as fly-fishing with Principal Kevin Chick, camping with newly minted “Monsignor Jim” and a week in Bob Lieb and Annie Carroll’s three-bedroom home on Kaui in Hawaii (The big money-getter at $3,400).

Kathrene Frautschy, director of development, continues to amaze with her leadership and cheerful spirit. In addition to folks I’ve already mentioned, a rousing round of applause goes to the organizing committees led by Mary Mummery, Katie Stewart, Mary Lynn Clark, Tami Huber, Sandy Gurule, Victoria Anguis, Angela Turner, Tracy Pope, Jenni Ziercher, Adrienne Aronson and Debbie Worthy along with their merry gang of volunteers.

And before I forget, the punch line of the story is $70,000 raised. Yep, you read that right – $70,000 that will be used to balance the school’s budget, enhance activities and programs and expand the school’s technology offerings.


Adding some rum to their early eggnogs for their anniversaries are Ken and Pat LeRoy (54!), Ben and Kathy Anderson and Paul and Betty Ann Beauregard.


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Living lives of accomplishment despite dyslexia

After confronting the challenges of dyslexia, three new accomplished adults were inducted into the Liberty School’s Dyslexia Hall of Fame at the Henry Strater Theatre. They are, from left, Clyde Church, Keeton Disser and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (Durango City Councilor Christina Rinderle accepted on his behalf).
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