Growing up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the kids in Jim Gorman’s circle typically looked West to find seasonal employment.
“At our high school it was a tradition to come out to Estes Park to work summers,” explains Gorman. “I finally came out the summer after my senior year and got a restaurant job.”
He also got an eye-full of the Rockies, and they made a mighty big impression on the young Hawkeye.
Gorman spent most of his free hours that summer daring the daunting monoliths of Rocky Mountain National Park. He became adept at the use of the climber’s tools, and canny in the ways of the mountaineer. And yet at summer’s end he went home to resume the more cloistered path that had been laid out for him long before.
“I went to college in Iowa, then into the seminary.”
But the philosophies found in book and lecture simply couldn’t compete with the mountains’ majestic truths, and Gorman soon abandoned ivied halls for granite walls.
“I came back out in the early '50s to do some serious mountain climbing.”
Thing is, recreational mountaineering doesn’t pay well very well. If Gorman was going to pursue his passion with any regularity, he’d have to do it on somebody else’s dime. Happily, there was an employer offering wages for his particular skill-set.
“I applied to the Army,” he laughs, “if you can imagine somebody applying to get into the Army. I had to get three references from people saying I knew how to handle myself in the mountains.”
Specifically, Gorman applied for a post with the Army’s Mountain and Cold Weather Training Command at the 10th Mountain Division’s old stomping grounds at Camp Hale.
“I’d heard you just skied all day and drank beer all night.”
Turned out there was a bit more to it. Gorman’s job was to train elite troops from all four military branches in the niceties of climbing, fighting and surviving under the planet’s least-hospitable conditions. It was difficult work, but it could be exciting. Maybe too exciting.
“I was given the job of testing a new vehicle called the ‘snow weasel.’ I got it up to 31 mph and the downhill track broke. The uphill track spun the weasel around, and I went flying out into space.”
On another occasion Gorman was one of five soldiers tasked with testing a new mortar. They were given a tube, 200 rounds of ammunition and the order to fire at will.
“On the 199th round, the mortar blew up. I caught 10 pieces of shrapnel.”
Then there was the time his plane crashed in the middle of camp.
“At that point I knew I had to get out of the military.”
Gorman earned bachelor’s degrees in marketing and salesmanship from the University of Denver, then hung his shingle as an independent manufacturer’s representative. A naturally friendly man with an easy manner, Gorman thrived in his chosen trade. But he had his share of failures, too.
“I called on Helen when she was head of Denver Dry Goods’ interior design studio. At 26, she was in charge of interior design at all five stores. I had a product I wanted her to see. She turned me down on the product, but didn’t turn me down on a date.”
He and Helen settled in Lakewood. As it happened, Gorman purchased the second-ever Winnebago to cross Colorado’s state lines, and began representing an exclusive selection of mountain-states manufacturers. That hard-working Winnebago – and the several that have come after it – have served as his transportation, hotel and mobile office.
In the late 1970s, a friend on the inside offered the Gormans first-dibs on a new subdivision planned for South Evergreen. They selected a wild parcel featuring striking native-rock follies and a matchless view of the divide – the first lot spoken for in all of Evergreen Meadows. Helen designed the house they built there, a marvel of thoughtful arrangement that makes the very most of its situation. At last, and perhaps inevitably, the high-striving son of Cedar Rapids had come to rest on a mountain-top.
To Gorman, the state’s high places were never opponents to be bested, but lessons to be learned, and climbing them was a privilege demanding reciprocity. He’s always approached the communities that have welcomed him the same way.
From the moment he first set foot there, Gorman threw himself into Estes Park community projects with a will. In Lakewood he served the chamber of commerce as head of its Community Development Committee, and played no small role in the award-winning revitalization of West Colfax.
Gorman served as president of the Evergreen Meadows Homeowners Association, and later did a hitch as president of the Evergreen Area Chamber of Commerce. And he spent years working with the Jefferson County Planning Commission, playing a key role in developing the Evergreen Area Community Plan.
Less publicly, but no less importantly, Gorman was long a member of the Evergreen Curmugeons, a loosely-confederated group of interested civilians that meets once a week to discuss community issues. In time, however, Gorman came to crave a more directly-engaged form of civic involvement, and eight years ago he founded the Evergreen Pathfinders.
With about 35 active members, the Pathfinders organization sustains a variety of programs aimed at engaging its neighbors in need. It fosters greater engagement within the community by regularly hosting Town Hall Meetings at the Evergreen Lakehouse, and seeks to engage the mountain-area with the larger communities that surround it by inviting a remarkable slate of speakers to address the public on topics of far-reaching interest and consequence.
“I love these mountains, and I believe in my community,” he says. “I try to return more than I take, and have fun doing it.”