Obituary: George Ray Tolles |

Obituary: George Ray Tolles

August 5, 1929 — March 26, 2019 


Long time Steamboat resident George Tolles, 89, died peacefully at home on March 26. 

George was born in Toledo, Ohio on August 5, 1929, the only child of Ray and Minnie Tolles. He graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in history and education, and later earned his masters in political science at the University of Pittsburgh. While at Ohio State he spent a winter as an exchange student at the University of Mexico City, beginning his lifelong love of Mexico. After graduation from college in 1951 he enlisted in the United States Coast Guard. Following officer’s training at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy he served three years of active duty in Houston and the gulf coast during the Korean War. After his discharge he remained active in the Coast Guard Reserve. For several summers he directed a reserve training school in Yorktown, VA, for which he was awarded the Coast Guard Commendation medal for meritorious service. He retired with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. 

After his discharge from active service George hitchhiked around Europe for a year, then from 1955 to 1957 pursued graduate studies at the University of Innsbruck on the G.I. Bill. During the Hungarian uprising in 1956 he went to the border to assist refugees escaping from the Russian crackdown. While in Innsbruck he met his future wife, Marian Grant, on a nearby ski slope. Together they traveled hundreds of miles through Europe and beyond on George’s Vespa motor scooter, including a trip from Austria to Egypt. 

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George and Marian were married in Innsbruck in July 1957. After a semester at the Foreign Trade Institute in Phoenix the couple arrived at Whiteman School in Steamboat Springs to be house parents in the boys’ dorm. George taught history and Spanish during the first two years of the school. At Whiteman they formed what turned out to be lifelong friendships with Lowell Whiteman and fellow teachers Lucy Bogue and Gertrude Fetcher. A bonus was spending two months in Mexico each spring when the school moved operations to San Miguel de Allende during mud season. 

George left Whiteman in summer of 1959 to become a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. State Department, having taken the exam before coming to Steamboat. He served at posts in Washington DC, Rotterdam and Cali, Colombia. The Tolles’s three daughters were born during this time. 

Meanwhile his former colleague, Lucy Bogue, had founded Yampa Valley College in Steamboat Springs and urged George to return to chair the International Relations department. Drawn back by the Yampa Valley curse, he accepted. He taught at the college through all of its ownerships. When it closed down in the mid-seventies due to financial difficulties George returned to Whiteman for a year, taught fourth grade at Soda Creek Elementary, then taught history at Steamboat High School for four years. When the college reopened in 1981 as the Alpine Campus of Colorado Mountain College George was the first full time teacher hired. During the next decade he received Fulbright study grants to Pakistan, Berlin and Morocco/Tunisia. In 1987-88 he took a one-year sabbatical, traveling across the Soviet Union from Leningrad in the west to Nadhodka in the east, on to Japan and Hong Kong, then across China from Shanghai in the east to Kashgar in the northwest, following Marco Polo’s footsteps along the Old Silk Road. It was the first year China was open to individual travelers so he encountered very few westerners beyond Xian. From Kashgar he crossed the 18,000 ft. Khunjerab Pass in a blizzard, then on to Pakistan and India. Marian joined him for a month in Turkey and Greece at the end of the trip. 

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Together, George, Glenn Poulter and Eleanor Bliss started Steamboat’s first book group in 1970. 

George retired from CMC as Professor Emeritus in 1991, but continued to teach his popular Great Decisions course from time to time. In retirement he served on several boards and blue ribbon committees, spoke at graduations and was faculty lecturer on adult education tours to China, Indonesia, Turkey and North Africa. He enjoyed fishing, hiking, backcountry skiing, traveling the world and soaking in the hot springs. He could often be found at the Steamboat library. 

Although George will be remembered primarily as an educator, he was also well known as a water dowser, having witched wells on many properties in Routt County and beyond. 

George is survived by his wife of 61 years, Marian, daughters Sarah Tolles of Larchmont, NY, Robin (Richard) Bush of Hayden, Allison (Brian) Tate of Steamboat Springs, granddaughter Cassidy Bush, grandson Sven Tate and great-grandson Jorah Josefsberg. 

A memorial celebration will be held at a later date. For those wishing to make memorial donations the family suggests the George Tolles International Scholarship, c/o the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, or the Yampa Valley College Pioneers Scholarship, c/o the Colorado Mountain College Foundation. Both scholarships are specifically for the Alpine Campus of CMC.

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