COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. A gift to honor the late wife of Chan Bergen, former editor of locally based Western Horseman magazine, will be a centerpiece of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Chan Bergen, Colorado Springs, recently assisted in the purchase of an approximately nine-foot-long, two-ton sculpture of a mountain lion for the university. The gift is in memory of his wife, Melitta, who died in May 2004. The couple was married for more than 50 years.
The sculpture, created from white Colorado marble by Ernest Geolfos, Broomfield, will be placed near the entrance to the University Center. Dedication ceremonies are scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Oct. 27. In addition to the donor, the artist and Toklat Gallery owner Lynn Mace, will attend.
The campus athletic mascot is the mountain lion. The campus fields 12 men’s and women’s teams and competes in NCAA Division II.
“I am humbled by Chan Bergen’s generosity,” Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak said. “His gift will inspire current and future generations to recognize their potential as members of this campus community. This is truly a significant work of art.”
Melitta (Kiilits) Bergen was born in Estonia and survived the Soviet and German occupations in WWII before escaping to freedom in the U.S. zone of Germany in 1945. She was fluent in four languages and soon found work with the American Red Cross in Europe. She immigrated to Denver in 1949 where she worked for the International Trust Company. Through a coincidence, she renewed her acquaintance with Chan Bergen, then an Army captain at Camp Carson. They married in Denver in 1953.
As a spouse of a military officer, Melitta Bergen traveled with her husband to duty stations in Japan, in the United States, and Germany. After her husband’s retirement to Colorado Springs, she worked in the accounting department of Colorado Springs School District 11.
She was an avid skier up until her retirement from the sport at age 77. She had been a member of the National Ski Patrol system and was an honorary board member of the Colorado Ski Museum and Colorado Ski Hall of Fame. She was a skilled and dedicated fly fisher and followed the sport until a few years prior to her death. She supported the Colorado Springs Opera and volunteered for Goodwill. She also participated in the Retired Officers Wives Bridge Club at Peterson Air Force Base. She was a member of the Heritage Society and the President’s Club at CU.
Melitta Bergen and her husband designed, commissioned and donated to the City of Colorado Springs a life-size monument to skiing. The monument is located on the south lawn of the Pioneers Museum and honors those who pioneered the sport.
Chan Bergen retired from the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel in 1963. He had been an infantry rifle platoon leader and company commander in the South Pacific in WWII. He also served in the occupation of Japan and Germany. He was active in military skiing and mountaineering and had been a member of the U.S. Army downhill ski team in Europe during the winter of 1958-59. He joined the Western Horseman magazine in 1964 and was serving as director and editor when he retired in 1985.
In commenting on his gift to CU, Chan Bergen recalled:
“In 1963, I received some excellent advice from the dean of the university’s journalism school in Boulder and I actually followed that advice and that led me to a most rewarding second career. For the past 41 years, I have felt a debt of gratitude to CU. This is pay-back time.”
The mountain lion sculpture was created by Ernest Geolfos, Broomfield. Since his early 20s, Geolfos has sculpted marble and concentrated on North American wildlife. In his quest for perfection, Geolfos has created new tools for marble sculpting and developed unique methods for scraping and polishing. These techniques give his statues a unique look and texture.
CU-Colorado Springs, located on Austin Bluffs Parkway in northeast Colorado Springs, is the fastest growing university in Colorado and one of the fastest growing universities in the nation. The university offers 25 bachelor’s degrees, 17 master’s and two doctoral degrees. The campus enrolls about 7,800 students annually.