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Alumni

An inconspicuous war hero

June 15, 2009
by Melinda Swenson

When decorated Army Ranger and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Peter Lemon came to Fort Collins to enroll at CSU, he was told that his high school GPA was too low for admittance. But if there was anything Lemon had learned from his miltary experiences, it was how to prevail against overwhelming odds.

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Hitching a ride to Fort Collins

After his service in Vietnam, Peter Lemon returned to civilian life. A Canadian who’d been naturalized as an American at age 12, Lemon headed for Michigan where he’d grown up.

Then he was inextricably drawn to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

“I lived in Vail for four years, skiing, working as a carpenter, and running a roofing business on the side,” said Lemon.

(At right: Lemon in 1975, the year he came to Fort Collins)

“It was fun and exciting, but my life needed a drastic change. I wanted to attend college — something I’d been told for years was not a good fit for me and that I would never accomplish.

“I sold or rid myself of all my possessions, including my car. Then I hitchhiked to Fort Collins and found a hotel on south College Avenue, which became my home for two weeks until I found an apartment I liked.

“I immediately secured a job as a bouncer at a bar in the Northern Hotel, one of the hottest places in town at the time. It was a great way to meet people. Additionally, I got a day job as a carpenter.”

Would persistence win out this time?

In the summer of 1975, Lemon applied to Colorado State and let admission personnel know he wanted to start in the fall.

“They asked for high-school transcripts,” Lemon said. “I didn’t know what those were, and they explained that they were my report card. I sent for them and passed them along to the Admissions Office. Don’t hold me to this, but I believe my GPA was 1.92 or maybe lower, but probably not higher.

(At right: The campus as it looked in 1975 when Lemon was petitioning for admittance to CSU)

“Admissions called me and explained that I couldn’t attend CSU because my high-school grades weren’t high enough.

"I suggested to the director of Admissions that since I was 25, had run my own business for a couple of years, had been in the military, and had worldly experience – that they should reconsider.”

The answer was “No.” 

Audience with the CSU president

So Lemon went to President A.R. Chamberlain and pleaded his case. He couldn’t sway Chamberlain, so he went to the executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. “He believed that higher education was not in my best interest,” Lemon said.

But Lemon was neither disheartened nor discouraged. If there was anything his military experiences had taught him, it was how to prevail… against all odds.

Lemon wrote to then Colorado Gov. John Vanderhoof. When Lemon couldn’t get the governor’s support, he headed back to CSU’s Admissions Office. 

Becoming a fixture at Admissions

“It was now well into the fall of 1975,” said Lemon. “I called or visited the admissions office every week or so for the next seven months. Finally during a visit in May 1976, they threw up their hands as I walked through the door.

“‘Fine,’ they said. ‘We’ll let you attend this fall on two conditions. First, you must take two classes this summer. Second, you must pass them with a ‘C.’

"On June 6, 1976, I entered summer school at CSU. I took three classes and received a GPA of 3.0. Three-and-a-half years later, I graduated with a degree in speech.”

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Contact: Melinda Swenson
E-mail: melinda.swenson@colostate.edu
Phone: (970) 491-2463