Interview with Don Snyder April 2011
Marcia: Don, tell me about your childhood.
Don: The first years of my life were spent in New Rochelle, New York. There were 4 kids. I had one older sister, a younger sister and brother. We were all born in March! My dad was in the materials handling business and had an opportunity to start his own business in Denver, San Francisco or Anchorage. He chose Denver and in the summer of 1961, we moved to Cherry Hills Village. He and my mother still live in the same house they bought those many years ago. I attended Cherry Creek High School, which at the time was located on the sparsely populated eastern plains of Colorado! At that time it was the only high school in the district, and the biggest club in the school was FFA (Future Farmers of America) . . . my how things have changed. The parents of one of my parents closest friends were the Buchanan's, the last owners of the Hiwan Ranch . . . now the Hiwan Homestead. From time to time, during the 60's, my parents would take us up to Evergreen to stay in the bunk house (they stayed in the big house) at Hiwan Ranch! This was my first exposure to Evergreen. My wife and I would eventually move to Evergreen in 1976.
Marcia: How about college?
Don: I went to Colorado College and majored in physics. I met my wife, Kit, there. Her grandfather was then Chair of the History Department. She was studying English literature but later transferred to Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science to pursue a degree in textile design. This actually worked out, since I was in New York apprenticing my grandfather at the time. We both did graduate work, me in engineering at UCD and Kit in education at Regis. Kit is a now a teacher at Wilmot Elementary.
Marcia: I know that you have worked all over the world.
Don: Yes, I work in the nitrogen fertilizer industry, primarily in developing countries, or wherever there is a reliable source of natural gas from which nitrogen fertilizers (urea, ammonium nitrate, etc.) are synthesized. I’ve worked on every continent with the exception of Antarctica! This all began quite by chance out of my strong relationship and love for my grandfather. He was my grandfather, my godfather, my friend and my business partner up until his death in 1988. He was a chemical engineer and I was the lowly apprentice. Our first business trip together was to a plant in Iran, followed by business meetings in Italy. I was 22 years old at the time. His instructions to me were “Keep your eyes open, your ears open, your mouth shut and carry my bag” . . . I learned a lot!
Marcia: Sounds like he was a big influence on you.
Don: He was without a doubt one of the biggest influences on my life. From the day I was born we were joined at the hip. I had such respect for him. His love of family and for the needs of others. He was so creative and hard working. A member of a very special generation of Americans. I now have 2 grandsons and I try to spend as much time as possible with each of them, remembering the influence of my own grandfather.
Marcia: And still you find time to give back to your community.
Don: I try in various ways. I love soccer and have played all my life, still do. I was a coach for twenty five years. There were many highlights, but certainly winning a state championship with my Evergreen High School girls team in 1997 was special. I just loved being engaged with young people who had such great energy and commitment. I could have coached forever, but I always had a feeling that I wanted to be engaged with the needs of the developing world that I had been exposed to over so many years. So, I intentionally walked away from coaching in 2002 and began to look for opportunities in public service, primarily international service.
Marcia: So, how did you get so involved with Haiti?
Don: Well, it was like this… Kit knew Gretchen and Warren Breggren who were of course, deeply committed to working in Haiti. We were invited to their home to meet Father Kesner, a young, charismatic Haitian priest. While I was reluctant to go, I went. By the end of the evening I was in and on my way to Haiti! This was in the fall of 2003. I've never looked back. It is difficult to describe . . but my primary role in building relationships and trust on the ground in Haiti with the people we, meaning the Colorado Haiti Project, serve has been one of the most fulfilling things I have ever experienced. The journey continues . . .
I now share this world, most closely with my youngest daughter Erin, who after working as an actuary and traveling to Ghana and Haiti, walked out of her high paying position and moved to Port au Prince. After a year and a half, she returned to do get her MPH at Columbia University and is now the public health program manager for Latin America and the Caribbean for a large global health organization.
Marcia: Tell me about your kids.
Don: Well I have just told you a bit about Erin, our youngest daughter. Our oldest daughter, is a literacy coach (primarily to Spanish speaking children and their parents) in Denver Public Schools. She is our blonde haired, blue-eyed Mexican child! Our niece, Anna, who we consider as our third daughter, works as an accountant. All 3 are happily married, and Sara and Anna both have 3 year old sons.
Marcia: Wow…and where would you all go on vacation?
Don: Mostly to visit family. Kit is originally from Seattle. Her Mom and Dad live in British Columbia along the coast at the southern entrance to Desolation Sound. It is a difficult place to get to, but beautiful and peaceful, so we go there as often as possible. Kit and I also own an old farm house on Cape Cod. It is our home away from home and a place where my family has spent many, many summers since the early 1930's. It is the place we go to recharge each year!
Marcia: What keeps you in Rotary?
Don: That's a good question. I am gone a lot and often wonder whether I should continue. Generally, ever since I left coaching, I have very few ties to the local community, even though I have lived here since 1976. I work internationally, and I when I am here I work alone and out of my home office. Rotary keeps me engaged with the local community. While I am most interested in Rotary’s International projects, I know there are needs right here in my own community. Over time, I hope to connect more locally and Rotary provides an avenue for this to happen. Beyond that, it's just a great group of people to be associated with.