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“If you build it, they will come” is a well-known movie quote, but it can also be applied to the vision of one man who turned his passion for skiing into a lifelong career.
His pioneering ideas have culminated in the creation of a nonprofit organization that pursues the goal of supporting higher education and cultural enrichment in the small mountain town of Mammoth Lakes, California.
To tell the story of the Mammoth Lakes Foundation is to tell the story of Dave McCoy, the founder of Mammoth Mountain and a man who maintained a desire to make his community a place that he could be proud of.
When McCoy made the commitment to build Mammoth Mountain into the ski resort that it is today, he did whatever he could to help the people around him succeed. And no matter what, he always had one priority.
“It’s overall part of his philosophy to have fun,” says Evan Russell, who worked with McCoy for over fifty years, beginning when he was in his twenties at the ski area, and then as the head of Mammoth Lakes Foundation for over twenty years.
“That’s kind of always been his motto in life. If something’s worth doing, then you need to have fun doing it.”
Now 103, McCoy resides with Roma, his wife of 76 years, in an area outside of Bishop.
Founded in 1989 by McCoy and a few of his friends, the Mammoth Lakes Foundation established the Cerro Coso Community College, a student housing complex, a ski museum, and a 100-seat black box theater which hosts year-round programming of live performances and screenings.
They are currently working on plans for the Mammoth Arts & Cultural Center, the only performing arts facility for music, film, and dance in the Eastern Sierra. It is scheduled to open in Spring 2021.
But when the organization was in its earliest stages, they relied a lot on their own determination and innovation — with similar strategies to what McCoy had employed when he developed Mammoth Mountain.
In 1998, almost ten years after they had opened the Mammoth Lakes Foundation, they received a 265-acre land donation from Southern California-Edison.
The following year, they completed a seven-year land exchange with the Forest Service, which enabled them to donate the land for the community college. Four years after that, in 2003, they began awarding scholarships to Mono County residents.
“Everyone is a lifelong learner,” says Rich Boccia, the foundation’s current Executive Director. “Everyone has something to learn.”
That idea has carried over into the foundation’s scholarship program, called “Dave’s Scholars.” To date, it has awarded over 670 scholarships and enabled many to go on to four-year colleges.
The scholarship program is open to any high school graduate in Mono county as long as they’re pursuing an AA degree and have been a two-year resident of the county.
No matter what stage of development he was in his career, McCoy always kept his vision in the forefront.
“Education and bringing the college into the area was just another extension of what Dave thought he could give back to the community,” Russell says.
Indeed, McCoy prioritized higher education and cultural enrichment because he believed they promote leadership, stimulate growth, and build a stronger year-round economy.
For a resort town whose economy mainly revolves around the ski season, these are all key factors.
The foundation also saw a need for encouraging artistic expression and giving people a way to enjoy it.
“Arts and culture enrich the lives of people — whether they’re being raised here, moving here in their later years, or coming here as a visitor. We’re enriching their lives on all levels,” Boccia says.
Russell agrees. “The arts and cultural center was always a part of the master plan — as a continuation of education in one sense, but it will also benefit locals and visitors to the area,” he says. Nine acres of land have been set aside for the arts complex.
The Mammoth Lakes Foundation has created a variety of other programs that also have the goal of enhancing the community’s offerings.
Since 2015, they have hosted an annual five-day film festival over Memorial Day weekend, which features top-notch talent and award-winning films. They also host a food and wine festival and golf classic, both of which occur in the summer, and are major fundraisers for the organization.
Whether he is known for being a ski legend, a fun-loving entrepreneur, or simply a kind man with a generous heart, Dave McCoy has inspired several generations through his enterprising spirit and unselfish desire to benefit his community however possible.
Today, the foundation is run by a devoted team who are dedicated to carrying on his vision.
“The foundation is certainly part of Dave’s legacy, and when we tell the next chapter of the Dave story, we’re going to talk about all of the things he did for the community over his lifetime,” Russell says.
The Mammoth Lakes Foundation and our supporters believe that availability of higher education and cultural enrichment in the Eastern Sierra enhances the quality of life enjoyed by residents, second homeowners, and visitors by balancing the recreational attractions in the community with cultural and educational opportunities. Higher education and the arts promote leadership, stimulate growth, and build a stronger year-round economy and community.Learn More
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