Editor’s note: This commentary is by Kirk Dwyer, the headmaster at Burke Mountain Academy.
Earlier this week in an article posted on VTDigger.org regarding Q Burke, Ariel Quiros senior, owner of Q Burke, was quoted making statements regarding Don Graham and the Graham family which are grossly inaccurate.
Burke Mountain Academy is committed to working cooperatively with the new ownership at Burke, doing whatever we can to insure a successful future that will benefit us all. That said, as headmaster of BMA, I simply cannot stand by while errors are published about an individual — Don Graham — who for 40 years has given quietly, but extremely generously to benefit the school, the mountain and this community.
Within the article it claimed that Don, among others, mismanaged the mountain “driving it into bankruptcy” while taking profits. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In point of fact, Don Graham has had a 40-year legacy of philanthropy at BMA and in 2000 provided the money for BMA to buy the mountain out of bankruptcy when it had been purchased at auction and was literally set to be shuttered — the ski resort closed, assets sold, and the Sherburne base lodge turned into a storage facility for a tent rental business. The impact on BMA and the local community would have been devastating. Don somehow convinced the investor to instead sell the mountain that he had just bought to BMA. In addition to funding this purchase, Don went on to quietly fund the mountain for five years to cover the operating losses and necessary capital improvements until a “real resort buyer” could be found.
When the Q ownership arrived, Don called me and suggested that BMA ought to start the relationship off on a positive footing with a declaration of our good faith as partners. We conceived of the notion for BMA to offer to fund over $400,000 (the majority made possible via a gift by Don Graham) of snowmaking.
When the Ginn Company acquired Burke from BMA in 2005 in a deal largely brokered by Don Graham, in accordance with his wishes, no “profit,” in fact no money at all went back to Don and the Graham family. Instead, the entirety of the proceeds went to BMA, which established the core of the school’s current endowment and financial security. A new lease on life for the mountain as a going concern was simply Don’s gift to the school and the Burke community.
This has been Don’s winter home for 40 years, and never an “investment interest” as so inaccurately characterized in the recent article. Without Don Graham’s involvement the mountain and BMA would have closed. I know that Don acted as much on behalf of the local community as he did for BMA. At the time of the sale by BMA to Ginn there was no debt and certainly no bankruptcy.
Don’s drive to insure Burke’s future did not stop there. When the Ginn ownership began to falter, he convinced them that an investment focused on the ski experience — not valet services and the like — would best help make Burke a viable resort. Leveraging his personal contacts at the Leitner-Poma ski lift manufacturer, Don helped procure the Mid Burke Express at advantaged price and terms — and personally provided financing for half the chair, though he had no ownership in the mountain. It was Don’s belief that a modern high-speed lift was a fundamental necessity for Burke to compete and that, in any event, it would greatly improve the odds of attracting a new buyer as Ginn was clearly looking for a way out. Once again, Don’s instinct proved right. Jay Peak and the Quiros ownership acquired Burke in 2012.
Yet Don did not stop there. When the Q ownership arrived, Don called me and suggested that BMA ought to start the relationship off on a positive footing with a declaration of our good faith as partners. We conceived of the notion for BMA to offer to fund over $400,000 (the majority made possible via a gift by Don Graham) of snowmaking to help the new ownership keep on an accelerated improvement plan and start its ownership tenure with vastly improved capacity to make snow. This was undertaken within three months of the Q Burke ownerships arrival.
Don Graham has never advertised his efforts, preferring to work behind the scenes, always asking that we respect his wishes for privacy and anonymity. But now that such an inaccurate portrayal of his role at Burke has been made public, it is incumbent upon those of us who have benefited from Don’s generosity to set the record straight and show the “real Don Graham.” Don is a true entrepreneur. Having started his businesses in the basement of a farmhouse, he built his businesses to a global scale, but all the while giving generously to his community.
He has been a trusted mentor to three BMA headmasters across these 40 years, and at 81 years old later this month, he still can be found just about every morning skiing Willoughby and, in the afternoon, snowshoeing in the fields near his home. He and his wife Ingrid have opened up their hearth and home to countless people over the years. The Burke community has benefited greatly from their kindness, generosity and giving spirit.
At BMA, we will continue working to support the mountain and the Quiros management in every way we can. I am sure that if Mr. Quiros only knew the real story of Don Graham’s role in the Burke history, he would join me in thanking Don for all that he has done for this community.