Heritage, history, honor: Former Otis House owner shares memories in book

  • Published
  • By Amber Baillie
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
The commandant of cadets, dean of faculty and family members of Hester-Jane Cogswell, previous owner of the Academy's Otis House, attended a presentation on April 30 at the home to honor Cogswell's book, memories and legacy in Pine Valley.

Guests gathered to celebrate the history of the commandant's house and life of Cogswell.

She and her husband Wilton were the final owners of the 8,000 square-foot Otis House before it was obtained by the government in 1954 to make room for the Academy. The house is now occupied by the current commandant of cadets, Brig. Gen. Richard Clark, and his family.

"We like to say the Cogswells breathed a lot of life in this house," said Buster Cogswell, Hester-Jane's son. "There were six busy children in the home. Mother taught school, was president of the Junior League of Colorado Springs and spent 30 years assembling history that went into this book."

Cogswell's book, "Pine Valley: A Window to the Early History of Colorado Springs and the U.S. Air Force Academy" captures the history of the Air Force Academy, the Pine Valley community and Colorado Springs through early letters, photos, diaries, and interviews.

"My mother's book captured some of the rich history of the valley and importance of this area," Cogswell said. "Hopefully through some of the history, cadets will gain an even greater respect for what went on before the Academy."

Buster spent five years at the house and said he misses the soothing sound of the wind whistling through the trees.

"They were precious years for all of us," Cogswell said. "The house looks very much the same and is beautifully maintained. It's a very special place and we're intrigued by the history before and history that's being made."

Hester-Jane moved to Meeker, Colo., and last visited the Otis House in 2005. She died on Dec. 7, 2008. Her book was published on Oct. 28, 2011.

"I think Hester-Jane's sense of detail in history is just remarkable," said David Donner, Hester-Jane's grandson. "Her memory was so good, down to the fine details of family. She knew who was related to whom, what businesses families were in and how they settled in Pine Valley."

Cogswell shared memories of his mother and presented copies of the book, signed by the Cogswell family, to Clark and his wife, Amy.

Clark, Amy and their children are the 24th inhabitants of the house.

"This isn't our house, it's a house that belongs to the Air Force Academy and Cogswell family who graciously gave it to the Air Force," Clark said. "Our home in Washington, D.C., is one-sixth (the size) of this place and there is no way one family needs a house this spectacular, so we committed it to cadets."

Clark said his goal is to make sure every cadet in the wing can visit the house. He and his family have held 49 events at the home so far this year.

"I've worked with four commandants while here, and there is no commandant and team that has opened this home to more cadets and permanent party than the Clarks," said Brig. Gen. Dana Born, the Academy's dean of the faculty. "I'd like to say thank you for not only hosting today, but everything you've done to make this house an incredible home that honors the Cogswell family."

Clark said one of his best memories in the house was the night it was announced Osama bin Laden had been killed.

"Amy and I went to sleep that night and were in bed for about an hour when we heard the noise, 'USA!' 'USA!'" Clark said. "I looked at Amy and said, 'You didn't turn the television off' and she replied, 'It's not on; there's somebody outside.' I got out of bed, looked out my window and there were more than 500 cadets on this lawn chanting, 'USA!' 'USA!'"

Clark said the spirit of the cadets' fired him up. He opened the window, chanted with cadets and invited them in the house to celebrate with his family from midnight to 2 a.m.

"It was an event and a day in my life that I will never forget because it gave us the opportunity to be in this house, to share with our Cadet Wing, and this is where they came to celebrate," Clark said. "For the cadets, it was probably one of the most momentous days they've had in the military, and we won't be able to forget that."