By Published: March 1, 2017

new legacy

Lucinda Garbarino (BA 1901; MA 1902), pictured in front row, far right.

Louis Garbarino wasn’t the type to give up.

In 1859, the 20-year-old Italian immigrant headed west from St. Louis with three of his brothers, hoping to strike it rich in Colorado’s gold rush. They’d made it part way when attackers stole their supplies and slaughtered their animals. The brothers retreated to Missouri and soon tried again, triumphantly. 

That’s how the family of Martin “Marty” J. Miles (Math’60; MS’67) came to Colorado, setting the stage for a remarkably enduring relationship with CU Boulder.

“Without his determination and dedication, none of it would have happened,” Miles — one of more than 50 members of his extended family to attend CU over five generations — said of his great-grandfather.

Instead of panning for gold, Louis Garbarino opened a restaurant in Boulder, which soon became home to the University of Colorado. In the late 1890s a daughter, Lucinda Garbarino (BA 1901; MA 1902) — Miles’ greataunt — set the family’s CU tradition in motion, enrolling as a student. She went on to teach at the university for nearly 40 years, personally tutoring President George Norlin in Latin and Greek. Derek Miles (Jour’15), Martin’s grandson, is the family’s latest graduate. Derek’s sister, Elise (IntPhys’19), is a student now.

In between, dozens of other Garbarinos and Mileses have become Buffs, among them Marty Miles’ father, siblings, children and various aunts, uncles, cousins and others. Myron Witham, CU’s head football coach from 1920-31, is a relation by marriage.

Even as CU courts first-generation college students, broadening the tapestry of the CU clan, it benefits from a sturdy backbone of loyal legacy families, which give a literal dimension to the kinship many alumni feel and which provide reliable support for the evolving university.

The exact number of legacy families is unknown. But a 2015 campus study found that nearly 25 percent of 67,000 students who attended from 2005 to 2013 had some kind of family relationship with a prior CU student. Ten percent had more than one Buff relative and five percent had an alum grandparent.

An unbroken chain of more than three generations is rare, making the Garbarino-Miles clan exceptional for its continuity and longevity. “A lot of us think of fellow Buffs as family, and for more than a few, they literally are,” said Ryan Chreist (Kines’96; MPubAd’09), executive director of the CU Boulder Alumni Association, which offers graduating legacy students special tassels for their commencement caps.

Last year the association also awarded more than $50,000 in scholarships to legacy students.

legacy infographic

For Marty Miles, an 83-year-old mathematician retired from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), tradition and proximity combined to produce ideal conditions for a multi-layered, lifelong affinity for CU Boulder.

Something amazing is happening right here in Boulder."

Growing up on The Hill in the 1930s and ’40s, he could hear Old Main’s bell ringing several times a day. He recalls that his grandmother, Talitha Garbarino Miles (A&S ex1899), would suddenly stop what she was doing to say, “Just listen to that. Isn’t it wonderful?”

Marty treated campus as his own backyard and personal playground. When he was about 10, he discovered something magical while exploring there — football players practicing in full gear.

“I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe something so amazing is happening right here in Boulder,’” he said, noting he’s missed fewer than 10 home football games since then, and those only due to Navy service.

When it came time for college, there was no question where Marty Miles would go.

“Back then, no one really left home to go to college,” he said, “but I was so determined to go there, I didn’t even consider anywhere else.”

It didn’t hurt that his father, Boulder physician Martin B. Miles (BA’23; MD’31), had preceded him.

One day, in an English class in Hellems, Marty met Betty Thompson (PolSci’61), who would become his wife. Their union would yield a fourth generation of Miles Buffs, Barbara Miles (A&S ex’78) and Martin W. Miles (PhDGeog’93).

Martin W. is now a climate researcher in Bergen, Norway, and an associate of INSTAAR, the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, CU’s oldest institute. An expert in Arctic Sea ice and paleoceanography, he faithfully follows CU football from his home, often staying up through the night to catch the video feed of the games. Barbara began her studies at CU, then transferred to USC for a taste of Southern California. Her son, Derek, pursued the reverse course — starting at the University of Arizona, eager for his own out-of-state experience, then transferring to CU.

“Call it the curse of the Buffalo!” Derek joked.

Marty said most family members stay engaged with CU their whole lives. His brother, Patrick Miles (PolSci’64; MPubAd’77), is an alumnus of both the Boulder and Colorado Springs campuses and a past president of the Springs’ alumni association.

What is it that keeps so many Mileses and Garbarinos coming to CU — or compels them to return after a dalliance with another school?

Each member of the family explains it differently, but all describe it as something they’ve felt all their lives.

To Marty, his family’s CU affiliation is a renewing gift, generating a fresh burst of pride as generation after generation chooses to take part. He talks of huge summer barbecues where nearly everyone in the extended family is decked out in CU gear.

“CU is a unifying factor in our family, the one thing we all have in common,” he said.

He’s thrilled when someone in the family applies to the university, and he never makes anyone feel guilty for going elsewhere.

But, he admits, “I’m usually thinking, ‘It’s a great school, so why would you want to go anywhere else?’”

Writer Lisa Friedrich Truesdale (Ling’86) lives in Longmont, Colo.

Photo courtesy Miles family