C.J. Morton ‘84 Pays It Forward Supporting Access to Quality Education

by Tim O'Keefe

For C.J. Morton ‘84, the key to making the world a better place centers on access to quality education. His own educational experiences led him to a passion for helping young people attain an education that builds well-rounded people who make a positive impact in the world.

Raised by his grandfather Craig Sandahl in Des Moines, Iowa, C.J. didn’t always stay close to home to learn. As an avid adventurer and entrepreneur, his grandfather took C.J. sailing and traveling worldwide, learning all along the way. 

“My grandfather instilled in his kids and grandkids that education came first and was very important,” says C.J. “So he made that available to us and was adamant at a young age that we each get the best education we could.”

That love of learning and traveling led C.J. to attend his first year of high school in a unique setting – the seas of western Europe. 

“I had been sailing with my grandfather on his boat in Europe and loved it,” he recalls. “I started my private school career my freshman year going to the Flint School Abroad aboard two classic sailing ships in Europe.” During their nine-month voyage from Monaco to Denmark, the 40 students attended classes, crewed the ship, and took excursions at various ports along the way.

When the year at sea ended, school staff recommended Colorado Rocky Mountain School as the next logical step for C.J.’s education. CRMS’s educational model of small classes, close student-faculty relationships, and outdoor experiences resonated with C.J. When visiting the school for the first time, he said he felt that something spoke to him at CRMS.

Several faculty members who influenced C.J. included Liz Beerman, Dodie Udall, Caleb Bach, Dutton Foster, Jim Gaw, and Mark Clark. Through them, C.J. learned to think critically, work hard, and give back to the community – life lessons that have carried on through his career and personal life.

After CRMS, C.J. earned degrees at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and an MBA at the American Graduate School of Business. He worked in business development in Switzerland, England, and Arizona before returning to his roots in Des Moines to help run a family business. While abroad in England, he met his wife Heidi through a mutual friend from Oman. Coincidentally, Heidi grew up 20 minutes away from C.J. in Des Moines. Now they travel together as part of their lifelong learning. 

Before his grandfather passed away in 2017, Craig groomed C.J. to lead the family’s foundation that supports student scholarships. Since 2012, the Guardian Scholars Foundation has helped over 30 young adults who have been in the foster system complete their undergraduate degrees. “My grandfather always said investing in education is the best thing we can do to train up people who can go out and make a difference in the world.”

In 2022, C.J. started looking for other ways to impact young people by providing them with a solid education. At his wife Heidi’s suggestion, he revisited the impact CRMS had on him and how they might give future students a similar life-transforming experience. As a result, they have pledged an annual gift of $80,000 to CRMS scholarships and financial aid.  

“CRMS was more important than college for me,” says C.J. “ I’m still friends with lots of the people. I still feel part of that community. With our giving, I’m really hoping to reach out to those who might never have the opportunity to come to a school like CRMS.” 

With over 40% of students receiving scholarships or financial aid during the 2022-23 school, the Morton’s gift will strengthen CRMS’s commitment to admitting talented, motivated, and adventurous students, regardless of family resources. 

“I couldn’t think of a better place to support than students at CRMS. I know at CRMS, our giving is going directly to those students, and that’s what’s important to me and my family.”

To learn how you can support an area of CRMS that you are passionate about, please contact the CRMS Development Team.


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