Meet our Executive Director, Fred Colgan

Fred ColganFred at an orphanage in Uganda.

When Fred Colgan moved to Oregon in 2005, he planned to retire from a long career as a contractor and homebuilder. Instead, InStove’s Executive Director found a way to combine his construction know-how with HIS passion for humanitarian work.

Born in Glendale and raised in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley, Fred says he “grew up like a farm kid. We had a horse in the backyard and a big garden.” After earning a degree in Public Administration from San Jose State University (SJSU) in 1972, he pursued three years of postgraduate education studies at San Francisco State University and SJSU.

Fred then spent over 40 years as a hands-on building contractor specializing in restoring Craftsman style homes – including a historic house in Paradise, California that he took apart piece by piece and rebuilt across town over the course of a decade, in order to save it from demolition. “The fundamental things I liked about Craftsman homes,” he says, “is that they were designed to be human scale, made from local materials and intended to reflect their surroundings.”

While working as a builder, Fred solidified his involvement in non-profit work, helping to found the Mid-Peninsula Peace Center in Palo Alto. As the Center’s first board chair, he played a leading role in getting the organization tax-exempt status and growing from a small storefront group into a community-wide coalition of 35 churches and community organizations.

In time, Fred served on the boards of five non-profit groups. “Carpentry was just my day job,” he says, “and organization was my passion.” His experience includes humanitarian work in Central America in the 1980s, where he spent a year building a school, a water system and twenty homes in a rural farm community. “That was my first stoves project,” says Fred.  “I built Aprovecho-designed stoves in these twenty houses.”

Fred came to Cottage Grove, Oregon after returning from Central America to talk about stove design with researchers at the Aprovecho Research Center, where he saw prototype rocket stoves. Twenty years later, he would return to Oregon to retire from the construction trade, settling in Cottage Grove, where he and his wife, Lise, bought a riverside property with a house and a decrepit former slaughterhouse. Wanting to use the large property for social good, Fred spent two years restoring the place, which would later provide InStove with office space and its first assembly facility.

After friends introduced Fred and Lise to Aprovecho Executive Director Dean Still, the couple leased the newly-restored slaughterhouse to the organization for research facilities. Recognizing that efficient stove technology had huge potential for helping the world’s poor and was an underserved field, Fred started volunteering with Aprovecho. Within a few months, Fred met world-renowned stove designer Damon Ogle, who was heading up Aprovecho’s Institutional Stove Project. “Damon and I started talking and immediately built a partnership,” says Fred. “I was intrigued with Damon’s work. I liked his approach; I like his ethics; I liked his reasons for doing what he was doing.”

Fred and Damon, with the support of their spouses, funded the Institutional Stove Project out of their own pockets, leveraging dedicated volunteers and temporary employees to refine Damon’s stove designs and develop the infrastructure necessary to manufacture them. Over time, that collaboration led to the incorporation of Institutional Stove Solutions (InStove) as an independent, non-profit humanitarian organization. Fred credits InStove’s success to the hard work of its dedicated staff and the support of his family.

“I was always a hands-on builder. I was a pretty good organizer too,” says Fred of his decision to devote what was supposed to be his retirement to founding InStove. “It was this convergence of my construction skills, my ability to plan out and BUILD systems and my organizing skills to draw together people around and mission to make things happen. Efficient stoves and the mission of building institutional stoves particularly was and is the most compelling opportunity of my life.”