Opinion

Holding history for GRCC | Guest op

I returned to Green River Community College to honor retiring President Richard Rutkowski on Wednesday. He holds a special kind of tenure that has been rightly renewed, again and again, by the GRCC Board of Trustees.

President Rutkowski should be celebrated as a citizen who shepherded a well-founded two-year college into an exemplary part of the Washington state community college system. He gets credit for happily impacting countless lives and the economy of the region he serves.

In 1980, founding GRCC president Dr. Melvin Lindbloom, retired. It set us on a search for his replacement. The resume of young Richard Rutkowski was among those we collected. He already was on campus in the finance department, but we sought a new breed. We chose a well qualified New Englander, Dr. James Chadbourne. The fit was not right and painfully soon, we knew it.

Founding trustees from 1967 Hugh Mathews and Bill Kennelly, and trustees Jack Hawkins, Beverly Schoenfeld and I named Richard Rutkowski to the interim position as president when Dr. Chadbourne left the college in 1983.

Six months later, a survey of staff and students allowed the board to conclude the right person already was in the job. We eschewed a national search to offer him a contract, despite the fact that he had no doctorate degree. We knew we had a winning team with Harold “Bill” Taylor as dean of instruction, Mike McIntyre as dean of students and Clark Townsend as assistant to the president and director of the GRCC Foundation. We had a staff of gifted instructors and classified support personnel with which to work. They had a plan brewing none of us saw as clearly as I think they did. It is so satisfying to have been right.

We ushered the college into the computer age, becoming part of a “Computing Consortium” with other Seattle colleges. Global thinking started with a venture in Japan in 1990. Now there are more than a thousand international students on campus. The gleam of the 21st century campus in Auburn is as bright as its future.

To put President Rutkowski’s longevity into a personal perspective, my daughter was a newborn that day in 1983. She is now a college graduate and has worked in her profession for four years. She was the second of three children I had while serving on the GRCC Board of Trustees from 1977 to 1991. That time spanned the pivotol years of Dr. Melvin Lindbloom’s presidency, the inauguration and departure of its second president and nearly a decade into President Rutkowski’s turn at the helm. Campus growth and successful branches in Kent and Enumclaw are a tribute to the boards who followed. Three presidents in 45 years must be a record of stability.

There is a record I do know for certain. The community college system was still a fresh idea when I joined the board at GRCC. Gov. Dan Evans signed the system into being and handed the reins over to Gov. Dixy Lee Ray, 10 years later in 1977. She stirred things up in the Age of Feminism by appointing women of all ages to college boards. Beverly Shoenfeld and I were among them.

At age 26, I held the record as the youngest trustee in the state. I was a writer and editor at the Enumclaw Courier-Herald with knowledge of the area, but frankly, little influence to bring to the board. My talent to lobby and represent the college in Olympia and even Washington, D.C., grew with the years, as did GRCC.

As a young wife and mother managing home, family and board responsibilities, I was surprised to find I was something of a role model for half the students on campus – who were female. It was a privilege. Now I get the privilege of holding some of the college’s history.

Benay Nordby, a former Green River Community College board member, lives today on Bainbridge Island.

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