Hal Dengerink said he didn’t really know much about the criteria for First Citizen, or how the annual award-winners were chosen.
Now, as Clark County’s First Citizen for 2011, Dengerink said he’s figured it out.
“You answer the phone when the mayor calls,” he said Wednesday afternoon after accepting the award.
It happened twice, Dengerink said. Bruce Hagensen enlisted him for the Fort Vancouver National Historic Reserve project. Then Royce Pollard invited Dengerink to co-chair a Columbia River Crossing task force as part of replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge.
“I told Hal it was an easy assignment and wouldn’t take long,” Pollard said when he introduced Dengerink.
But it was an educational role that brought Washington State University Vancouver’s chancellor to Clark County. He arrived in 1989 to head up a branch campus housed in Bauer Hall at Clark College.
It offered junior- and senior-level classes and graduate courses. Now WSUV has its own 351-acre Salmon Creek campus, and also welcomes freshmen and sophomores. After graduating 917 students this spring, WSUV now has 8,700 alums.
Rick Melching, president of the Community Foundation, said that previous First Citizens have contributed heavily to the community in the fields of education, health care and jobs. That puts Dengerink in good company.
“He’s advanced all of them,” Melching said.
His involvement with the Chamber of Commerce spawned Leadership Clark County, a professional development program. Dengerink also has served on the board of directors of Southwest Washington Medical Center.
Gay Selby, an instructor at WSUV, recalled working with Dengerink from the ground up on finding a permanent home for WSUV.
“We were still at Clark,” said Selby, a Kelso resident. “There were 13 or 14 proposed sites, and we visited every one of them on Saturdays. I first got to know Hal while we were tromping around vacant land.”
Selby also spent 12 years on the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board, which oversaw the process of creating WSU branch campuses in Vancouver, Tri-Cities and Spokane.
“This is the only one of the three campuses that’s had the same leadership” since they opened, Selby said.
Selby, who teaches educational leadership, cited “the consistency and constancy of Hal’s leadership.”
When it was his turn to speak, Dengerink pointed out that “the work started a long time before I got here.”
But Dengerink has been able to keep it rolling smoothly by establishing partnerships and finding common ground with business leaders and other educational officials.
“Hal never met a collaboration he didn’t like,” Lynn Valenter, WSUV vice chancellor, said in a taped segment.
This turned out to be a pretty good place for that sort of thing, Dengerink said.
“The community had the same passion and mission,” he said. “We hadn’t been here long before I found this was a community with a ‘Let’s do it together’ approach.”