In Our View: Countless Hats

Dengerink’s contributions to community have extended far beyond WSUV campus

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Countless Clark County residents will eagerly provide compelling, heartwarming and humorous anecdotes about how they have come to know Hal Dengerink. Today we’ll momentarily shift the format and take a statistical look at the impact Dengerink has made in more than two decades as the only chancellor Washington State University Vancouver has ever known.

Back Then — Southwest Washington used to be the most under-served area of the state in terms of access to four-year higher education. Clark College has long served superbly in its own way, but until the late 1980s, local residents had to drive more than 100 miles to attend the closest four-year college in Washington state. This detachment from in-state four-year institutions held us back not only in advanced learning, but in economic development.

Today’s Opportunities — Washington State University Vancouver enrolls more than 3,000 students (more than 2,400 full-time equivalents) who are taught by 130 full-time, Ph.D. faculty in 13 buildings on a scenic and vibrant 351-acre campus. Those students have access to 18 bachelor’s degrees, 10 master’s degrees, one doctorate degree and more than 37 fields of study. WSUV has more than 8,000 alumni who are part of the larger WSU system’s family of 186,000 worldwide graduates, 15,600 in this area.

Those numbers speak to the rapid rise to prominence of WSUV under Dengerink’s guidance as chancellor. So when the amiable, collaborative and innovative Dengerink announced his retirement on Tuesday, the first question among many local residents was rooted in apprehension: Can any successor continue this momentum? From an academic standpoint, we think that’s difficult, but possible. One man alone did not make WSUV this successful. Dozens of powerful local legislators have coaxed the funding out of Olympia. Numerous visionaries in Pullman have allowed the branch campus here to flourish so effectively. There’s no reason that cannot continue.

But we wonder if anyone has the energy to match Dengerink’s contributions on and off campus. It seems like only yesterday Dengerink and a few others were wandering around local pastures, scouting for a permanent home for the upstart two-year college that was holding classes at Clark College’s Bauer Hall. But it was before many of today’s WSUV students were born. In those two decades, Dengerink has ventured beyond the campus to serve his community in myriad other ways.

Earlier this month Dengerink, reflecting on his arrival here in 1989, said, “We hadn’t been here long before I found this was a community with a ‘Let’s do it together’ approach.” So, time and again, he has jumped in with both feet. Often his contributions have been highly visible as he helped the Fort Vancouver National Historic Reserve project and directed the Columbia River Crossing task force. But many more times the feats have been accomplished in board rooms and planning sessions, most significantly as he groomed the local university as a cradle for high-tech work force development.

Thus, no one was surprised two weeks ago when Dengerink was named Clark County’s First Citizen for 2011. A university chancellor characteristically guides the upper echelons of learning, but Dengerink rewrote the job description, adding community development to the duty list. And through it all, Hal has mentored thousands of people on teamwork skills, showing how unity of purpose overcomes differences in attitudes or opinions.

We hope Hal Dengerink continues for a long time to grace our community and help us reach toward our potential, not just in higher education but in maximizing that simple but dynamic “Let’s do it together” approach.