Hal Dengerink was getting ready to leave his position on the Pullman campus of Washington State University and take over a fledgling branch campus more than 350 miles away.
Before he headed for Vancouver, Dengerink had a question for a WSU official: “If this doesn’t work out, can I come back to Pullman?”
“He said no,” Dengerink recalled.
If you go
• What: 2011 First Citizen Award ceremony.
• When: 4-6 p.m. Wednesday.
• Where: Hilton Vancouver Washington, 301 W. Sixth St.
The WSU official had enough confidence that the branch campus would work, Dengerink said, but the message also was meant to motivate. Dengerink and the Vancouver campus would share the same fate.
More than 20 years later, WSUV has grown its enrollment and facilities exponentially.
It also has advanced its mission, expanding from an upper-division branch campus — enrolling juniors, seniors and graduate students in a limited number of fields — to a university that offers local high school graduates four years of college without leaving town.
The WSUV chancellor also has expanded his own role in Southwest Washington in the last 22 years. Since taking over the campus, he has participated in community efforts that range from the Interstate 5 Bridge project to improved care for local hospital patients.
They’re among the reasons why Dengerink has been named Clark County’s First Citizen.
The 2011 edition of the award, which was first bestowed in 1939, will be presented at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Hilton Vancouver Washington. The award is presented by The Community Foundation for Southwest Washington for exemplary citizenship and community service.
Dengerink, a psychology professor, was WSU’s associate dean of humanities and social sciences when the university started working on new branch campuses in Vancouver, Spokane and Tri-Cities.
When he came to Vancouver in October 1989, his university was located in Bauer Hall, on the Clark College campus.
Even when WSUV moved in 1996 to a 351-acre campus in Salmon Creek, the county’s higher-ed institutions followed a “two-plus-two” model. Students could take freshman and sophomore classes at Clark College, then transfer to WSUV for their last two years.
Turning an upper-division campus into a four-year college is a rare educational transition, and Dengerink was a key to it, former Clark College trustee John White said.
“The world of higher education is hyperpolitical. That’s not a slam on higher education, and it’s universal, not just in Washington. It’s all about turf and fiefdoms and making sure nobody gets into your programs,” White said. “So it’s amazing somebody could come into Southwest Washington and take the seed of WSUV and create as robust and successful a program as they have.
“Hal has done it by building partnerships, collaborating with WSU in Pullman, and forming very strong alliances with the local community.
“The relationship between Clark College and WSUV was one of the most rewarding things about my time on the Clark board,” said White, who was named First Citizen in 2007.
“There were many examples of great cooperation, including the building for the Clark College nursing program on the WSUV campus. In my experience, they’re rare in this state.”
White and Dengerink also served together on the board of directors for Southwest Washington Medical Center.
“When I joined the medical center board, he was chair of the quality committee,” White said. “That’s the name of the game in health care. Reimbursement will be based on outcomes, not on how many people you can pack through.”
Dengerink also spent several years as co-chairman of the Columbia River Crossing project’s advisory council, in two different stages of the process to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge. He resigned from the bridge panel about a year ago for health reasons.
Dengerink still is dealing with health issues, which he declined to identify, calling it a personal matter. But his work at WSUV isn’t finished, he maintained.
“I plan to be back,” Dengerink said. “No question about that.”