Founding WSUV chancellor Dengerink dies at 68

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter



H.A. “Hal” Dengerink, the founding chancellor of Washington State University Vancouver, died Wednesday afternoon following a battle with brain cancer.

Dengerink died at home, where he had been receiving hospice care. He was 68.

Dengerink retired from Washington State University a month ago after a 42-year career.

A colleague described Dengerink as a practical visionary who could imagine a long-term goal, and then could chart the step-by-step path to achieve it.

It was a quality that marked Dengerink’s career in Vancouver, where he arrived in 1989 to set up a new branch campus in borrowed space at Clark College.

It also defined his community involvement, which was recognized in June when Dengerink was named Clark County’s First Citizen of 2011.

“He was really a strategic visionary and a practical man,” said Lynn Valenter, interim WSUV chancellor and vice chancellor of finance and operations.

“Hal was just brilliant,” she said. “He could look down the road and figure out how to get from here to there, and he could calculate the best path.”

Renee Hoeksel, one of the first faculty members to join Dengerink on the fledging branch campus, recalls that sort of projection.

“When this site in Salmon Creek was chosen, I was on the building committee,” the nursing professor said.

“The first time they brought us out here to what used to be a dairy farm, he’s pointing: This is what this will be the kind of access for students, the opportunities for faculty and community to work together for the betterment of the entire state of Washington,” Hoeksel said. “Coming from nursing, it takes a lot to awe me.”

Her thoughts at the time?

“It’s a pasture!”

And now, “Look at what it is today,” Hoeksel said.

Under Dengerink’s guidance, WSUV didn’t just expand geographically. Opened as an upper-division branch campus, WSUV became a four-year university that enabled local high-school graduates to attend college without leaving the county.

And that reflected another one of Dengerink’s characteristics, Valenter said.

“As a university, we have an incredible breadth of constituents — the city, the Legislature, higher education, business, nonprofits, government: Hal viewed all of them as collaborators.”

By bringing them all into the discussion, Valenter said, “It allowed him to deliver what the community — in the broadest sense — needed.”

When WSUV was working to get a computer science and engineering building, “Hal made sure the Legislature, technical councils, the Chamber of Commerce, the Columbia River Economic Development Council and higher ed all had a vision they could support and actively promote,” Valenter said.

It included private scholarship support, industry support in equipment and furnishings, and support from local employers in those fields.

He joined WSU as a faculty member in psychology in 1969. Dengerink held various leadership roles on the Pullman campus until 1989 when he came to Vancouver.

An active community member, Dengerink served on the board of directors of the Columbia River Economic Development Council and what was then Southwest Washington Medical Center.

Dengerink was appointed by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire to the Washington Technology Center board of directors. Dengerink previously served as co-chairman of the Columbia River Crossing Task Force and later co-chairman for the Project Sponsors Council for the Columbia River Crossing.

“Hal’s death is a great loss, but his legacy will continue through his numerous contributions to the social, economic and educational infrastructures of our community,” said Rick Melching, president of the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, which presents the annual First Citizen award.

“Hal was committed to the core values that comprise our quality of life in Southwest Washington and was particularly effective in the areas of education, health care and jobs. He considerably advanced all of them through his leadership, foresight and ingenuity,” Melching wrote in an email.

Melching, former Evergreen school district superintendent, also noted Dengerink’s contributions to education.

“Hal led the creation of a branch campus which has provided quality higher education to thousands of local residents while helping to improve the civic and cultural fabric of our community. His work on the development of WSUV is the gift that keeps on giving. The multiplier effect of this one accomplishment alone will resonate for years into the foreseeable future and will provide ongoing benefits to everyone in Southwest Washington for many, many years.”

Dengerink, who was born June 6, 1943 in Denver, is survived by his wife of 47 years, Joan; daughters Kris Travis of Wenatchee and Erin Dengerink of Vancouver; and five grandchildren.

People who wish to donate to the H.A. “Hal” and Joan Dengerink Endowed Fellowship can go here, then click on the “Dr. H.A. ‘Hal’ and Joan Dengerink Endowed Scholarship Fund” link.

Plans for a public memorial service at WSUV will be announced.

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