This Date in Time

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wow. May 18. I was thinking how beautiful and special the Pacific Northwest is on these days that the sun is out at 6:00 am, leaving shadows and sunbeams throughout the house. This is my favorite time of the day. After record rains the past couple of months I bask in a few moments of the sun’s energizing rays. Now, if were just warm enough to have my tea outside…

May 18, 1980 I was a student at The Evergreen State College enrolled in Human Development. (Yes, this is where I met Dave; no, he was not my direct professor!) On that Sunday Mount St. Helens in WA blew her volcanic stack. Ash fell over Olympia. Our surroundings were drained of color as the particles dusted our world. Lava flow filled Spirit Lake. Trees of the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest were toppled. The Toutle River became an outlet for logs, fire, steam and ash following the law of gravity. 57 people died.

The previous October our TESC program gathered at Spirit Lake for a student and faculty bonding and educational retreat, not an unusual activity in those days. We were the last official group to use the camp that year. Some say there was incredible electrical energy in the air at Spirit Lake that week, something different and beyond the recreational enhancements students are known to partake.

In May that year I was living with Dave and two of his kids, a temporary arrangement as I did not have housing after Spring Break. I remember stepping outside the small rental that morning to wonder if the car would start, how long the ash would fall and noted to myself that this was a monumental event. Who would think a volcano would blow up in the United States, in our backyard so to speak?

Three years later, in September 1983, Dave and I would travel through the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest on our honeymoon drive from Texas. But that’s another story.

How fitting for my memories that this is the day Dave will be nominated for emeritus status. Dave was the first of 18 planning faculty members to arrive on the TESC campus to assume his duties July 1, 1970, a year before the college opened to students. He was the youngest, too, at 30 years old. Today marks the end of 41 years teaching at Evergreen. (Official retirement date: June 15, 2011.) He is the last of the full time planning faculty to retire.

There is truly a book of stories from his career, both personally and professionally and in light of the innovations of an alternative state-funded liberal arts college. Too many of these stories will die with his death, as have so many before. I’ve heard Dave summarize his career often in the past few months, “Who would think that an East Tulsa boy like me could ever become a PhD and professor? How lucky am I? All I knew is that I wanted to study history… It has been a good run.”

There’s so much more about Dave hidden in that statement than meets the eye. It is mind boggling to me to think about the thousands of lives he’s touched in countless and unknown ways, and the number of times he’s stepped on that campus over hundreds of weeks “to battle the forces of ignorance” as he’d say out the door in the morning. He was still having fun up to his unexpected last day of teaching on January 20, 2011; maybe even more fun than when he arrived in 1970. Dave is just humble enough to not really understand the impact he has effected on generations of students. Perhaps there is still time and a way to let him know.

Neither Dave nor I will be attending the faculty meeting today. Maybe I can muster the emotional stamina to attend the Trustees’ meeting in June, assuming that he will be granted emeritus status. Unfortunately, at Evergreen, giving of this honorary title has become rather routine, diluting the actual value for highly earned professionals. How unfortunate for all.

Over the past couple of weeks we have both cried tears over the end of his career. His official resignation, visits from long time colleagues and the college President, applying for retirement, stories of work intermingled in conversations… all contribute to wrapping up this part of his life. Dave’s teaching at Evergreen is the beginning of how I know him. As an alum, a wife, and an observer, I, too, have plenty of opinion and sentiments about the college – both its direction and its history.

With this nomination at the end of the last founding faculty member’s career, an era will be over. This is the end of the dinosaur reign at TESC. The radicals have left the building.

41 years. It has been a good run.

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