On September 14, 2011, the first chancellor of Washington State University Vancouver, Hal Dengerink, passed away at the age of 68.
I first met Hal Dengerink when he came to WSU Vancouver from WSU Pullman to oversee the programs that were offered at Bauer Hall on the Clark College campus. The process of selecting a site for the WSU Vancouver campus was underway when he joined the site recommendation task force that was appointed by WSU President Sam Smith. As members of the task force, we spent many months and endless weekends meeting regularly to complete our charge, which included visiting potential campus sites in southwest Washington and finalizing a recommendation for the site of the new campus.
I think every member of the site recommendation committee knew they had found the perfect location for a new campus when they visited the Salmon Creek site. The gradual-sloping property, surrounded by neighborhoods of family homes, with the spectacular vistas of Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens was the perfect place to dream and build a new campus to serve the population of southwest Washington. This region of Washington state was the most underserved area with access to higher education opportunities. The groundbreaking for the new campus occurred during the summer of 1994.
Hal Dengerink was the perfect match for the Salmon Creek site. He was a visionary, and his vision was the beacon that guided the academic, cultural, and physical development of the campus. He knew for the vision to become reality it needed more than faculty, students, and facilities; it needed the unwavering support of the community. As Interim Chancellor Lynn Valenter said, “Hal never met a collaboration he didn’t like.” The community recognized his commitment to collaboration by honoring him as Clark County’s First Citizen for 2011.
He believed in the saying, “build it and they will come.” And, of course, come they (students) have to WSU Vancouver. (Enrollment for fall semester 2011 exceeded 3,000 students.) He was a very authentic leader who was able to “cut to the core and clear away the barriers.” I would characterize his leadership as pragmatic. He was very strategic in his planning and adaptability. He had the uncanny ability to turn challenges into opportunities. He did this through his intellect, his relationships, and his perseverance. His word was a contract.
Hal was a complex man. He was at home both in the world of academics and the world of those who work with their hands. He had many interests that he shared with friends and family. He could be found building items, from cabins (built two) to the stand in the chancellor’s reception area that holds a dictionary or the small table in the chancellor’s office. He loved his adult toys—his truck, his tractor, his power tools, and his scooter. Hal was a lifelong learner and an avid reader, both fiction (mysteries) and nonfiction (biographies). He played the banjo until he injured his finger. His children and grandchildren were his greatest joy. He relished opportunities to teach them new things, such as building “sea shanties from driftwood found on the beach.” He liked dogs and tolerated cats. He loved his work, his community, and his family.
As chancellor, he was known as “Hal.” He did not seek or require any other title from the campus community. He and WSU Vancouver were one and the same. He left a legacy that will serve as the visionary beacon for WSU Vancouver for many, many years to come.