Published December 19, 2012
Retiring SPSCC president leaves a legacy of expansion, visibilityLISA PEMBERTON
South Puget Sound Community College president Gerald Pumphrey said he’s looking forward to retiring next month and having more time for photography, boating and working on projects around the house. And most of all, he’s looking forward to spending time with friends and family. “I hope to spend some time with my daughter,” Pumphrey said. Leading SPSCC the past six years has been rewarding, he said. “I’ve enjoyed being here, and truly valued the relationships with faculty, students and staff,” he said. “It’s been a very welcoming community.” But it also has been time-consuming and stressful, he said. College officials have had to deal with major state budget reductions four years in a row. “That’s just wearing,” Pumphrey said. “It takes a mental toll on you.” And then there was the cancer scare. About 18 months ago, Pumphrey was diagnosed with melanoma on his scalp. “It was serious,” he said. “We think it was resolved.” Doctors continue to monitor it, and the clinical work has come back fine, Pumphrey said. But the ordeal was a strong reminder that time is precious, health is important and there really is more to life than a successful career. “Certainly, an adverse health event causes one to think,” Pumphrey said. “A motivation is to get some control over the amount of discretionary time I have.” Pumphrey leaves with a legacy of leading the college through some of its most difficult financial times in history, said Jason Salcedo, a professor of English. “Not long after he came in the economy collapsed, and the economy for education really collapsed,” he said. “I think he’s led us through tough economic times. It’s not easy being a leader in a budget crisis, when every cut offends a constituency.” Tom Witt, professor of automotive technology and former faculty union president, said Pumphrey will be remembered as a collaborator. “When he came in, there were a lot of personnel issues that he had to deal with,” he said. “I think he’s done a very good job dealing with a lot of those kinds of issues. … His ultimate goal was to make this a place where everybody felt comfortable, like a big family.” Pumphrey also fought hard on the hill to protect programs that were at risk of being cut by the Legislature, Witt said. “I know a lot of colleges — they were closing programs, they were losing people,” he said. “None of that happened here, and I think a lot of that had to do with his leadership. He’s always been a very good liaison over there.” Sally Murrow, coordinator for the college’s internship program, said she’ll remember Pumphrey for being a leader who was approachable, a good listener and willing to try new partnerships. “He just doesn’t just sit in his office; he gets out and about and checks in with people,” Murrow added. “He has lunch in our cafeteria. He’ll eat lunch with students, faculty and staff.” Pumphrey arrived at SPSCC on Aug. 1, 2006, after serving five years as president of Bellingham Technical College. Before coming to Washington, Pumphrey spent six years at Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, N.C., where he served as director of work force preparedness, dean of instruction and vice president of instruction. Earlier in his career, Pumphrey was a cabinet worker, and it’s clear that he’s still a very much a builder at heart. Under his watch, three new buildings have risen on SPSCC’s campus. In addition, the college’s oldest facility, Building 22, is about halfway through a $30 million renovation. When finished, the 90,000-square-foot building will house the college’s library and media services and serve as a “one-stop shopping place” for student services such as financial aid, counseling, testing and admissions, college officials say. “It’s going to be an impressive building,” Salcedo said. “It’s going to expand our library and office space.” Pumphrey said one of the biggest challenges in his job was letting go of a dream of overseeing construction of SPSCC’s proposed Hawks Prairie campus on a 54.5-acre parcel off Marvin Road Northeast. “Frankly, one of the attractions (for this job) was Hawks Prairie,” he said. “That hasn’t happened, and isn’t going to happen soon. I thought we’d be building within the next two years (of my arrival), and then the Great Recession happened.” Instead, the college has decided to purchase the Rowesix Office Park near downtown Lacey. It hopes to open a satellite campus on the 8-acre property by fall 2015, and it’s sure to be a major project for the college’s next president, Pumphrey said. “That will take some attention in terms of planning and execution,” he said.