SPSCC students, staff celebrate milestone birthday of ‘life-long learner’

About 35 people gathered in a classroom at South Puget Sound Community College at Hawks Prairie on Wednesday morning to celebrate Bako Danpullo’s 90th birthday.

“In my country, I am a young man,” said the Lacey resident who originally hails from Cameroon in Central Africa. “But not here.”

Danpullo wiped tears from his eyes as he thanked his instructors and classmates in the English as a Second Language program for the celebration.

SPSCC communications consultant Aaron Managhan described Danpullo as “a great embodiment of a lifelong learner,” which is the type of student SPSCC at Hawks Prairie was created for when it opened in the shopping center 20 years ago.

The campus has offered a mix of personal-enrichment classes, and is the college’s hub for business and professional training courses. But this is the last quarter that for-credit classes will be offered at the campus, and after the summer session, the school will permanently close down.

“They’ll be moving in the fall upon completion of the Lacey campus,” Managhan said.

SPSCC’s Lacey campus is an $11 million project on Sixth Avenue across from the Intercity Transit station, in a complex formerly known as Rowe Six. In the fall, it will open two buildings with 69,000 square feet.

SPSCC’s Lacey campus will carry all of the same programs that Hawks Prairie already offers, such as corporate training, certificate programs, and continuing education programs such as the ESL classes. But it also will provide for-credit classes for students seeking a two-year college degree, Managhan said.

Programs at Lacey are being designed so that it will “become a very viable option for transfer students,” he said.

In 2012, the college paid $4 million for the Lacey property, which features five buildings totaling more than 100,000 square feet. The deal was part of a partnership with the Thurston County Economic Development Council, which will result in a new entrepreneurial center for the area.

SPSCC at Hawks Prairie annually serves about 8,000 students in noncredit programs, and about 1,500 in its for-credit classes, said Noel Rubadue, dean of Corporate and Continuing Education. Another 1,600 students use the center’s professional testing services, she said.

“As the county’s grown, and our needs have grown. We’ve kind of outgrown our facility here,” Managhan said.

ESL instructor Debbie Dohrmann has worked at the Hawks Prairie campus since 1999 and said it’s always had a welcoming presence for students.

But change is OK, too.

“It’s exciting to be in a facility that’s being built from scratch and will be designed for education,” Dohrmann said.

During the party, Danpullo told his classmates that his dad lived to age 110.

“I pray to my God to give me 125,” he said.

After retiring from an import-export industry, Danpullo and his wife of 63 years, Hajara, moved to the United States in 2001. He said they moved to Lacey about a decade ago to live closer to their son and attend a local mosque.

Danpullo said he’s grateful to be able to attend SPSCC, and continue to work on his goal of reading and writing English. When he was growing up, going to school was forbidden in his homeland, he said.