Former TCC president Carl Opgaard dies at 85

Carl Opgaard was known for being out and about around the Tacoma Community College campus.

The then-college president took strolls around the campus, to hear about the faculty’s concerns or to get to know students.

“Carl was out there seeing faculty and staff, whenever he could,” said Gael Tower, a faculty member at the college.

The lifelong educator died of natural causes July 6 at his assisted living residence in Tacoma. He was 85.

It was no easy task for Opgaard when he arrived in Tacoma in 1983 to head TCC.

The college had seen an 18 percent cut in state funding, an action that forced administrators to drop courses and cancel job training programs, said Dan Small, a retired spokesman with the college.

Despite the hard feelings on campus, Small said, Opgaard’s willingness to listen to the community’s concerns helped the campus move past the financial woes.

“He had a really warm personality; he made everybody feel at ease,” Small said. “He was very caring and a down-to-earth guy.”

Shortly before Opgaard retired in 1990, the student body named the student center after him

While at TCC, Small said, Opgaard was committed to helping the long-term unemployed by starting the SPRUCE program.

Twenty-four years after Opgaard’s retirement, the program continues to provide tuition waivers for long-term unemployed residents when space is available in specific courses.

“He really believed that education was a lifelong endeavor,” said Opgaard’s son, John.

After retiring, the elder Opgaard went on to serve as interim president at Columbia Basin College in Pasco and Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood.

Opgaard was a North Dakota native whose his 44-year career including being a teacher, counselor and school administrator.

He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Phyllis, their four children and 10 grandchildren.

Opgaard was the founding president of Malaspina College on Vancouver Island in Canada.

Beginning in 1969, Opgaard hired faculty, planned course curriculum and secured a temporary building for the Canadian college, just in time for the first students to attend school in September.

Now known as Vancouver Island University, the two-year community college grew into a four-year university with 17,000 students and dozens of degrees.

John Opgaard said he will continue to remember his father’s passion for education and his commitment to teachers and students.

“He impacted so many people in positive ways,” he said.