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Community responds to Dr. De’s passing
Photos and Story by James Hill
The following are quotes about the legacy of founding Portland Community College President Dr. Amo DeBernardis’s legacy. Dr. De passed away on Friday, Feb. 19. He was 96. To read about his life story, visit the PCC News Story.
Preston Pulliams, current PCC District President (2004-present)
“‘Dr. De’ served as president from 1961 until his retirement in 1979. Much of what we see today on our campuses can be credited to his strong leadership.
He led the way in developing the Sylvania, Cascade and Rock Creek campuses. He grew PCC from a division of Portland Public Schools to the largest institution of post-secondary education in the state of Oregon. Upon retiring, he remained a sage council for myself and the other college presidents who followed in his footsteps.”
Roy Lindsay, who worked as assistant to the president and executive dean, vice president of administrative services (1967-1989)
“I could write a book. People always ask me about him and I’ve always said Dr. DeBernardis had more ideas in five minutes than most men had in a lifetime. I mean that in a positive way. His mind never stopped with what we were doing and looking ahead to what we should do be doing. He always asked, ‘What is in it for the students?’ There was not a matter that came up or proposals made where that question wasn’t asked. He believed if we were doing it the same way for 20 years then we were doing it in wrong. He was a big believer in change. One thing that is constant is change and we need to respond to it, he said. When we build the college he wanted to build it like a shopping center. Airports and shopping centers knew how to handle people and serve them. That idea permeated all his plans and recommendations. It was always, ‘People need more than one chance,’ So there shouldn’t be any big requirements to add them to the college. If they needed more than three or four chances, that was their perrogative. We shouldn’t close doors to students that want to go to school. Those type of things were what made it fun to work with him. He was a great friend, but not in a social way because we recognized him as the president of the college. We knew who was the boss.”
“When he was asked by by people in admissions or some of the instructors if a student failed a course should he be able to repeat it, or if they failed them more than once, should they be able to take it again. His response was that if two people start out to climb a mountain and one does it in a half a day, and the second person doesn’t, or on the second day, but manages to climb it on the third day, did they not both climb the mountain? He was interesting to work with. He was very, very busy, and spent more time on the job then you could think of. Weekends and evenings, you never knew when you’d find him on campus. He said many times, ‘You know Lindsay? If we do this right then somebody coming along won’t be able to change very quickly how we put this together and cater to students.’ And they are still doing what we thought they oughta do and that makes us feel good. What he had instilled in, the idea that is reflected in all of the physical facilities, will be around for awhile.”
Dr. Dan Moriarty, Former PCC President (1986-2001)
“Number one, I think Amo had an extraordinary vision of what the community college could be in the Portland metro area. He did not think small ball. That made for what is today a most effective and efficient means of delivering education to all citizens. Originally, he even wanted to include the area that now is served by Mt. Hood, but politics blocked his way. Secondly, he systematically and deliberately put in place all the elements that now constitute PCC. I am thinking particularly of the three comprehensive campuses. That was entirely his doing. Those of us who followed expanded his vision and filled in the gaps but it was his vision that remained on the drawing board as the template for all to follow.”
“I especially appreciate Amo’s emphasis on career and technical education, an emphasis that is lacking in many community colleges. He also built the foundation for a strong transfer program that could be the standard for any college in the country. Amo was an extraordinarily humble man who took great satisfaction in getting the job done, in bringing education to every household in the community. God bless Amo, an Oregon treasure.”
Glen Fors, Department Chair of many of PCC’s Vocational Programs (1965-1988)
“I always felt he was one of the great people in the educational field there ever was. He had a lot of emphasis on the college to be known for taking in all students in academic or vocational training. To him students came first. He always felt that community colleges should be for academics and training and not for sports teams. Money should be spent on students and not necessarily for people who could get into a sports uniform. I was fortunate to spend time with him after our retirements as we had our monthly retiree meetings in Tigard. Ultimately, you did things his way or they didn’t get done.”
Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, former PCC Board member (1974-1981), who battled Dr. De on developing Rock Creek
“Everything you’ve read about Amo DeBernardis is true, but it doesn’t do justice,” Blumenauer told OPB Radio. “I frankly was shocked he passed away before he turned one hundred.”