Dr. Patrick O’Connor
Affectionately named the “Godfather of Oregon Coast Community College,” Dr. Patrick O’Connor shared with me the history of OCCC before the successful construction of its four buildings was complete. In his own words, Patrick reflects on OCCC’s history and why he continues to support the students, faculty and programs.
I grew up in La Puente in the east San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County and attended Monrovia High School. Although I was uncertain what the future might hold, education seemed a likely path. It wasn’t always easy. I had to pay my own way. While studying for a BA degree in English at UC Irvine, I worked as a full-time cafeteria cook and became a concrete contractor while working on my master’s in English at the University of Idaho. Little did I know that the skill of pouring concrete would come in handy years later. I continued my studies at the University of Oregon and in 1988 received a doctorate degree in Educational Policy and Management.
My first teaching position was at the University of Idaho where I taught basic composition. From there, I was a tutor/part-time instructor in the Home Economics program at Lane Community College. During my doctoral program, I was a graduate research and teaching assistant at the U of O and also, as a part-time instructor at Chemeketa Community College. I taught a variety of classes in business, food service, and English.
OCCC held its first classes in 1987, meeting wherever space was available for rent. Oregon Coast was first established as a Community College Service District. As such, the school was not allowed to own property or propose a building bond. Operating funding consisted of 27 cents on every $1,000 of property taxes. (Just to put that in perspective, other Oregon community colleges received between $.52 and $5.15 per every $1,000 of property taxes.) Despite these challenges, we prevailed.
In May 1989, I was hired as the North County Director of OCCC in Lincoln City and Depoe Bay and added East County Director responsibilities in Toledo and eastern county. Church basements, fire stations, real estate offices and the other non-traditional space became classrooms for OCCC. Our Central County campus was at the former Jake’s High Tide Bar at 332 SW Coast Highway. At this location, some of our classes were on the second floor. The windows seemed to be at the same height as the exhaust pipes from semi-trucks rolling down Coast Highway.
In May of 1990, I became the interim President of OCCC. My position became permanent in September 1990 after passage of a serial levy. The top priorities were to find stable funding; begin a Nursing Program; create a “signature” program, which became the Aquarium Sciences program; and find a permanent home for OCCC students, faculty and staff. I was 34 years old. The tasks were daunting. Fortunately, we had a dedicated faculty, staff, community and board to help further our efforts.
Funding was always scarce. I often had to do tasks few other college presidents had to do, such as unplugging toilets and making our rental space ADA compliant. I helped pour concrete ramps and install grab bars in the restrooms. (That construction job paid off!) College staff joined me on many of these tasks.
After the State allowed us to incur bonded indebtedness to build, we attempted to float our first bond measure in November of 2000. The measure failed. It became evident that we needed to do more friend-raising before we would be successful at fundraising. The College redoubled its efforts to raise its profile in the communities by its involvement with the Chambers of Commerce, Yaquina Bay Economic Foundation, the Community College Presidents Council, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Oregon State University, State Board of Education, Economic Development Alliance of Lincoln County, Samaritan Health District, Rotary clubs, and Angell Job Corps, to name a few.
To generate more public awareness, I marched (on my own time) the entire length of Lincoln County, a distance of more than 65 miles, carrying a flag with the college’s logo on it. Several supporters joined for portions of the three-day trek. We needed to reinforce our economic and social value to the community, including college transfer classes, small business development center, adult basic ed classes, GED preparation courses and continuing ed classes.
We tried again in 2002. That measure failed a second time. It was a hard sell, but we knew the residents of Lincoln County deserved a quality community college where students could proudly say, “I went to OCCC, and it helped me get to where I wanted to go.”
Finally, in 2004, the $23.5 million bond for facilities passed. The North and South County campuses opened in July of 2008, and the Central County campus opened in September of 2009. The AQS Building opened in August 2011. We also received about $12 million in matching state funds. All of the campus buildings came in under budget. The building design benefitted from input by community, faculty, and staff members, as well as from College and Foundation Board members.
After nearly 22 years of working with people to offer a community service that makes such a positive impact on the lives of so many, it was time for me to move on. Besides the buildings that now exist, we created programs for which we could be very proud: the Small Business Development Center (SBDC); the Nursing program; Aquarium Sciences (AQS) program; general education courses; the ESL and GED programs; programs allowing high school students to earn college credit; and the formation of the OCCC Foundation. I am very proud of the strides in independent accreditation that have been made since that time. Congratulations OCCC! Thank you for making this possible!
Students, invest in yourself. You will benefit yourself, your family and your community. Donors, there is no better investment than helping people improve their minds and skills. An education pays dividends far beyond one’s own self.
We are fortunate to have many dedicated faculty, staff and community members who continue to support the College and its mission!
As an update, Patrick and his wife, Mary Janet, of 29 years currently split their time between Lincoln City and Cottage Grove. He is actively retired while Mary continues to sell real estate in Lincoln County. Pat enjoys sports, reading, hiking, and automotive restoration. He is currently restoring his 1965 VW Beetle, a car he learned to drive while in high school.
OCCC was fortunate to have Dr. Patrick O’Connor at the helm as the fourth-longest-serving college president in Oregon history. Thank you, Patrick!
The Dr. Patrick O’Connor wing of the main campus houses the Community Room, the SBDC, Community Engagement, and the OCCC Foundation. The OCCC Foundation Board of Directors established the Dr. Patrick O’Connor Presidential Scholarship fund benefitting OCCC students. A donation to the fund will enable even more students to say, “Yes, I went to OCCC, and it helped me get to where I want to go.”
Donations to the Dr. Patrick O’Connor Presidential Scholarship Fund may be sent to:
OCCC Foundation • 400 SE College Way • Newport, OR 97366
Or, by visiting the Foundation website.