Text:  Birth of an Institution

The Hidden House -- the first home of Clark CollegeThe announcement was made quietly but it was front-page news.  On Saturday, August 19, 1933, an article appeared on the front page of the Vancouver Evening Columbian announcing the founding of Vancouver Junior College.

It was the result of belief and hope in the midst of the Great Depression.  Local educator John Todd, a former school superintendent in Auburn, Wash., headed a group of Vancouver businesspeople in the effort endorsed by the Washington Education Association.

Todd expected the college to be supported by tuition fees. He asked city leaders to appoint representatives to form a board of advisors. Six faculty members were named in September. They were: Raymond A. Busco (business administration), Gilbert Erlandson (psychology and social science), Marian Hendrick (dramatics and art), Robert T. Oliver (English), Miriam M. Reinhart (history and mathematics), and Ralph Hanna (foreign languages).  (John Todd was the brother of Edward Todd, president of the College of Puget Sound.)

On September 7, Vancouver Junior College ran its first-ever registration ad in The Vancouver Evening Columbian, announcing that registration would begin on September 28 with fall term beginning on Monday, October 2.

Registration began Sept. 28 for the fall term starting four days later. Tuition fees were $110-$135 if paid in advance, or, depending on the course of study, $45 to $50 for three months, paid in advance.

Vancouver Junior College opens its doors

October 1, 1933 was a Sunday.  On that day, the tiny faculty of Vancouver Junior College – numbering about half a dozen – held their first formal meeting at the Hidden House in downtown Vancouver. 

Historical records indicate that, with enrollment so low, faculty members had questioned whether the college should open.  But jobs were scarce – especially teaching jobs.  More than that, one student – Larry Rakestraw, a graduate of Washougal High School – had signed up on the first day of registration and had paid his tuition in full.  That support – that belief in the junior college – carried the day. 

Still, the minutes of that first faculty meeting make the financial basis of the college operation abundantly clear:  " That the employees are to be remunerated in the following manner:  the overhead to be deducted from the total income, and that the remainder of the income is to be divided equally among the teachers signing the contract."

And so, the next morning, on October 2, 1933, the college opened for classes.   A catalog of just a few pages outlined the college's offerings and listed five faculty members including Dean Robert Oliver.

1930s highlights

On November 18, following a contest, Clark Junior College is unveiled as the college’s new name. An article in The Columbian noted that “McLoughlin” was actually the leading designation. However, since “Clark,” “Lewis and Clark,” and “Clark County” drew combined twice as many votes as “McLoughlin,” the decision was made to choose Clark Junior College.

Library at the Hidden House

Friday, June 15, 1934 was a milestone in the college's history.  That evening, at a graduation banquet, Mrs. Frances Bunnell Wilde became the first graduate of Clark Junior College. Mrs. Wilde was the sole student to graduate as the college completed its first year of operation.  In his diary, Dean Robert Oliver described the historic ceremony.  Elizabeth Gedney Christensen, Class of 1936, generously donated her program from the 1934 ceremony to the college.

In the fall of 1934, Clark Junior College announced plans to raise $5,000 to buy permanent equipment, including chemical laboratory supplies, library books, chairs, blackboards and other necessities. Years later, Dean Robert Oliver recalled that only about $30 was raised. 

Still, classes continued and on Wednesday, June 5, 1935, Clark Junior College held its first official graduation ceremony.  Two students graduated:  Rodney Jeffrey and Lawrence Rakestraw, the first student to enroll at the college.  As the program notes, the ceremony was held at the Evergreen Hotel.  In an editorial, The Columbian took note of the college's accomplishments during its first two years.

Clark College faculty members in 1936

Spring 1937 brought the college's first accreditation by the University of Washington.  At the invitation of the college, a committee or five professors from the university visited Clark on March 12, 1937. 

According to the book "A History of the Vancouver Public Schools," the professors "inspected the accounts, the libraries and the laboratories, visited classes, conferred with instructors, chatted with students, had lunch with the board and talked with other members of the community."

The book reported:  "Acknowledging the meagerness of facilities, the committee concluded that the quality of the work and the competence and earnestness of the faculty warranted the encouragement that accreditation would give."

The 1936 faculty members included Dean Lewis D. Cannell (top row, center), Homer P. Foster (Social Sciences) (top row, left), Ralph Hanna (Foreign Languages) (front row, right), Mrs. Willard P. Tyler (Registrar, Librarian), Albert M. Nanney (Lecturer in Business Law) (front row, left), Keith Wilcox (Mechanical Drawing) and Willard P. Tyler (Science).

Second Clark College location -- Salvation Army building

As a result, Clark Junior College was accredited for one year.  (It has remained accredited throughout its history.)   The announcement was made on April 23, 1937.  One day later, The Columbian newspaper congratulated the "splendid little junior college" in an editorial.

That fall, the college moved to its second location.  The building faced Seventh Street, near C Street, near a pedestrian gate to the Vancouver Barracks. 

The 1938 Galapagon yearbook stated:  "September 27, 1938 found students and faculty of Clark Junior College established in a 'new' building....[with] every convenience students could wish for: a large auditorium with seats which can be removed, leaving a spacious dance floor; a well-book-stocked library...and apartments where various members of the faculty reside."

Drawings from the 1937 Galapagon yearbook

The 1937 yearbook was the first to be published with the Galapagon name.  In addition to the drawings of the Hidden House and Vancouver buildings (left), it included this foreward:

We christen thee "Galapagon".  Thou derivest thy name from the Galapagos Islands, home of the penguin.  To posterity, we grant the right to name thee better, if they find it in their hearts to do so.  And so thou art "Galapagon", and thou shalt continue to be such until thou art something else. 

We dedicate thee to the future.  We dedicate thee to progress....development.....improvement.....
growth.....to Clark Junior College ten, thirty, fifty years from now.

The 1937 Galapagon also included the words to the college's first song, penned by Lawrence Rakestraw, the first student to enroll at Clark.  On October 1, 2008, that song rang out at the college for the first time in many years as the Clark College Chorale performed a memorable rendition during the college's 75th anniversary celebration.

As the 1930s came to an end, the college was continuing to grow.  Soon, however, history would intervene in a big way and World War II would take its toll.