What’s in a name? How we became Southwestern Oregon Community College

What’s in a name? How we became Southwestern Oregon Community College

Elise Hamner History

Sometimes names are arbitrary. They sound cool. They might be popular at that moment in time. Other times, names hint of history and change.

When it comes to Southwestern Oregon Community College, there is a story behind the name.

The college opened temporary original classrooms and administrative offices at the North Bend airport, while searching for a permanent site. The college's first president Wendell Van Loan and founder Henry Hansen helped guide the discussion in the first years.
The college opened temporary classrooms and administrative offices at the North Bend airport, while searching for a permanent site. The college’s first president Wendell Van Loan, right, and founder Henry Hansen guided discussion in the first years.

In the beginning

You know us as Southwestern, right? Or, maybe SWOCC, or even obscurely as SOCC.

The idea for Southwestern started back in 1922 in one young man’s mind, but that’s another story. By 1958 others believed in the idea. Community members went to work, filling a petition full of signatures in support of forming a college district. Voters officially created Southwestern Oregon Education Service District in May 1, 1961.

That year, we got our first name – Southwestern Oregon College.

Change is always certain

‘Round about August 1961, the college heard complaints about the name. Did you know not all of Oregon’s public universities began with “university” in their original names? In those days, people were concerned our college’s name was infringing upon the rights of “Southern Oregon College” in Ashland. Mostly, they did not like that both colleges shared the same initials S.O.C. (Ironically, that school now known as Southern Oregon University has gone through many name changes, too.)

College students and leaders rolled around the idea for months. Should we make Southwestern two words? Would the acronym then become S.W.O.Co.?

Finally, on April 9, 1962, student representatives went before the Board of Education and asked members to change the name to South Western Oregon College. The board agreed and made it official.

That same meeting the Board adopted the name of “Lakers” for the college’s athletic teams. They finalized the school colors of navy, blue and red. “SWOC” then showed up in student publications.

Architects created modular graphics with the college's name and acronym on the blueprints for the Phase 1 building designs.
Architects created modular graphics with the college’s name and acronym on blueprints for the Phase 1 building designs. The graphics were reminiscent of the “modernist” style of the campus design and building architecture.

Two words or one?

Life moved on. The college established a campus and constructed buildings. Faculty were teaching. Grammarians were thinking.

In May 1964, faculty sent a recommendation to the board that the “spelling of the college name be corrected to read, ‘Southwestern Oregon College’.”

Never to be pushed into quick action, board members wanted to think on it for a month. Come June 8, 1964, the man known as the “founder” of the college, Henry Hansen, made a motion to change the spelling of the name to Southwestern Oregon College. The other board members agreed. There was no mention in the board minutes of whether that might rile the college to the southeast.

The community’s college

In spring 1965, the state department of education notified the college that it needed to change its name. The Oregon Legislature passed a bill requiring every community college to have the words “community college” in their official names by July 1, 1966.

Looking back on history, those lawmakers had a lot of foresight. Oregonians established their colleges with a vision of connecting all people to career training, and also lifelong learning and culture.

On June 14, 1965, someone reminded this college’s Board of Education about the state mandate. Members talked briefly and made the final official name change that carries on to this day. As of July 1, 1965, this college became Southwestern Oregon Community College.