Coos Bay, OR – Southwestern Oregon Community College is pleased to announce the selection of Carolyn Thompson of North Bend as the 2022 Distinguished Alum. The Distinguished Alumni award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated significant contributions to their professions, communities, or academia.
“Carolyn has been a terrific ambassador for the college for many years. Her dedication to helping students is inspiring. Her story exemplifies the journey many of our students have taken to reach their goals,” said President Patty Scott, in announcing the honor. “SWOCC changes lives, and Carolyn is an example of this.”
Thompson grew up in Coos Bay. As a young person, she moved through the foster care system with a desire to succeed, dedicating her energy to excelling in studies and graduating high school.
“The one thing I could always count on in my life was school. It started at 8:30 in morning. It fed me. It nurtured my spirit and my soul,” Thompson said.
After high school, she began attending SWOCC, working with instructors who encouraged her to explore and push her limits in learning. “I could have gone a lot of places, but my money went furthest at SWOCC. It was just what I needed, a personalized education that challenged me.”
After earning an Associate of Arts Degree in Business Administration and Management in 1984 from Southwestern, she moved on to Oregon State University graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in 1986.
She went to work as a certified public accountant, eventually returning to practice in Coos Bay. From here, she has dedicated her personal life and career to improving her profession, community, and educational opportunities for others. At 57, Thompson serves on the Southwestern Oregon Community College Foundation board of trustees, working to increase scholarships for students and empower donors in giving back in ways that create lasting impacts.
Thompson has taught at Southwestern at times and been actively involved for many years as a volunteer in government and service clubs. This included work with North Bend School Board, Coos Bay Schools Foundation, Zonta Club of the Coos Bay Area, Dance Umbrella for South Coast Oregon, Bay Area Chamber of Commerce and Ford Family Leadership Institute.
This is the 31st year Southwestern has honored alumni who have demonstrated significant contributions to their professions, communities, or academia.
Every year, we share many stories from throughout time about the great accomplishments of Southwestern Oregon Community College’s alumni and current students. Some of those stories from past years are put away in files and boxes to be re-discovered in decades to come. Others are yet to be told.
Part of our college’s own story is highlighting and celebrating our alumni who make significant contributions to their professions or society in general. Oftentimes, these folks improve their communities in great ways and sometimes the do inspiring work quietly. Usually, it’s for more than just a paycheck and sometimes with personal sacrifice. While each Distinguished Alumni’s story and accomplishments are unique, all recognize that their educational experience at Southwestern played a very important role in their lifetime achievements.
Here are the Distinguished Alumni we have honored each year (except for 2020 with a pandemic hiatus) and some of their thoughts. Do you know other former students who are inspiring others and making significant contributions that support education and improve our world? Let us know.
2022 – Carolyn Thompson, certified public accountant, SWOCC Foundation trustee 2013-present “The one thing I could always count on in my life was school. It started at 8:30 in morning. It fed me. It nurtured my spirit and my soul.”
2021 – Donald Ivy, Historian, Philosopher, Chief of the Coquille Indian Tribe 2014-20 “This honor is a reminder of the great privilege I have to know the people I know. I am thankful for the graces and goodwill of other people more accomplished than me who have allowed me into their space.”
2019 – LaMont Swinson, banking and mortgage industry executive, coach SWOCC “I express to students, it might not have been part of the plan to be at SWOCC, but believe me that everyone here wants you to succeed. All in all, SWOCC allows young people a great opportunity to start their foundation and start learning in a positive environment on what they might want to become.”
2018 – Barbara Eells, Retired social services manager and victims rights advocate “I believe none of us make it to our goals alone, and I feel when we succeed at our goals, we should pay that forward by advocating in our own communities.” I am an activist for the vulnerable and disenfranchised. Whether that’s abused children, battered women or neglected animals, I try to be a voice for those who have no voice.”
2017 – Shirley MacAdam, Retired certified public accountant “As I continue on my journey, I am often reminded that some of the best instructors I have had were right here at SWOCC. I am just one small bit of proof that the community college experience provides opportunity and is critical to the future of our community.”
2016 – Don Grotting, Superintendent Beaverton School District “I would not be where I am today without the support, academic expertise and high expectations of the Southwestern Oregon Community College teaching faculty, support staff and administration.”
2015 – Dean A. Huard, United States Army Lieutenant Colonel “The positive academic and extracurricular experiences I encountered at SWOCC better prepared me for the leadership challenges that I would encounter in my professional life. A small college life allowed me to accomplish big and meaningful achievements. The memories and friendships I remember from SWOCC will last a lifetime.”
2014 – Boyd Bjorkquist, Retired Educator, Coach and Athletic Director “The academic and athletic opportunities I enjoyed at Southwestern helped shape my future. Southwestern provided a great experience for me.”
2013 – Stan Goodell, Retired Educator/Retired Cross Country and Track & Field Coach “My instructors, advisors and coaches challenged me during my two years at SWOCC. They didn’t tell me I had to be the best, but to be the best I could be. That challenge opened the door for a career that has endured for more than 37 years.”
2012 – Kathy Laird, R.N. M.N., retired health care administrator “The positive experience I enjoyed while at Southwestern continued well past my role as student and continued for the 11 years that I was employed as nursing faculty (1990-2001).”
2011 – Linda Prefontaine, business manager / Owner, Prefontaine Productions LLC “My intentions are to set up a scholarship program to help young females who have demonstrated a talent in music, arts, or athletics but don’t have the funds to pursue their dreams.”
2010 – Michael “Mick” Sneddon, Fire Chief, Charleston Rural Fire Protection District “My education from Southwestern has meant a world of knowledge and has opened doors, giving me the skills to seek what I need to excel.”
2009 – Mary Stricker, Retired Library Director, Southwestern Oregon Community College “Southwestern gave me confidence to continue my education, which ultimately changed my life.”
2008 – Fran Worthen, Retired business owner / Retired Track & Field Coach, Marshfield High School “There were so many things offered at the community college that just got you excited; all of them shape the fabric of a person’s mind and emotions and they were all relevant. The community college opened doors for lifelong learning.”
2007 – Peggy Goergen, Former Curry Campus Dean, Southwestern Oregon Community College “Southwestern made it entirely possible for me to do what I wanted to do, which was work in education. Even though I did not obtain a degree from Southwestern, I would not have been able to obtain a degree at all without Southwestern.”
2006 – Chuck McKay, Former President, McKay’s and Price ‘N’ Pride “I don’t think there’s an end to learning for any of us. My goal was not the credential or the diploma so much as the education and I certainly got that.”
2005 – Cynthia Ball, Retired chief financial officer timber industry “At Southwestern, I received more than just an education. I learned how to set goals and then achieve those goals.”
2004 – Karl Kennedy, Communications Industry executive “Some of my fondest Southwestern memories are of science and economics classes, and being on the wrestling team.”
2003 – Robert “Gray” Jones, Poet and English teacher, American International School of Vienna “A large portion of the credit for everything that happened to me at Southwestern I owe to the professors I met there. Coming to the college was like walking into a dream that just kept on going once I left.”
2002 – John D. Breuer, Physical Therapist, Southwest Physical Therapy LLC and John Breuer Rehabilitation Services “Southwestern helped me refocus and become excited about college again. It is where my lifelong interest in science began.”
2001 – Michael Hennick, Sr., Owner, Hennick’s Home Center Inc. “Southwestern allowed me to get a job in the forestry industry with skills that were directly applicable to the job.”
2000 – Peter Ruppe, Athletic sportswear and equipment industry executive “The preparation at Southwestern really helped. The teachers were really outstanding and serious. They helped me focus and master what it took to do well in school.”
1999 – Chuck Knight, Retired Chief of Police, Coos Bay Police Department “The value of the College’s program, whether it’s criminal justice or any other program, is that it’s well-rounded and you get a good education.”
1998 – Tsianina Means, 1997 ESPN Fitness America Champion/1993 Miss Coos County “I received a strong education, enjoyed the highly competitive athletic scene and made true, lifelong friendships.”
1997 – Mark Nightingale, Computer industry engineer and executive “Southwestern can prepare you for anything, because it’s really the person, not the job. I encourage every student to follow his or her dream.”
1996 – Don Hall, Retired certified public accountant “The counselors and professors really care about the students and take a sincere interest in them. It really made a difference to me.”
1995 – Dr. Annette McGregor, Former theater and arts professor “I look back on my experiences at Southwestern as critical to my development as an artist, a teacher and a human being.”
1994 – Peter Sorenson, Eugene attorney and former Oregon State Senator “I took a geography class and ended up getting a BA and MA in geography because of the good start I got at Southwestern.”
1993 – Mary Miller, Retired nonprofit foundation executive “Southwestern has become a Miller family tradition.”
1992 – Steve Greif, Author, Historian, retired teacher, North Bend High School “I am proud of the fact that I’ve come back to the community from Southwestern and that I’ve made my contributions here.”
Celebrating Barbara Eells, 2018 Distinguished Alumna
If there’s one word that best describes Barbara Eells, it is “determined.” That mindset has guided Eells her entire adult life, starting with her first Southwestern class in 1975. She wanted a college education, no matter the barriers.
Over the next decade as she worked full time in a medical office, Eells raised three children. She also studied nights for her college degrees. Finally in 1986, she graduated with Associate of Arts degrees in Social Work and Criminal Justice.
“This is a remarkable accomplishment, considering Barbara drove at night 167 miles on a dark, curvy highway, roundtrip to the Coos Campus to attend classes,” said Dr. Patty Scott, Southwestern president. “Barbara accomplished all of this before there was distance education and e-mail, before we had a campus in Brookings.”
In 2018, Southwestern honored Barbara Eells with its Distinguished Alumna award for her dedication to learning and constant focus on improving people’s lives in Curry County.
One woman’s desire to learn and lead
Eells started taking classes as a reserve sheriff’s deputy and continued her studies after graduating from Southwestern. She completed her bachelor’s degree from Eastern Oregon University through Southwestern’s University Center, and moved into her profession that has spanned more than 30 years in Curry County.
“I believe the answer to a lot of problems is education,” Eells said. “I think the more people are educated and open their minds to new ideas, the more we can make our homes, community and nation a better place to live.”
“I believe the answer to a lot of problems is education.” – Barbara Eells
Eells managed the Victim Assistance Program in Curry County, went on to work in Child Protective Services and co-founded the Oasis Shelter Home. She also mentored and trained others in fields of child abuse and domestic violence prevention. Eells’ educational and professional accomplishment equals the effort she put into community involvement and advocacy over the years.
As a member of the Curry County Multi-disciplinary Team, she advocated for treatment for sexually abused youth. She also founded the first Child Advocacy Center in Gold Beach. When Eells tried to retire, she still spent several years managing the local animal shelter office. Eells continues to volunteer with the Curry County District Attorney’s Office, and in other places.
“I believe none of us make it to our goals alone, and I feel when we succeed at our goals, we should pay that forward by advocating in our own communities,” Eells said. “I am an activist for the vulnerable and disenfranchised. Whether that’s abused children, battered women or neglected animals, I try to be a voice for those who have no voice.”