Celebrating our greatest alumni

Celebrating our greatest alumni

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.”

onald Ivy, 2021 Distinguished Alumnus
Donald Ivy, 2021 Distinguished Alumnus

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.”

Barbara Eells of Gold Beach
Barbara Eells of Gold Beach, 2018 Distinguished Alumna

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.”

2016Don 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.”

 2015Dean 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.”

U.S. Army LTC Dean Huard, SWOCC's 2015 Distinguished Alumnus
U.S. Army LTC Dean Huard, 2015 Distinguished Alumnus

2014Boyd 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.”

2013Stan 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.”

2012Kathy 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).”

2011Linda 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.”

2010Michael “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.”

2009Mary Stricker, Retired Library Director, Southwestern Oregon Community College
“Southwestern gave me confidence to continue my education, which ultimately changed my life.”

Mary Stricker, SWOCC distinguished alumna
Mary Stricker, 2009 SWOCC distinguished alumna

2008Fran 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.”

2007Peggy 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.”

2006Chuck 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.”

2005Cynthia 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.”

2004Karl Kennedy, Communications Industry executive
“Some of my fondest Southwestern memories are of science and economics classes, and being on the wrestling team.”

2003Robert “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.”

2002John 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.”

2001Michael 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.”

2000Peter 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.”

1999Chuck 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.”

1998Tsianina 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.”

Dr. Annette McGregor, 1995 SWOCC Distinguished Alumna
Dr. Annette McGregor, 1995 SWOCC Distinguished Alumna

1997Mark 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.”

1996Don 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.”

1995Dr. 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.”

1994Peter 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.”

Steven Greif, SWOCC's first distinguished alumnus, 1992
Steven Greif, SWOCC’s first distinguished alumnus, 1992

1993Mary Miller, Retired nonprofit foundation executive
“Southwestern has become a Miller family tradition.”

1992Steve 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.”

College honors LaMont Swinson

College honors LaMont Swinson

COOS BAY, Ore. – How do you honor a person who continuously helps young people navigate the world and always gives back to students in an uplifting way? Someone who’s volunteered for more than a decade mentoring college students and coaching K-12 and college athletes?

Here’s how:  The college is pleased to announce 2000 graduate LaMont Swinson of Coos Bay is our 2019 Distinguished Alumnus.

“LaMont has overcome much adversity in his life. He never gave up on his dream and is a great example of the success that comes from resiliency and determination,” said Dr. Patty Scott, president.

LaMont is an assistant vice president and branch manager for First Community Credit Union in North Bend, and a lot more. He has spent a big chunk of his life at SWOCC.

Excelling on court, in class

LaMont started with the college in 1997, competing in basketball. He led the Lakers to a Northwest Athletic Conference Southern Regional Championship in 2000. A first-generation college student, he graduated with an Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer Degree. He then moved to the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls. There, he led OIT’s men’s basketball team to the Elite Eight national tournament in its league.

LaMont eventually returned to Coos Bay and soon found his way back onto SWOCC’s campus. He’s a longtime member of the Laker Alumni Association and the assistant men’s basketball coach. He also coaches a youth sports team and mentors young people, teaching them to manage money and encouraging them go to college.

“I express to them it might not have been part of the plan to be at SWOCC, but believe me that everyone here wants you to succeed,” LaMont said. “All in all, SWOCC allows young people a great opportunity to start their foundation.”

Making choices

Swinson came from Wasilla, Alaska. He was the first in his family to graduate from college, and it wasn’t easy getting here.

“It’s one of those situations where at some point, you have to make a decision to connect and better your life,” Swinson said.

Instead, he focused on school. Teachers and coaches recognized his potential, and opened their homes to give him a safe, stable place to live and a supportive environment to graduate.

“Living with these other families, even though they didn’t have everything in the world, they made good choices,” he said. “Sometimes it’s harder to make those good choices.”

After OIT, like many young people Swinson had the dream to compete professionally in sports, but priorities changed when his first child was born with a heart problem. He moved his family back to Coos Bay, focused on family and went to work. In 2007, he became branch manager at the credit union and he’s become more involved with students ever since.

“I express to them it might not have been part of the plan to be at SWOCC, but believe me that everyone here wants you to succeed,” Swinson said. “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.”

The Distinguished Alumni award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to their professions, communities or academia.


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