Humility and Passion:
Jane Johnson, the First Foundation Executive Director
As the CCS Foundation celebrates 50 years of making potential possible, supporting students, and partnering with donors, it’s important to remember how this journey began. And it couldn’t have without Jane Johnson.
There are three things to know about Jane Johnson.
First, she was a major force in developing the CCS Foundation into what it is today.
Second, she has an impressive resume of accomplishments. For example, she was the first community college person elected as the National Chair of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education; she served as Communications Manager for the Spokane World’s Fair, Expo ’74; and after serving over 35 years in education, she left retirement to lead the MAC’s $30 million expansion project.
And third, she always gives credit to the team around her, rather than herself.
“I’ve had some highly talented professionals that I have worked with over the years,” Jane said.
59 years ago, as Spokane Community College was just beginning, Jane lived in Scottsdale, AZ with her husband and two daughters. Having grown up in Sandpoint, ID, her parents still lived in the Inland Northwest and her mother instigated a meeting between Jane and Dr. Walter Johnson, the community college’s first president. After meeting Jane early in the summer of 1963, Dr. Johnson offered Jane a teaching position and the chance to begin the speech department at the college. Jane could see the potential in the work and made her way to Spokane. Back then, the 47-year-old technical and vocational school was merged with the liberal arts transfer program to form Spokane Community College, which opened its doors in the fall of ‘63 with roughly 1,200 students.
In 1967, she moved from teaching to administration and was appointed as the Director of Communications and Development. In her first five years, the Development team raised money for scholarships, secured a grant for faculty awards, and conducted studies on the pros and cons of making the development office into a separate 501(c)3 Foundation that would support SCC and SFCC. It was a controversial topic, but, in the end, it was decided as the best move. And in 1972, the Foundation as it’s known today was founded.
Jane and her team continued to do important work for the Foundation over the next 16 years. They won the Washington state bicentennial traveling festival competition with a historical musical revue, We’ve Got the Spirit, competed nationally for their award-winning magazine, Connections, and other publications, and created a career series with KHQ to showcase the community college programs. Most importantly, Jane notes, they built strong new linkages with business and industry.
When talking about these accomplishments, Jane honors the work and the colleagues who made it possible, mentioning many by name. But she also honors the work of the leaders that followed her.
“There was tremendous growth, but I think there has been even more growth under a number of just excellent executive directors.”
Even 50 years later, Jane speaks passionately about CCS students and the role of community colleges in our region.
“The community college is the first chance for many students, but it’s also in many cases the only chance for a lot of students, particularly adults that have been away from school for a long time,” Jane explained. “I’m amazed when, whatever walk of life you enter, many of the people that you encounter have had their education at the community colleges. Just think of the lives that have been touched and how much they’ve contributed to the region.”
When she thinks about what’s next for the organization, she’s excited for the endless possibilities.
“The next 50 years are going to bring opportunities that we cannot even being to fathom right now,” Jane said. But whatever comes next, she challenges staff to never forget the philosophy of community college education and the importance of building lasting relationships with donors and the community at-large.
“Community colleges are not elitist organizations. It’s [about] taking someone where they are and helping them realize their dreams.”
Here’s to 50 more years of realizing those dreams!