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A People's History of Spokane Community College

This is truly a people's history of SCC - the place where you work and/or study. It is far from comprehensive - and hardly erudite. It is, simply put, the saga of the many people and events - some sublime, some silly - that shaped the formation and evolution of SCC into the college it is today.

The history of SCC is a work in progress. And you're a part of it. You'll leave a handprint on this masterpiece just like the many students, faculty, and staff who have gone before you. So get ready. Read and enjoy. And ponder your place in history along the way!

The Early Years


  • The Billboard #1 tune, "Louie, Louie," was all over the airwaves.
  • Sidney Poitier won the Best Actor Oscar for Lilies of the Field.
  • Mary McCarthy's book, The Group, began its two-year run on the New York Times Bestseller List.
  • "The Defenders" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show" won Emmys.
  • And, on Sept. 16, 1963, the doors opened at Spokane Community College.

Prior to 1963, vocational education was the bailiwick of the K-12 system in Spokane. A print shop class at North Central High School, started in 1916, and a machine shop program at Lewis and Clark, which began in 1936, gradually morphed into the Spokane Technical and Vocational School (STVS), located on the corner of Mission Avenue and Greene Street. It opened in 1957.

Early Tech. Ed. instructors

SCC campus - 1960s

But by the early 1960s, Spokane Public Schools decided it wanted out of the vocational education business. It was (surprise, surprise) expensive and the school district was dealing with new, emerging community needs. Simultaneously, Spokane area business professionals, union organizers, and other groups saw a growing need for a two-year community college where students could learn a trade or start a four-year college degree without breaking the bank.

A 1961 application to the State Board of Education to convert STVS into a community college was denied. In July 1963, Spokane's community college supporters re-submitted the application. Victory was theirs!

In their infinite wisdom, members of the District 81 school board voted to call the new college "Spokane Community College" instead of "Inland Empire College," which also had been proposed.

Walter S. Johnson
SCC President
Walter S. Johnson
Early SCC/CCS leadership

Walter S. Johnson, previously STVS vocational director, was named president of Spokane Community College. He and his staff had about eight weeks to convert a glorified high school into a community college.

In a later interview, Johnson recalls, "We worked 16 to 18 hours a day converting the curriculum of the existing vocational programs to college terminology.

"We had one building. We were lucky that this [land purchased for the campus] had been a residential area. We simply started tearing the partitions out of the bedrooms and kitchens and living rooms in these old houses and conducted classes in them."

Here's what Fall Quarter 1963 at SCC looked like:

  • Tuition was $37.50 - or $2.50 per credit - for 15 credits.
  • Student body membership was $7.50.
Not everyone was thrilled with the idea of a community college in Spokane. The Rev. John P. Leary, SJ, president of Gonzaga University, called the decision to open SCC in September 1963 "too hasty" and "a disservice to higher education."
Voicing concern that the community college would draw students away from GU, Whitworth, Eastern, and Holy Names College, he said, "I hardly think most educators would approve a college starting with only six or eight weeks' notice."
"No teachers have been hired.... There is no library, which ought to be the heart of any college. As yet there are no students and there is a danger that many who may attend may be rejects, thereby giving the college at its inception the handicap of those with little aptitude for higher education or else small motivation which may be worse."
"This decision to begin on such short notice sounds almost ridiculous, since the need is not urgent."
Spoil sport!
SCC instructors - 1960s
Culinary arts - 1960s

Twelve new instructors were hired: P.H. Nygaard, math; Mary McKenna, journalism and English; Francis (Frank) Legault, history and English; Raymond Winter, chemistry; Florence Marks, English; Harry Merrick, biology; Raymond Hojem, carpentry; Jack Rogers, commercial art; Jane Johnson, English; Albert Parks, English and business; Orlando Longo, food trades.

(You guessed it! Orlando's, SCC's student-operated restaurant on the first floor of Main Building was named for Longo, who taught at SCC from 1963 to 1975.)

A part-time librarian presided over a library with no books.

Ultimately, Johnson declared he would donate 100 books himself and appealed to the community for additional donations. By the 1964-65 school year, the library boasted 7,000 volumes, including some "valuable and rare first editions from such American authors as Mark Twain, Sinclair Lewis and Frank Norris," donated by Spokane book dealer Jerry Simpson.

Faculty member - 1960s
Printing press - 1960s
Future secretaries - 1960s

Enrollment hit 1,200 by Sept. 24, 1963 - with 301 students taking liberal arts courses and 900 enrolled in vocational programs.

Here's a sampling of what you could take at SCC in 1963:

Building sign - 1967

Aircraft...commercial art...automotive mechanics...body and fender...business and office occupations (including shorthand - remember THAT?)...commercial baking and cooking...data processing...dental assisting...diesel engines...electronics...engineering aides (architectural and industrial drafting)...machine shop...medical secretary...nurses aide...practical nursing...printing...sheet metal...the ever-popular watchmaking and jewelry repair...or welding.

A full array of lower-division liberal arts (called General Education back then) classes were available as well.

W. Johnson Building 7 groundbreaking

By 1964-65, changes - big changes - were in the air. The idea of a second community college campus - either at the old Fort George Wright site in northwest Spokane or up near Lincoln Park on the South Hill - was being bandied around. Site excavation estimates - $728,000 for Lincoln Park (well, there IS a lot of basalt up there) versus $100,000 at Fort Wright - was one of the factors that sealed the deal. Fort George Wright it was.

Construction on a second college campus, funded in part by a $1.8 bond issue approved by Spokane voters, began in 1966.

Here's a snapshot of the 1964-65 school year at SCC:

Tuition was $48 (that would be $3 per credit for 16 credits).

Inhalation therapy

The college implemented a $5 nonrefundable application fee after 300 to 400 students who applied for admission were no-shows for fall quarter 1964.

Enrollment totaled 2,065 students (a 100 percent increase over the college's first year!) - 835 students took liberal arts courses, and 1,230 enrolled in applied arts programs.

At the request of the Washington State Employment Security Department, SCC added inhalation therapy (now known as respiratory therapy) - to its vocational programs.

And, talk about FUN: The college's distributive education department hosted its First Annual Pacific Northwest Festival, Parade and Float Clinic March 12, 1965, attracting more than 200 participants.

Imagine campus life at SCC in the late 1960s:
SCC competed in cross country, basketball, track, and baseball (1966) and added football in 1967. Golf, tennis, and wrestling came later when athletic facilities were completed at SFCC. Teams were identified by campus - SCC was home to the mighty Sasquatch and The Falls to the Spartans. The cross-town rivalry was INTENSE.
SCC homecoming - 1960s
There were cheerleaders and formal dances. Homecoming was a week-long event. Students and staff performed in quarterly plays AND musicals. A pep band was established in 1967.
SCC's "evening school" catered to up to 8,000 students annually, offering everything from drama classes to sales and supermarket checker training. Summer school was equally robust with classes in photography, fashion illustration, nurse aide, accounting, and welding.
Student life wasn't always a bed of roses, however. In October 1966, SCC's campus newsletter, The Spartan Extra, reported "the mod look, sandals with no socks, extended haircuts, cafeteria bums and chronic complainers send dean of students, C. William Anderson, into orbit."
Right on, Dean Anderson!

As SCC became a well-established fixture in the community, it began to assume a greater role in economic development, a role that continues today.

In 1967, for example, Washington Water Power (today's Avista), SCC and Spokane business leaders combined forces to recruit Pacific Trails, Inc., a national garment manufacturer, to Spokane. SCC trained its power sewing machine operators.

Based on industry input, SCC also continued to add degree and certificate programs: Photography and hotel-motel management (1964); inhalation therapy and medical record technician (1965); nursing home management (1966); cardiopulmonary technology, construction electrician, construction technology, law enforcement technology and parts merchandising (1967); agribusiness, cosmetology and transportation technology (1968); and associate degree nursing (1969).

Liberal arts options for students expanded as well. Drama, bacteriology, physical education, and athletics arrived on the scene in 1964, followed by political science and education (1965); physiology and radio-TV studio production (1966); music and German (1967); agriculture, engineering, recreation, technical report writing, and physical science (1968); and in 1969, geology and geography.

By 1968, tuition at SCC bumped up to $70 a quarter for students taking 12 credits. A $5 application fee was still collected. Just over 4,400 students were enrolled in day school and an estimated 10,000 students would take evening classes throughout the year.

According to a college fact sheet, "The faculty of 215 members is thoroughly cosmopolitan, bringing to the student body a rich background of knowledge and experience."

Are we feeling "cosmopolitan" today?

Meanwhile, the State Legislature was taking a long, hard look at the structure and relationship of community colleges within local K-12 school districts. One camp called for two separate educational districts - one dedicated to K-12 education and the other to community college administration. Opponents argued it would create new taxing districts - and new taxes.

Pacific Trails instructor

John T. McCutcheon, D-Steilacoom, decried the dual district model: "These districts will be superimposed taxing districts.

"We want to keep the blue jean concept of community colleges. We want to keep the cost down and folderol down. Under the law, community colleges are in the common school system and the easiest way to administer them is by the local school boards.

"The concept of separate districts means they will become an intermediate part of higher education and that I don't buy."

Ultimately, the Legislature commissioned Arthur D. Little, Inc. to study the issue and draft a community college plan in 1966. The consultants visualized a statewide district system of community colleges where a single chief executive officer would be held directly responsible to an elected or appointed board of trustees. The Legislature bought into the plan, adopting the Community College Act of 1967. Official transfer of the colleges on Mission Avenue and Fort George Wright Drive from Spokane Public Schools to the new Community College District 17 was completed on June 7, 1967.

The 1970s