VIU's Founding President Carl Opgaard Remembered

July 9, 2014 - 4:32am

Dr. Carl Opgaard arrived in Nanaimo with his young family in February 1969 to begin his role as founding president of Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University), beginning a decade of leadership fundamental to building and growing the institution from its first 700 students that year to the 17,000 students who attend today.

Opgaard, who died on July 6, 2014 in Tacoma, Washington at age 85, arrived in Nanaimo at the very beginnings of Malaspina College, working to plan curricula, hire faculty, direct start-up operations, promote programs to prospective students, forge community connections, and secure temporary quarters for the first classes.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of Dr. Opgaard’s passing,” said Dr. Ralph Nilson, VIU President and Vice-Chancellor, adding he was very fortunate to get to know the former president during his visit back to Nanaimo and the campus in 2009. “So much that has been achieved at VIU is due to his vision, hard work and passion. Dr. Opgaard’s firmly held belief that the college must reflect the needs of the communities it serves continues today at VIU.”

Joining a staff of just three people at offices on Wallace Street in Nanaimo, Opgaard and his team secured a lease at the old hospital on Kennedy Street as temporary space for the College’s first students arriving in September 1969.

As the old hospital site presented challenges for accommodating faculty and students, Opgaard put his focus on securing a permanent home for the new College. New facilities were opened in 1976 on the former Department of National Defence lands adjacent to the British Columbia Vocational School.

Other highlights from Opgaard’s leadership included creating Canada’s first-ever First Nations program, introducing international education programs, and expanding Malaspina College throughout the region with new campus facilities in Duncan, Parksville and Powell River.

Bob Lane, a retired Philosophy professor hired among the first faculty at Malaspina College, was saddened to hear of Opgaard’s passing.

“His DNA is in the institution and is what made us grow and develop into the comprehensive post-secondary school that VIU is today,” Lane said.

Opgaard was born February 18, 1929 in Fort Ransom, North Dakota. He began his teaching career in a one-room country school at age 17, and went on to complete a PhD in Education from the University of Washington.

After 10 years with Malaspina College, Opgaard resigned to take the position of president at Dakota State College in Madison, South Dakota. A position as president of Tacoma Community College brought Opgaard back to Washington State, where he retired in 1990 with his wife Phyllis. They had four children: Cheryl, Jane, Jill and John.

“My father always had a soft spot in his heart for Malaspina and Nanaimo,” said John Opgaard.

Dr. Opgaard shared many of the stories of Malaspina College’s first years in a memoir titled *From Country School to College President*, published in 2010. In his memoir, Opgaard reflected on the energy and excitement of launching a brand new college in a new system mandated by BC’s Provincial Government, particularly in the first few months after his arrival.

“Those several months were certainly the busiest period of my life,” he wrote. “I spoke to 55 groups in six months – high school assemblies, service clubs, women’s groups, community groups, etc. I was a person driven – driven by myself but also driven by the College Council, their confidence and enthusiasm; and by a universally supportive community.”

Through Opgaard’s dedication, perseverance and ability to gain the confidence and trust of the community, high school and university leaders, he left Malaspina in 1978 with a campus valued at over $12 million and serving some 1,600 full-time and 1,200 part-time students.

Those who wish to support the Dr. Carl Opgaard Scholarship at VIU in his memory may contact VIU’s Advancement and Alumni Relations Office at 250.740.6216 to donate or to request more information.



Shari Bishop Bowes, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P:250.740.6443 C: 250.618.1535 E: T: @viunews

Tags: In the Community

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