ROSEBURG, Oregon – In 1964, Verna Mead was married with three children, a decade had passed since her high school days and there was a buzz around Roseburg about a new college forming. At the time, her family was facing economic challenges. She tried to help by working as a daycare provider to neighbors and in restaurant kitchens. Then, she made a life-changing decision. Verna enrolled at Umpqua Community College (UCC).
During the College’s inception, it was nicknamed “UCLA.” She was able to attend because the classes were held in the ‘late afternoon.’ Faculty commuted from the University of Oregon, Southern Oregon College, and local high schools. UCC was located where Roseburg High School currently sits and was operated in what was then the Fullerton School building.
“My husband always said, ‘there’s nothing wrong with being a waitress, but I just don’t want you to be one.’” Verna said. “I’ve always loved kids and helping kids, so education was important to me.”
Although education and college was a quest for Verna, the journey wasn’t easy. The homemaker had a knack for history and a talent for physical education, but core subjects such as math and English were challenges because she missed her final two years of high school.
“I was a medium student,” Verna said. “I had to work very hard in my core classes. [College] wasn’t easy.”
Verna overcame those obstacles to become the lone woman UCC graduate in 1966 and her mission for education continued. She commuted for the next several years to the University of Oregon to earn a bachelor’s degree and subsequently a master’s degree in education. Vern went on to teach at Sutherlin’s East Primary for 25 years.
The career teacher praises the value of her UCC education. Following graduation and her subsequent primary school employment, her husband became disabled.
“If it hadn’t been for UCC and what I gained there to be a teacher, I could have become a homeless woman,” Verna said. “My education saved us.”
We recently caught up with Verna at the UCC baseball home opener. Along with being an avid sports fan, she has also visited two of UCC’s newest buildings; the Bonnie J. Ford Health, Nursing and Science Center and Tapʰòytʰaʼ Hall. While soaking in a recent visit to UCC, the 1966 alumna complimented what the College has provided for current students.
“The atmosphere is wonderful for students and there are so many places to study,” Verna said. “The high technology available is also amazing.”
Verna not only mentored hundreds through education, she also inspired generations within her family to enroll at UCC. One of her own daughters and a granddaughter have been Riverhawks.
“UCC has always been No. 1 in my heart. I like U of O, but UCC is special to me,” she said. “I always encourage kids to go two years. I was overwhelmed at the size and atmosphere at the university.”
Verna has a myriad of fond UCC memories and reminisces about several mentors who inspired her success. One supporter was Ralph Snyder, one of UCC’s original administrators who became its first registrar in 1964. Snyder was highly regarded for his unwavering student support and generosity.
“Ralph Snyder made a great impression on me. He was always so encouraging,” Verna said. “He was like a father-figure to many students. Even after graduation, he kept up with students and how we were doing.”
Nearly 55 years after graduation and a couple decades into her retirement from teaching, Verna currently enjoys traveling, spending time with family and frequently sporting events. Even as an octogenarian, Verna is still learning and teaching.
“I’m still healthy and driving,” Verna said. “I like to go and see new places. And I like helping my grand and great-grandchildren.”
About Umpqua Community College
Nestled in the beautiful North Umpqua River Valley, Umpqua Community College is the regional center for higher education in Douglas County, Oregon. UCC provides high quality college degree programs, workforce development, and community learning opportunities.