For his decades of dedication to the region, including active membership in several community service organizations, his church, and his many years as an instructor and administrator at Grays Harbor College, Dr. Eugene Schermer has been named The Daily World’s Citizen of the Year.
Schermer came from humble beginnings, growing up in Spokane to hard-working parents who, while lacking formal education past grade school, were intelligent, voracious readers and encouraged their sons to get the education they could not.
“Neither of my parents went to high school, but both of them read profusely and were intelligent educated people,” said Schermer. “We, all of us, myself and my older brothers, all went to college.”
Schermer’s service to the community has gone on for decades and is something he picked up from his parents and peers in his formative years. His wife of nearly 60 years, Eileen, has also been a very positive driving force.
“The thought of serving my community was instilled in me early on,” he said. “My wife particularly, and my family, are all very supportive of it. I think my wife should be getting this award, she does more than I do.”
After earning an undergraduate degree from Eastern Washington University, Schermer taught high school for three years. After that, he moved on to Oregon State University where he earned his Master’s Degree in 1962. Then he started his long tenure as a chemistry teacher at Grays Harbor College, working on his doctoral degree and earning it from Louisiana State University in 1970.
At the college, he taught major sequence chemistry, second year organic chemistry and general chemistry. And a few times he was pressed into service to teach a math course.
Many of the people who nominated Schermer have known him primarily since he retired from the college, but his community service dates much further. He was on the YMCA board in the ’70s and joined the Aberdeen Lions Club in about 1980. He has a reputation for being that guy who can bring a project together at every stage. He’s often in on the organizing and planning then sticks around for the physical work, and he’s there for the cleanup.
Professionally, he was key member of the Grays Harbor College community.
“I went to Grays Harbor College as president in 1972, and Gene was a faculty member,” said Joe Malik, who was president of the institution for 17 years. “He was a chemistry instructor, and the college is not a large place, so the administrators get acquainted with faculty pretty easily. Gene was a star among his peers.”
Schermer was popular among his students, fellow teachers and administrators.
“He became the department chair of the Physical Sciences Department, and in the ‘80s I appointed him Vice President of Instruction,” said Malik. “I know he was a respected faculty member and the students liked him.”
Malik left the college in 1989 for a job in Seattle. When he retired for good in 1997 he returned to Aberdeen and remains in contact with Schermer.
“He’s the finest human being I can imagine as a person and outstanding as an educator,” he said. “And I still see him at college activities and events at the Bishop Center.”
Schermer remained with the college from 1962 to 1992, and served for eight years as Dean of Instruction and Vice President after 22 years as instructor in the chemistry department. Schermer’s lasting impact on the college was evident when, during the groundbreaking ceremonies of the collegeʼs highly regarded new math and science instructional building, it was announced by College President Dr. Ed Brewster that the building would be named the Gene Schermer Instructional Building.
Soon after retiring he began a long relationship with the Salvation Army in Aberdeen.
“He has been on our advisory board for more than 13 years,” said Ralph Jiminez, Major Corps Officer in Aberdeen. The advisory board is tasked with making the decisions that drive the direction and charitable programs the local Salvation Army pursues.
“When we have put on events he is always there to set up, and if we are serving and cooking food he is there to serve and cook as needed,” added Jiminez.
Schermer is currently the vice chairman of the Aberdeen Salvation Army. Jiminez and Schermer met in 2013 when Jiminez moved to town with his wife. “I found Gene to be a very gracious man. In the first few weeks that we were here he helped me to learn more about our community and showed us around town.”
Schermer is quick to volunteer, quietly taking leadership roles when needed. “When we were in the Aberdeen Founders’ Day Parade Gene was there to hand out candy to the children,” said Jiminez. “When we have our annual Kettle Klash (a luncheon that raises thousands of dollars each year in the kickoff to the annual red kettle drive at Christmas), Gene is there to set up tables and decorate. There isn’t a project that Gene won’t tackle.”
Schermer has also been active in the Aberdeen Lions Club for many years and has made his mark with that organization as well.
“I’ve known him for quite some time but I didn’t get to start working with him until he retired from the college, when he got pretty active in the Lions Club,” said Harold Warren, local accountant, longtime member of the Lions Club and himself a former Citizen of the Year. “He’s quite a guy and always seems to have time — or makes the time — to help other people or causes.”
One of the club’s major annual programs is Bicycles from Heaven.
“There’s a lot that goes on with that,” said Warren. “We have to find the bikes, and they come from various places; they show up in his driveway, and my driveway, and this guy’s driveway. We haul them to the Seaport, which is kind enough to give us space over there, and Gene arranges with the people at Stafford Creek Correctional Facility for us to bring the bikes out to be refurbished, and bring a number of already refurbished bikes back.”
The program gives about 100 or more bicycles to area children in need each year. Schermer is there himself the couple of times they give the bikes away in December, making sure the kids get registered and, along with other volunteers, hooks the kids to the bike they like the most and fits them properly.
He also helps provide lunch for the Lions Club’s weekly meeting. “He is about our chief cook. He and a few other guys prepare our lunch for us every Monday,” when the club meets at the Rotary Log Pavilion, said Warren. “We have a wine festival, a tasting, in November at the Quinault Beach Resort Casino, and he’s pretty active in that. He contacts the various wineries around on our behalf to see which ones are going to participate, then he organizes club members who are going to be the pourers.”
Schermer has been president of the Aberdeen Lions Club, and has received the Melvin Jones Fellowship Award – the club’s highest honor. “He’s kind of the glue that holds the club together,” added Warren.
Schermer and his wife, Eileen, are very active in the Aberdeen Amazing Grace Lutheran Church. When asked about Schermer’s contributions to the church, Pastor Val Metropoulus, said, “It’s hard to think of something he doesn’t do.”
He is involved in the church council and has been its president. “He covers most of the basic parts of public service, from running the administration of the church to helping clean out the furnace filters.”
The leadership skills he picked up through the decades between the college and other organizations serve his church well.
“He is a leader,” said Metropoulus. “He sees something that needs to be done, and everything from organization to recruitment, whatever it takes, he has peoples’ trust” and can handle any chore, start to finish.
Schermer and his wife form a formidable team, at the church and across the community.
“He and Eileen are busy every day doing something. They are partners in crime,” said Metropoulus. “Both look at it as how they stay young and active.”
The church has a history of working with the homeless, including having a homeless camp in the parking lot. The church is also part of a nationwide program called Family Promise, that focuses on helping homeless families avoid long-term homelessness by providing them with support and safer places to stay. Schermer has taken the lead on this project, meeting with other church leaders in the area to gain support for giving homeless families a safe place to stay while providing support to help them avoid a life on the streets.
It’s just another among many examples of Schermer’s long history of commitment to bettering his community. He identifies an area of need, develops a plan, organizes whatever is needed to make the plan successful, and sees that plan to the end. And he does so without fanfare and with a grace that has earned him the respect and admiration of so many, from peers, his students, his family, friends and the countless others he has served.