Former GHC president Jewell Manspeaker dies at 79

By Kat Bryant

The Daily World

Dr. Jewell Manspeaker, a past president of Grays Harbor College, died last weekend in California. He was 79.

Manspeaker was GHC’s president from 1989 until his retirement in 2004, when he moved to Palm Desert, California, with his wife, Ronda. He reportedly died of COVID-19.

Members of the GHC community recall his quiet leadership and kindness.

“What a wonderful man. I remember when he was president he would take his guitar and go to the child care center and play it for the kids,” said Nancy Estergard, director of GHC’s Bachelor of Applied Science program in teacher education. “Not many would even think about doing that. He left a footprint on our college history and in the hearts of many.”

Perhaps his closest confidante at the college was his assistant, Sandy Zelasko. They remained friends even after his retirement.

“The president and president’s assistant relationship is a very special one,” said Zelasko, who has served as the assistant to four GHC presidents during her 38 years with the college. “We had so much in common that we used to laugh. We were both exactly the same age, we were both twins, we both graduated from high school the same year, we each had three siblings, and both of our mothers’ name was Margaret.”

Manspeaker loved his home in Tokeland, she said. “He was a kayaker, a hiker, a fisherman – he was very much an outdoorsman,” she said. “He spent all of his college years working summers as a park ranger in the mountains in Colorado, and he really enjoyed that a lot.”

She noted that he was single when he moved here to take the job at GHC.

“I’d tease him that he was a good catch,” she said. “Jane Goldberg and I introduced him to Ronda. We were very proud that they had a lot of years together.”

Zelasko described him as “a very good president. He had a calming effect on people.”

Dr. Ed Brewster, GHC’s interim president, remembers Manspeaker for the lasting effects of his presidency.

“Dr. Manspeaker was an exceptional individual – a devoted leader who was passionate about our community and creating access to higher education,” he said. “To this day, his work has had a profound impact on countless lives.”

Under Manspeaker’s leadership, according to a statement released by the college, GHC renewed its facilities master plan, which provided long-term strategic planning for campus buildings. This led to the renovations of the Riverview Education Center in Raymond and the John Spellman Library on the main campus in Aberdeen. It also led to the construction of the Jewell C. Manspeaker building, which was completed in 2007.

There also were many instructional developments during Manspeaker’s tenure, including the development of the Worker Retraining programs to respond to the sudden downturn in the timber industry.

But many feel his greatest legacy is GHC’s World Class Scholars program.

Manspeaker introduced the program at GHC in 1993 after he attended a conference to learn about ways to create pathways to college for students in the community, according to Lisa Smith, executive director of the GHC Foundation. He presented the idea to the foundation board and asked for funding; and today, raising money for the WCS program is the foundation’s primary focus.

Smith herself completed the program in 2002 as an Aberdeen High School senior and said it had “a profound impact” on her. She recalls Bette Worth visiting her junior high school and talking about it when she was in seventh grade, and she entered the program immediately.

“I find it very interesting that I can vividly remember that day when Bette came and talked to the school, and then here I am all these years later, and now my job is to raise money for this program so other students like me can have that financial support,” she said. “The world comes full circle.”

Today, about 125 students from Grays Harbor and Pacific counties receive the award each year, she said.

Flags are being flown at half-staff on campus this week to honor Manspeaker. “I thought this was a nice gesture. He was an officer in the Navy before getting into education,” said Zelasko.

“I miss him. He was my dear friend and a darn good boss.”

The Grays Harbor College Foundation has established a fund in memory of Dr. Jewell Manspeaker. Memorial gifts may be made online at ghc.edu/foundation or via mail to the GHC Foundation, 1620 Edward P. Smith Drive, Aberdeen, WA 98520.