Orin Smith pledges $1 million to CC

Before his death in March, Orin Smith, a 1963 Centralia College graduate and the 1987 Distinguished Alumnus, made a donation of $1 million to Centralia College for student success and retention initiatives.

The donations were made in the names of three individuals at Centralia College who impacted Smith’s life. They are Dr. Ralph Carlson, Robert Harris, and Gordon Aadland.

“These three men made a huge impact on my life,” explained Smith. “They were leaders, educators, and amazing human beings. They inspired me to continue my education and to keep challenging myself.”

Ralph Carlson was a rabble rouser on campus in the 60s and 70s. He taught sociology and psychology, and was one of the founders of the China Creek Free University in the 70s. He inspired students with ideas of freedom and social change. He went on to the become chairman of the sociology division and dean of instruction before moving to Olympia to finish out his career.

Robert Harris taught history, and social and political science at Centralia College from 1961-73. He started a debate program on campus and Orin Smith was one of his team members from 1961-63. Harris brought national debate tournaments to Centralia and was later honored with the Professor Emeritus title. Former students said Harris taught them to be intellectually curious, disciplined, and to see all sides.

Gordon Aadland, who is well known for his weekly column Saturday’s Child in The Chronicle, taught English at the college from 1961-85. Smith worked closely with Aadland later in life, when Aadland was raising funds to install the Katherine Kemp and Margaret Corbet statue on campus. Aadland had retired from teaching by then and was working in the public relations office. For 52 years of service to the college, Aadland received the Distinguished Lifetime Service Award from the Centralia College Foundation. He was widely loved on campus and in the community.

In January, Smith donated $10 million to the Chehalis Foundation’s Student Achievement Initiative, which aims to have 60 percent of W.F. West High School graduates earn a college degree or certificate (at least 45 credits) by 2022. To achieve that goal, Centralia College is a key partner and has been working with the Chehalis Foundation to develop and implement student success strategies for Chehalis students at the college.

Smith’s $1 million donation will help to sustain student success initiatives started in partnership with the Chehalis School District and the Chehalis Foundation, including a peer mentoring program, summer outreach to incoming students, high impact teaching and learning strategy workshops, and data tracking and analysis on student success initiatives.

“Right now, we are trying several new strategies to get students to enroll, stay enrolled, and graduate. We have started that work in conjunction with the Chehalis School District. This gift will help us to sustain those efforts, figure which strategies are most effective, and then expand those efforts to all students at Centralia College,” said Dr. Bob Mohrbacher, president of Centralia College.

Smith is a former chief financial officer and chief operating officer of Starbucks Corporation, and past regent, campaign general chair, and member and chair of the Foundation Board, Medicine Board, and the Foster School Advisory Board at the University of Washington. He also served as the chief financial advisor for two Washington state governors, Dixie Lee Ray and Booth Gardner.


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