Longtime Heritage Board Member Retires
Advocating for her daughter in the 1960s was the catalyst that sparked Virginia Hislop’s career as a change-agent for education in the Yakima Valley. In October, the 94-year-old community activist, volunteer and philanthropist will retire from the Heritage University Board of Directors after 26 years of service to the university and a lifetime of advocating for education in the Yakima Valley.
Hislop’s commitment to improving education in the Yakima Valley began when her high-achieving ninth grade daughter was told by school officials that she couldn’t take an advanced English course because she needed to complete home economics. This did not sit well with Hislop, who had enjoyed a good education, graduating from Stanford in 1940 with a teaching certificate. In fact, she came from a line of educators. Her grandmother, with whom she lived in a three-generational household until she was 12, was the school superintendent in a small Kansas town in the 1800s. From an early age, Hislop understood and appreciated the importance of education. She wanted the same for her children.
“I was not pleased, which is an understatement,” she recalled of her daughter’s dilemma. “I was thinking big thoughts about it and finally one of my friends said, “Why don’t you just run for the school board and then you can do something about it?’”
So she did. Hislop was elected and served on the Yakima School Board for 20 years, advocating for fiscal responsibility while striving to provide the best education the district could afford. At the time, community colleges were considered part of the public school system as grades 13 and 14. Hislop was instrumental in getting a law passed in 1967 that gave community and technical colleges their own state board and their own budgets. She joined the Yakima Valley Community College (YVCC) board in 1980 when she was appointed by then Governor Dixy Lee Ray.
When her term ended at YVCC in 1984, she heard about “this little college down in the valley,” which she remembers thinking “sounded like a diploma mill,” and she admits to having been a bit put off about it. That is, until two respected Valley businesspeople suggested she visit this new place called Heritage College.
“I had been asked to go to lunch there a couple of times and graciously declined. But I thought OK, I will go down there and get it off my to-do list. I heard Sister Kathleen [Ross]’s story and I could appreciate what she was doing. They were trying so hard and they had so little to work with,” she recalled.
Shortly thereafter, Hislop received a call asking if she would help with a Heritage fundraiser. When she asked them how much money they would like to raise, they told her “$5,000 would be nice.” Hislop set her sights a bit higher.
“So, we came up with the idea of having a scholarship dinner. I went to a good friend of mine, Dean Starr, who was superintendent of the Yakima Schools at the time, and asked him if he would go to Rotary and sell some tables for the event—which he did, and we had a very nice turnout,” she recalled. “We were looking for $25,000 and we netted $35,000. We were very pleased. I think the 2013 dinner did something better than a quarter of a million dollars. It’s been a great source for scholarship money.”
After the success of the first scholarship dinner in 1987, Hislop was asked to join the university’s Board of Directors and has been with them ever since. During her tenure, she has helped build the campus from a single brick building and a handful of portables to a thriving complex with 105,700 square feet of classroom, laboratory and administrative spaces. Academic offerings have grown from about a half dozen bachelor’s and master’s degrees to 67. Enrollment has expanded from around 500 students to nearly 1,200 across the state of Washington. But, it is Hislop’s attention to academic quality that is her true legacy.
“Virginia once told me, ‘The students that come to Heritage University are making such sacrifices to attend that if we don’t give them the very best education possible, we are shortchanging them,’” said Dr. Ross, president emerita, who served the university from its founding in 1982 until 2010. “She kept us all focused on the level of standards that an institution awarding bachelor’s and master’s degrees needs in order to support and engage students.”
Heritage President John Bassett concurred. “She said, ‘Look, we’re a great place and we’ve got a great mission, but each year we have to improve quality; we have to improve what we expect from our students and from our faculty.’ One of Ginger’s great legacies is making each of us believe and understand that Heritage has to hold itself to very high standards for our students to succeed after graduation. She’s been a great chair of our academic affairs committee, and a great mentor and advisor to not only Kathleen and me, but other administrators at the university. She has always held us to not just a high standard, but to a continuously improving standard.”
“I’ve always been interested in helping improve the faculty because I think that the better faculty you have, the better academic program you’re going to have. It’s wonderful to raise money and build buildings, but if you’re not giving the students a quality education, there’s not much point to it. We feel we need to prepare our students to compete in the job market—the social services, business, medicine and education. I think those are the four fields that we prepare our students for. To that end, Heritage has been cooperative with a lot of other schools— YVCC, the community college in Pasco and certainly with the new medical school in Yakima— and that pleases me greatly,” said Hislop.
As Hislop’s tenure at Heritage winds down, her colleagues have high praise for her work over the years.
“Virginia epitomizes what a great board member should be: she’s engaged, prepared and not afraid to ask tough questions or make tough comments. It’s very refreshing. Her communication style is what makes her so distinctive. She’s passionate about the mission, the students and the university. We’re very blessed to have had her as a board member for all these years,” said Rick Pinnell, Heritage board chair.
Hislop plans to spend her retirement traveling, gardening and reading. “Nothing terribly edifying,” she laughed. “The school is in great hands. Sister Kathleen did a wonderful job, and John Bassett is continuing to do a very fine job.”