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Norma Jean Germond: Distinguished in every way

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Norma Jean Germond

Norma Jean Germond and Rick Zurow

Norma Jean Germond is distinguished in many ways. From her thoughtfulness to her tenacity, Germond is known for getting things done on behalf of the community college and especially students. Portland Community College added one more feather to her cap by bestowing on her and husband Henry the 2008 Distinguished Patron Award.

"We are extremely honored and a little bit humbled," Germond said. "To include Henry, who has done a lot for the college as well, was very wonderful. It meant a lot to me and him."

Norma Jean and Henry recently established an endowed scholarship with the PCC Foundation that will provide tuition support for students taking developmental education courses. In 2007, the PCC Board of Directors established the Portland Community College Distinguished Patron Award to recognize extraordinary levels of service to the college with the first recipient being the late PCC Board member Doreen Margolin.

She graduated magna cum laude from Montclair State Teachers College (N.J.) with a bachelor’s degree in English and would later work as an instructor in the Parma, Ohio, and Long Branch, N.J., school systems. Norma Jean has served as an elected board member and PCC Foundation board member for more than 22 years. Elected to the college’s board in 1985, Germond has taken active roles in the recruitment and selection of three community college presidents as well as the passage of a permanent tax base and successful capital construction bonds. She served on the board of directors of the Oregon Community College Association and the Association of Community College Trustees. In recognition of her leadership and service to community colleges, OCCA recently honored her with the Howard Cherry Outstanding Advocate award.

"Norma Jean is a phenomenal lady," said PCC Board Vice Chairman and long-time board member Harold Williams. "She is very positive, very direct and tenacious in everything she does. She is committed, warm hearted and cares about people in general and students in particular. And she is really committed to PCC. I have great respect for her."

Norma Jean and Henry grew up on a river in New Jersey, becoming avid sailors and still enjoy the sport today on their 40-foot sailboat. While living in Evanston, Ill., Henry would commute to and from Chicago on the Northwest Railroad where everyday he’d spot a billboard for United Airlines where one of their planes was pictured soaring over Mt. Hood. Having been station in Astoria years before during his military service, Henry coaxed Norma Jean to move to Oregon.

Without that move, Norma Jean may not have developed that tenacity she is known for today. It was the evening of Dec. 28, 1978. The Germonds and their three children had boarded a United Airlines flight at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. With 194 passengers on board, the DC-8 entered a holding pattern due to a landing gear problem on approach to Portland International Airport. In the process, the aircraft ran out of fuel and crashed in a North Portland neighborhood. Only ten people perished in the accident, but for hours after the plane went down, Germond was unable to locate her family.

"I was scratched up a bit, sitting in blackberry bushes," she recalled of the moments following the crash. "I didn’t know what happened to Henry or the others for two hours."

Eventually, Germond located her two sons, her daughter and Henry, with everyone sustaining only minor injuries. "We were on television and radio constantly because we were the only family of five on board," she said. "We explained what happened to reporters and our relatives back East were able to listen in and see we were okay."

At the time, Germond was the chair of the League for Women’s Voters in Oregon. When she returned to work with the organization in Salem, the change in her personality from that fateful night bubbled to the surface.

"The first time I got back, there was a committee meeting where I testified and it can be intimidating," she said. "It was a committee where there was a couple of tough ones (legislators) on it. I sat there and said, ‘I’m not afraid of you. Nothing can make me afraid anymore. You don’t scare me.’"

Her fearless spirit makes her a valuable champion of the college. Germond now serves on the PCC Foundation Board of Directors, where she plays a lead role in the awarding of foundation scholarships to more than 300 students each year. 

"The Foundation is extremely important," she said. "It’s my wish that every needy student receive a scholarship. It’s critical to the community. Community colleges are the lifeblood of the community. I have a passion for this."

Anyone who has worked with Norma Jean and seen those traits and knows how valuable she has been to PCC.

"She has been a powerful advocate for community colleges with state and federal lawmakers," said PCC President Preston Pulliams. "Norma Jean has given many years of passionate service to Portland Community College and has been a voice to the critical role community colleges play across the nation. Together with her husband Henry, she has also made the dream of a college education a reality for many PCC students to come."

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »