Evergreen Changed Olympia

May 11th, 2012 by Ken

Perhaps no event in the last 50 years has had more impact on Olympia, than the opening of The Evergreen State College in 1971.

Prior to Evergreen, Olympia had been a blue collar town. Plywood mills abounded on Port of Olympia property and downtown Olympia businessmen controlled the Olympia City Commission. State government played little role in local affairs and when the legislature was in town, gas prices went up a few cents and The Spar and Governor House were major meeting places.

Then in 1967 the Founding Faculty of The Evergreen State College came from all over the country, bringing their liberal and progressive ideas to this small Northwest town.

The opening of the college to students in October 1971 not only brought faculty from around the country, but students from around the country as well. In its early years, as much as 40 percent of Evergreen’s students were from out of state.

It wasn’t long before the ideas from outside began to conflict with the community ideas.

One of the first indications that Olympia was changing occurred when the city adopted the Optional Municipal Code and went from a commission form of government to a council/manager form of government, following in the footsteps of its neighbor Lacey, which had adopted the concept earlier.

But conflict happened in other ways. College students, with their long hair and unwashed jeans, began appearing around the city. While the times and the culture were partly to blame, it was an acknowledgement that things were going to be different.

Accompanying the students and the faculty, were the hanger on’s, those who moved to Olympia to be near or to be with student and faculty members. This group brought special skills and abilities. The downtown Olympia art scene can be laid at the feet of this group.

The liberal bent of the county however is a direct result of Evergreen and its curriculum. Colleges, by their very nature, encourage alternative viewpoints. Using the powers of government to affect the lives of individuals, and placing restrictions on business are a natural outcrop of the college’s teachings.

While the environmental movement was not started at Evergreen, faculty and students embraced the idea with heart and soul.

Over the four decades The Evergreen State College has graduated more than 30,000 students. Many of them live and work in the local community and many of them have entered state government service. They have brought the ideas they learned at Evergreen into the workplace and into their lives.

Still others, have become business owners and entrepreneurs. Many of the downtown Olympia businesses are owned and operated by former “Greeners”.

Evergreen celebrates 40 years of serving students with a college-wide celebration next weekend. But, the real impact of the college is on the community which has become Olympia.

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