By Valorie J. Juergens
Executive Director of Communications and Marketing
Glen Oaks Community College
Glen Oaks Community College received word this week that Bruce R. Swinburne, the founding dean of the college, passed away in late May.
Being from out of state, I first heard the name Bruce Swinburne associated with Glen Oaks in 2015 when we were putting together a 50th anniversary video of the historical beginnings of the college. A small number of retirees gathered together that year to help provide insight into what those early years were like. Bruce Swinburne’s name was brought up on numerous occasions.
“Glen Oaks early staff had the little job of getting students to a school that didn’t exist – and a faculty that wasn’t hired – so both Swinburne and Michael Myckowiak, (dean of vocational and technical instruction), made frequent trips to all of our high schools,” said the late Richard Cripe, professor emeritus and former counselor.
“Bruce Swinburne went out recruited and talked to untold numbers of the high school community and he finally got the first student – No. 00001 – Gilbert Edgerton, to sign up to be the first student at Glen Oaks,” said Richard Schlimgen, professor emeritus and former counselor. “He was so excited he bought a cake to celebrate, and he said you know, I hope it gets easier than this.”
Swinburne, who was hired at Glen Oaks in 1966, is said to have created a “community enthusiasm” for the college shortly after his arrival. He did his homework – surveying students, business leaders and agricultural leaders to help determine the program offerings during those first years. “It was Swinburne who inspired students to enroll,” according to author Leland Thornton in his book “Glen Oaks Community College.”
During a Burr Oak Rotary Club meeting, Dean Swinburne informed the group, “Glen Oaks facilities have been planned to provide for all who desire a higher education. All those with this ambition are eligible for admission.”
By the following year, recruitment became easier as a result of his efforts combined with more recruiting tools that became available – financial aid programs, accreditation and scholarships – many of which Swinburne is credited for successfully establishing.
When the first day of classes rolled around on September 15, 1967, the headcount was 729 students. “Bruce Swinburne had done a remarkable job,” said Thornton.
Swinburne’s time at the college was short lived, as he resigned in June, 1968, to pursue his doctorate degree, but his high energy and enthusiasm in the early days of Glen Oaks should be remembered.