Community college gives high honor to one of its main architects

Kerry Youngblood tears up at a surprise dedication in his honor at the WCCC.

The Kerry Youngblood who walked into a room full of his friends Wednesday is a musician, a devoted father and a welder.

But it was Dr. Youngblood, the educator who helped create what is now Western Colorado Community College, for whom the crowd assembled and whom it surprised with a rare honor: the dedication of a building in his name.

“Well, surprise right back,” said Youngblood after he was greeted with “Surprise!” and a standing ovation at the Chez Lena restaurant on the college campus.

Visionary, courageous and passionate were common descriptors from the many people who spoke in honor of the man who helmed the community college for its first 15 years.

To commemorate what he means to the college, Building A, the first building on the campus and one of three there now, as of Wednesday became the Youngblood Building. A bronze plaque depicting Youngblood as a musician, father, welder and educator will hang inside the building’s main entrance, next to the door leading to the administrative offices.

“I’m speechless,” said Youngblood, fighting back tears. “I couldn’t be more honored or humbled.”

And his friends would add he couldn’t be more deserving.

“He was years ahead of his time,” Mesa State College Trustee Glen Gallegos said. “He broke the scheme that you were only somebody if you had a four-year degree.”

Youngblood said he moved to Grand Junction in 1978 because he wanted to get out of his home state of Oklahoma.

His vision of Colorado looking like a “postcard of Telluride” was dashed when driving through the arid Western Slope terrain, but Youngblood said he took a post with what was then known as Mesa College to teach welding.

He later was hired by School District 51 as principal at the Career Center.

From these experiences, Youngblood pioneered the seamless technical education of high school and college students that began as the Unified Technical Education Center (or UTEC) in 1992 and is now Western Colorado Community College.

But the school’s establishment was not without struggles, requiring changes in governing law, selling the idea to the unconvinced and coaxing the college and District 51 into giving up control of their technical education programs to the Grand Valley Board of Cooperative Education Services.

“I call those days the crucifixion,” Mesa State Trustee Lena Elliott said. “Kerry built everything you see here.”

Youngblood stepped down as vice president of community college affairs at the end of the 2006-07 school year.


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