Don Tingley

By Hiedi Andersen

If Don Tingley had been as adept at “retirement” as he is at teaching, being an administrator or a dedicated friend, the history of Woodland Community College might be quite different than it is today.

In 1997, after a year of retirement got “boring”, Tingley stopped at the WCC office to see if the school needed a part-time instructor. Within days, he was teaching computer classes, and soon thereafter, moved onto administrative positions, working side-by-side with the dean and helping shape the newly-independent college. His contributions and leadership are fondly remembered by colleagues, and are key factors in the WCC Foundation naming Tingley as a 2018 Founders Day honoree.

“In August (of 1997), after my wife and I’d finished lunch, I told Margaret, ‘I’m going over here to this college and see if they need a teacher.’” Tingley recently recalled. “I walked into the administration office and I asked if they needed a computer teacher. Joan Penning said, ‘Come around and sit down right here, please!’ Apparently, they did.”

The brief “interview” brought the 34-year teaching veteran back into the classroom, and launched friendships that would shape the second half of his career.

“Sometimes you meet people in your life and, for whatever point, you just hit it off,” said fellow 2018 Founders Day honoree Francisco Rodriguez. The former WCC dean would play a key role in Tingley’s career, bringing him in to fill positions at both Woodland and Cosumnes River colleges. “Sometimes, you find a synergy, a compatibility. You know it’s real, authentic. Don is a world-class educator, and we’re so thankful he came to Woodland. He had retired, but he still had a lot to give. He failed at retirement – at least a few times!”

Even before moving to Woodland, Tingley was a strong supporter of education and community colleges.

Born in Stockton, his family moved to the Bay Area when he was a teen. As he neared graduation from San Mateo High School, his younger brother was already voicing desires to attend a four-year university. Tingley wondered if his parents could afford tuition for both of them.

“In theory, I got first dibs, but I realized that it would have been tough for my parents” to pay tuition for two at the university level, Tingley said. “I volunteered to go ‘up the hill’ as we called it, to the (San Mateo Junior College).”

The experience had a profound influence on Tingley’s perspective on the benefits of community college. He and two close friends all earned associate’s degrees before transferring to four-year institutions: Tingley to San Francisco State, one friend to UC Berkeley and the second to Stanford University.

The next summer, the young men compared experiences. All agreed that the professors at SMJC were their favorites. Tingley said the difference between the professors stemmed from personal interaction.

“These teachers were super in the classroom and super outside the classroom, too,” Tingley said. “They were all available. Almost anytime that you wanted to talk with them, get their individual help, they were there.”

Tingley earned his bachelor’s degree at SFU, and began the teaching at Aragon High School. It didn’t take him long to “conclude that I’d found my life’s work.” He taught at Aragon for 25 years, then moved into administration, overseeing educational technology and adult education. Nearly 10 years later, he retired.

Boredom soon overtook his days, and after becoming empty nesters, Tingley and his wife moved to Woodland. Shortly thereafter, he made the announcement that he was going to “stop in” at WCC.  “I went to work within the week.”

After a couple of semesters, a colleague encouraged Tingley to apply for an administrative position at WCC.

“A faculty member told me the executive dean, a part-time administrative position called evening supervisor” was open, he said. “I said to myself, ‘Self. I could do that!’ And so I did. Of course, when I showed up to the interview, Francisco (Rodriguez) was one of the people interviewing me.”

Not only did Tingley get the job, but his skill set, ability to communicate effectively with staff and sense of humor earned him a lasting friend in Rodriguez. Tingley was “masterful in finding resolution”, Rodriguez said.

“As evening supervisor, Don made sure the train was on the tracks, running smoothly,” Rodriguez said. “Then as associate dean, his classroom evaluations were among the best. He knows what good teaching looks like, so his evaluations were very helpful in shaping (academics). He’s very helpful. He has a grandfatherly style that is so disarming, but he’s wicked smart … . He is precise. We hit it off.”

The admiration was mutual.

“I think, for me, that it was a significant part of the satisfaction that I had in my experience in Woodland working with Francisco,” Tingley said. “It was the fact that I had a young boss – he’s about the age of my son. But he was my boss and we worked so well together.”

Well together, indeed. When Rodriguez later accepted a position at Cosumnes River College, he would call on Tingley to help fill several interim administrative positions.

“If I had to do over my career years, I might have tried to shorten my high school years and started my community college years at a bit younger age,” Tingley said. “Though I was very happy with my secondary school experiences, I did find the challenges of WCC both doable and fun for me. Of course, my college experience was so enhanced by being ‘bossed around’ by a young man named Francisco. And, even the faculty seemed to accept, or at least tolerate, me in my interim roles. Life has been good to me.”