By Jim Carnett
(Jim was an Orange Coast College student in the early 1960s. Now in his 37th year as Director of Community Relations, he is editor of Coast-to-Coast. This is a regular column that focuses on OCC’s history and distinctive characteristics and characters.)
He might not have been exactly what Dr. Donald R. Bronsard was looking for in 1986, but he has since matured into an administrator of inestimable value!
For nearly 22 years, Doug Bennett has served as executive director of Orange Coast College’s Foundation.
Bronsard was OCC’s president from 1985-89. Though the concept of fundraising had been present on campus in a nascent form for many years prior to his arrival, it was Bronsard who gave it expanded emphasis and significance.
“Dr. Bronsard knew a little about fundraising, and he deserves credit for making it an authorized activity on campus,” Doug says. “The Foundation was established at OCC in the early 1980s under the leadership of the dean of students, Dave Grant, but it was Bronsard who put the power of the presidency behind it and really got it moving.”
Actually, the first OCC Foundation was established in the 1950s with its primary purpose being the generation of scholarship support for students. The Foundation operated with minimal staffing and oversight. In the 1970s, the scholarship program grew exponentially under assistant dean of students, Sharon Donoff, and, later, Jeff Dimsdale. At the same time, the sailing and crew programs began to seek philanthropic support from alums and members of the community through Dave Grant.
But, with Bronsard’s arrival, OCC’s fundraising function needed to be kicked up a notch or two. Bronsard made that one of his institutional imperatives.
In the fall of 1985, Nancy Timmons – who today heads the Scholarship Office – was hired as the first employee in the new Foundation Office. She held the position for 16 years. A job announcement went out in the fall of ’85 from Bronsard’s office seeking an executive director.
Bennett was working at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange as assistant director of development. His boss, Don Hicks, was the hospital’s director of development, and a highly respected Orange County fundraiser.
“Don had been an OCC student in the late 1950s, and had been a cheerleader and pep commissioner,” Doug says. “I knew nothing about Orange Coast College at the time, but he would talk up the school at every opportunity.
“He also regularly received phone calls from a guy by the name of Dave Grant. He and Dave had been students at Coast together, and Dave was getting the OCC Foundation off the ground. Dave solicited Don’s advice.”
One afternoon in the fall of 1985, a woman walked into Doug’s office at St. Joseph Hospital seeking counsel on whether she should pursue a career in fundraising or not. It proved a fateful happenstance.
“She carried in her hand a job announcement,” Doug recalls with a smile. “Toward the end of our conversation she handed me the announcement and said, ‘Here’s a fundraising job that just opened at Orange Coast College. It’s way out of my league, but maybe you’d be interested.’”
That simple paper exchange proved to be a decisive moment in the life of the college. She left the announcement with Doug, and he ended up applying for the position.
“I was lucky to get hired at Coast,” he says modestly. “I didn’t have the experience to be an executive director…anywhere. I owe my career, and my life’s passion, to a weak applicant pool.”
He’s being overly unpresumptuous.
Doug arrived on campus for his first interview and was thoroughly intimidated.
“There were seven or eight people on the committee,” he says. “I was petrified!”
The committee included Dave Grant (dean of students), Mike Webster (vice president of administrative services), Hank Panian (history professor), Barbara Bullard (professor of speech) and Nancy Timmons (Foundation assistant).
“It was tough, but I got through it. Much to my surprise I was called back to a second interview with Dr. Bronsard, and it turned out to be the classic Bronsardian experience.”
Bronsard presented elaborately crafted Gordian knot questions, and Doug spent the interview trying to figure out just what he was asking.
“I walked away from the interview feeling that it hadn’t gone well at all. But a couple of days later I received a phone call from Bronsard. ‘You’re not what I want,’ he said by way of introduction. ‘I wanted more experience, but I need to get this thing started, so I’m going to take you.’”
Bennett is forever grateful for Bronsard’s renowned impatience--a personality trait frequently exhibited, and that occasionally brought down the hopes and aspirations of less fortunate subordinates. In Doug’s case, however, it MADE his career!
Now, fast-forward some 21 years.
Since the inexperienced young squirt became executive director of OCC’s Foundation in January of 1986, the Foundation has consistently ranked among the top three to five community college foundations in the state in assets and amount of money raised. California’s superstar foundations include OCC, Santa Barbara City, Santa Rosa Junior College, College of the Desert and Pasadena City College.
“When I was hired, we had about $1 million in assets, and the Foundation had just become a separately incorporated non-profit agency,” Doug recalls. “Today we have in excess of $20 million, including more than $12 million in cash assets.”
Since January of 1986, the Foundation has raised a total of $52 million – $25 million in cash and over $27 million in gifts of property, boats and equipment. Since ‘86, the Foundation has provided more than $8 million in capital for the construction and renovation of such campus facilities as the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion, Robert B. Moore Theatre, Harry & Grace Steele Children’s Center, Sailing Center, and the Nautical Library.
Doug Bennett has changed the face of Orange Coast College. His first major gift was $100,000 from alumnus Albert Wong for the Moore Theatre, in 1989.
“That gift brought credibility to a fledgling Foundation and the capital campaign ended up raising almost $1 million to revitalize the Moore Theatre,” Doug says.
Bennett proved long ago to any drooling, knuckle-dragging insensate who might question his value to this institution…just how valuable he is to this institution! Check the bottom line: $52 million, in 21 years. Nothing more need be said. Doug, however, would humbly emphasize that it’s not all about him…and never has been.
Born at the U.S. Navy Hospital at Portsmouth, Va., Doug was the son of a Navy submarine captain. His family moved repeatedly – including a two-and-a-half-year stint in the Canal Zone – until he was 13.
The family then settled in Anaheim when his father served as executive officer for a troop carrier in Long Beach. Doug attended Magnolia High School, and was a wrestler for the Sentinels.
“I was awful,” he groans. Still, the resolute individual that he is, “Doogles” – as Bronsard would later nickname him – stuck it out for three years. He was also a photographer for the school newspaper and the campus yearbook.
Then it came time for him to think about college.
“I wanted to go to the Naval Academy in the worst way. I applied through the appointment process but was rejected. My eyes disqualified me. So I started scratching around for direction, I had no clue where else to look. My high school journalism instructor recommended that I attend Cal State Fullerton, which has a great School of Communications.”
Doug might have attended a community college…had he known what a community college was!
“No one I knew ever discussed community colleges. I had no idea they even existed.”
Ever industrious, Doug worked for four years during high school and college as a “balloon boy” at Disneyland. He learned a skill that would later become his trademark attribute in his role as OCC’s Special Events Czar. He creates those mammoth balloon arches that we’ve seen floating over the campus for the last, oh, two decades. In fact, that single executive skill carries with it enough weight to entirely justify Bronsard’s hiring decision!
While a CSUF communications major, Doug worked nights as a box boy and, later, as a grocery clerk at Alpha Beta.
Following his Fullerton graduation, with a B.A. degree in communications and an emphasis in public relations, Doug worked as editor for a senior citizens’ publication in San Bernardino. He was laid off five months later. He then became public relations director for the Orange County Mental Health Association. He worked for the association for two years, and then was laid off when funding for the position dried up.
In May of 1981, with a new family budding in his tidy Anaheim home, he was hired by the St. Joseph Development Office. Four-and-a-half years later he had his fateful first encounter with Bronsard.
“When I first arrived at Coast I figured I’d be here two or three years, then I’d make my move to a four-year school or a hospital,” he says. “I never thought for a moment in those early days that OCC would capture my life.”
One of the first situations he encountered on campus shocked him.
“I could see right away that there was an undercurrent of animosity between the college president, Dr. Bronsard, and his dean of students, Dave Grant. Dave had been one of the first persons on campus, years earlier, to actively seek philanthropic support from the community and alumni. He became my mentor, and I deeply respected him.
“But Bronsard was my boss. The tension between them was palpable. Three years later Bronsard left and Dave became president. Things, for me, changed dramatically for the better.”
Perhaps as a result of that early tension, it took Doug a while to feel comfortable on campus.
“Maybe it was just the newcomer thing, but for several years I really didn’t feel a part of this campus’ culture. I felt very much the outsider. I think when Dave became president that began to fade.”
Bennett became involved with campus sports and student activities right from the get-go.
“Bill Workman was hired as the new head football coach about the same time I was hired. He came to me and said he wanted to do some fundraising for his team. I became actively engaged with the football program, and was soon working with other sports.”
Mike Thornton became OCC’s women’s basketball coach in 1989.
“Mike came to my office one day – I don’t even think I knew him at the time – and asked me if I would be the public address announcer for his games. I thought about my three daughters, and how this might get them interested in playing basketball and getting a college scholarship, so I accepted his invitation.”
The 2007-08 season will be Doug’s 19th as PA announcer for the women’s games.
“It might also be my last,” he says. “My daughter, Sarah, has been doing the shot-clock for home games for the past two seasons, and this will be her last season before transferring. I’ve enjoyed sitting next to her at the scorer’s table, so this might be an appropriate time for me to step aside when she goes.”
Sometimes Doug takes OCC’s athletic contests a bit too seriously.
“I tend to get overly involved,” he says, slightly self-consciously. “A few years ago our women’s team was playing Cerritos in a playoff basketball game in our gym. We were called for a ticky-tack foul late and I said over the microphone, “that’s incredible!’ The referee came over and informed me that one more outburst like that and she’d throw me out of the gym.”
(Sorry, Doug, but I’ve got you beat. I WAS tossed from the gym by a referee while announcing an OCC wrestling match!)
“We were down by one point when I made my call, and we ended winning by nine. I’m not sure my outburst had anything to do with the turnaround, but I like to think it did.”
Doug is always pleased with OCC victories, and he tries to take losses in stride. I place emphasis on the word, “tries.”
“That 2003 women’s state basketball championship was magical. I was excited for weeks afterward. But I remember walking out of the Golden West gym a few years earlier after a tough loss, and I was absolutely steaming. I was upset with the way we’d played.
“I tend to take the games way too seriously.”
Doug has worked for five presidents at Orange Coast College, and each has played a crucial role in the steady advancement of the college’s Foundation.
“Dr. Bronsard may have been difficult to work with, but he had the right vision for the Foundation. He also hired a foundation director during a very risky political era. He stuck his neck out and took a chance on me, and things worked out.”
Grant arrived on the scene several years after faculty layoffs, and things were still on edge. He restored collegiality and positive feelings throughout the campus.
“Dave laid the groundwork for the Foundation with Bronsard, but when he took over as president he took it to another level. He energized our fundraising efforts. Under his leadership we completed the Robert B. Moore Theatre remodel, started the Children’s Center project, got the boat program growing, and began a long string of big boat donations.”
Margaret Gratton became Doug’s biggest advocate when she took over the presidency in 1996.
“She was very supportive and understood how important fundraising was. She was a great presence in our local community and with donors. She was very encouraging to me during the college’s 50th anniversary celebration, and we had some big fundraising accomplishments during that time.
“In December of 2001 we received a $1 million gift for the Arts Pavilion campaign. During the six months leading up to 9/11 – and considering all the turmoil that we experienced on campus at that time – we had an incredible gifting period.”
Gene Farrell added his muscle, charisma and football coach’s enthusiasm to the Foundation in 2002.
“Gene was extraordinarily supportive,” Doug says. “In 2002, when we were carrying out the bond measure campaign that has since brought so much construction to this campus, the Foundation contributed $150,000 to the effort. Gene pushed that idea. Board members said to me, ‘Doug, you’d better make this election effort work!’
“At another Southern California community college, their foundation board did not support the school’s bond measure, and that measure failed at the ballot box. Our board got out and went to work in the community. Our bond measure passed.”
Current OCC president, Bob Dees, became a supporter of the Foundation long before he assumed the college’s presidency. He was vice president of instruction for many years and, before that, was dean of the Literature and Languages Division.
“Bob is committed to working closely with our board and making things happen,” Doug says. “He’s been very involved with the Rabbit Island Project the last several years.
“Many of my peers at other community colleges complain that their presidents are unsupportive of the fundraising function. I can say that each of my five presidents has been committed to the cause and each has individually mentored me in many, many ways.”
Twenty-five community leaders serve on OCC’s Foundation Board of Directors.
“They’ve been absolutely invaluable over the years,” Doug says. “They love serving this college, and many have spent more than a decade on the board. I look to them as my teachers and advisors, and good friends. They’ve come up with an innovative investment policy for the Foundation.”
Doug says the board is committed to finding solutions to problems, not putting up roadblocks.
“Several years ago, when we were given Rabbit Island in British Columbia, no one on the board said, ‘We can’t take an island in a foreign country!’ No. The mentality was ‘We’ve got to figure this one out. How do we make it work?’ And they were able to solve the problem and come up with all the necessary answers.”
What are Doug’s goals and plans for the future? He’ll probably remain another 10 years before retiring.
“I’d like the Foundation to have $50 million in assets when I leave. I want us to be bigger and stronger. One of the Foundation’s short-term goals is to raise money for the new Library building. I’d like to build an endowment, furnish the Library and secure books for its collection. My dream is to come up with a $5 million naming gift for the building.”
Doug’s favorite professional activity is closing large gifts.
“I like working with people on substantial gifts that have a significant impact on the college and its students. We’ve had some interesting projects, like renovating the Moore Theatre and building the Children’s Center.”
He also enjoys writing grants, though he hasn’t done many lately.
“I love creating a written document that causes someone to pause, reflect and give you money for what you wrote,” he says. “Back in the mid-1990s, we were able to secure a $250,000 grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation for the Children’s Center. Not long after that we received a $100,000 grant from the Weingart Foundation in Los Angeles.
“Finding the grant opportunities, and writing the grants, is both challenging and fun.”
But, according to Bennett, philanthropists come in all sizes and shapes, and aren’t necessarily big donors.
“The philanthropists that I remember most at Coast include Bucky Pofahl, who collected hundreds of thousands of soda cans and bottles over the years to provide scholarships for OCC students; Dr. Giles T. Brown, a founding OCC dean, who gave a remarkable series of gifts in memory of his wife, Beth, the college’s first librarian; Trudy Doyle who made our vision of an Arts Pavilion possible with a $1 million gift; Patricia Krone, one of our original OCC Foundation Board members; and the Harry & Grace Steele Foundation and its trustees.”
Doug plans to build the value of the Foundation over the coming years with wills and bequests.
“We’re working with retirees and with members of the community to identify the right opportunities. We’ll also have several major naming opportunities for campus buildings in the months and years ahead.”
Boats, Bennett said, will continue to be an important income stream for the college.
“People give to successful organizations, and Orange Coast College is certainly enjoying an era of great success and influence. People in our community know who we are. The PR image that we cultivate in our community is excellent. The relationship that the campus’ Community Relations Office has with Development – the synergy – is excellent. That doesn’t always occur within large corporations or institutions.
“PR and Development on this campus have worked well together…and we never attempt to mislead or be deceptive with our image. We project an OCC image into our community that’s both impressive and accurate. The image that this college trades on exists in real life.”
I’ll second that!
Doug admits that, in a small way, he has played a role in creating a culture of philanthropy on campus.
“The bigger view is that we’ve always had great tradition here at Coast…a great culture. But the Foundation has become an important part of the college in recent years and has created a culture of philanthropy. We have a great employee-giving program. Coast employees – and retirees – love to give to this college.”
In addition to college presidents, Foundation board members, and generous donors, the success of Bennett's department has been largely dependant upon the contributions of four talented and loyal staff members who’ve worked with him over the years: Nancy Timmons, who was there for the Foundation’s first 16 years of existence; Tabitha Wilson, who worked in the office from 2001-03; Rene Goode, who has worked there for the past six years; and Julie Clevenger, who’s been in the department since 2004.
“Doug is a dedicated, loyal guy, through and through,” Clevenger says. “He has a passion for OCC and loves the place. He’s a wonderful boss. He gives you a goal, then trusts you with working out the details. He’s not a micromanager.”
“He’s definitely hands-on,” Goode adds. “He works right alongside us at events. If we’re working hard, he’s working hard. We were doing an art auction a few years ago and just before the show opened we noticed that the floor was dirty. Without saying a word, Doug went and got a mop and started mopping the floor. He does whatever it takes to get the job done.”
Rene says Doug blows up balloons faster than any human being she’s ever seen. It’s his forte.
“He uses a special wrist technique when he ties balloons. It’s lightening quick.”
It’s said that Doug can blow up – and tie – a dozen balloons in less than two minutes.
“I present Julie and Rene with lots of crazy ideas, and they somehow pull them off,” Doug says. “They embody the Orange Coast College attitude…‘Let’s do it!’ I remember when we first launched the $1.6 million theatre campaign in the early 1990s, a staff member on campus came up to me and said, ‘Doug, you’ll never do it.’”
Bennett took that as a personal challenge.
“That was all the incentive I needed. When we opened the building with a performance of ‘South Pacific,’ I almost called her and said, ‘I told you so!’ I didn’t. I was raised better than that. But at Coast, you gotta believe!”
“Doug takes responsibility for things on campus that aren’t even his responsibility,” Julie says. “Often he’ll step into a situation because he cares deeply about the college and he feels he can make a positive contribution. He has an important perspective on things, and it’s a perspective that is respected and taken seriously by all campus constituencies. He’s a true OCC person.”
“Doug cares deeply for students,” Rene adds. “The students in the Guardian Scholars program are really Doug’s kids. He’ll do anything he can to help them. He gives a scholarship – one that he personally funds – every year to a member of the women’s basketball team.”
Julie calls Doug “the ultimate dad.” Bennett is the father of three daughters.
“Rene and I tell him all the time that it’s okay for him to tell us ‘NO.’ It’s just that he’s used to always saying 'YES' to his daughters.”
As a result of his many successes, Bennett is well known beyond the boundaries of this campus. Headhunters have pursued him. He’s been offered jobs at other institutions. He has always turned them down.
“People envy OCC’s Foundation, and they admire what we do,” he says. “Why would I want to go anywhere else? I’m having too much fun here. This is where I’ll remain until I retire.”
There are no lingering doubts about him feeling like an outsider…Orange Coast College has become Doug Bennett’s home turf.
Doogles is a true Pirate! Arrrrr!
WE GET LETTERS….
Thanks for the wonderful Orange Slice (“George Mattias: Just Call Him ‘Coach,’” Orange Slices, Oct. 4). All the PE Women loved George Mattias. He was such a gentleman that we called him “Gentleman George.” He was a breath of fresh air in the division.
Professor of Health and Physical Education (1969-03)