Tough as nails
A plucky country girl forged her own future
Throughout her career, Patricia Kaufman Wirth, Ph.D., held educational leadership positions in Washington and California. She received many awards, including the Clark College Outstanding Alumna of the Year in 1991. As the featured speaker at Clark’s 1991 graduation ceremony, she inspired the audience with her story of educational perseverance. This is a reprint of an October 2010 Partners magazine article. Wirth, 86, died on November 17, 2016.
Patricia Kaufman Wirth, Ph.D., achieved much in life, but none of it was easy. And yet, something in this seemingly fragile woman compelled her to look for rainbows and never give up.
“Hard Times and High Deeds” is the title of Wirth’s self-published biography. She describes growing up in Clark County with outdoor bathrooms and wearing shoes mended with cardboard. Grade school was an unhappy place for a shabby country girl in the late 1930s.
High school went better; Wirth had close friends and participated in many activities. Her grades were good, she was college material, and the bright teen felt that the world was her oyster – and then she dropped out. An early marriage and the birth of two sons challenged her health and future. It would be several years – at age 24 – until Wirth completed her General Education Development (GED) in 1954.
As it is for many of today’s nontraditional students, Wirth worked days, went to school at night, and parented in between before graduating at age 38 from Clark College. Her dreams of a brighter future and a positive outlook kept her going.
At the urging of former Clark professor, Antonio “Chick” Scarpelli, in 1970, Wirth left a long-time employer to become the accountant at Clark College. After earning a bachelor’s degree at Portland State University in 1971, she taught part-time at Clark. What followed was a succession of promotions at Clark and Yakima Valley College – many of them firsts for a woman in that era. Concurrently, she commuted to graduate school at the University of Idaho and earned a doctorate in 1979.
Wirth retired at the top of her game, having served successfully for 10 years as superintendent and president of the Yuba Community College District. “Some people search their lifetime and never find the perfect niche, but I found mine,” said Wirth. “I loved the position and the community.”
While living in Vancouver, she recalled where she got her start. “The most important education I had was at Clark,” said Wirth. “It was here, it was affordable, and I got what I needed to go on from there.
“My other schools were also important, but Clark gave me my first chance to succeed. It is essential to our community, providing people like me with affordable, quality education.”[hr]
Written by Kay Cooke, former Clark College Foundation communications manager.