Former City of Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma wrote a brief eulogy at the request of Rotary 8.
Bill Mohler, devoted father, college president, corporate executive, transformational leader, quintessential South Tacoman, and past active Rotarian, died on July 12th.
The youngest of three children, Bill was born on November 24th, 1943 in Portland, Oregon. When Bill was two, his family moved to a working class neighborhood in South Tacoma where he continued to live most all of his life. He was a member of the first graduating class of the original Mt. Tahoma High School in 1962 and then went on to earn a BA degree in business finance from Pacific Lutheran University. Graduate studies carried Bill to Washington State and Ohio State Universities.
He began his career in education by teaching business courses at Clover Park Vocational Technical School where he met his wife Marjorie. He then moved on to Olympia with stints in the SPI’s office and as the state’s vocational-education director.
He began his most remarkable career in Tacoma in 1985 with the School District and then in 1991 as the first and longest serving President of Bates Technical College. It is during this period that Bill became an active member of Rotary 8.
It has been written that truly great leaders are transformational in their style and approach. Those leaders, rare in history, identify a needed change, create a vision to guide the change through inspiration and then execute that change in tandem with committed members of the organization.
Bill was, indeed, a transformational leader. While with the school district, Bill became the director of Bates when many viewed the school as being simply a manual arts program for high school students. But Bill had a much broader vision and foresaw Bates becoming a college and as such, in his own words: “a true partner in the economic development of this community–responding not only to the needs of business, but the people of the community.” He helped draft the legislation that moved the state’s vocation technical institutes, which were a part of school districts, to the two-year college system. In so doing, he enlisted the support of Governor Booth Gardner and leaders in the Legislature to help make it so.
Bill served as President of Bates from 1991-2000. During his tenure, he transformed the college first, by bringing in new, highly qualified and dynamic staff members, and then working to establish thirty-four relevant degree programs. During his nine years he grew the campus to serve 22,000 students while acquiring the needed $60 million for construction and equipment to accommodate that growth.
One year after retiring, Bill came back to Bates as a part-time employee dedicated to raising money for the renovation of the former KSTW studios on South 19th–now the site of public television station KBTC. Through Bill’s efforts, and vision, and ability to secure funding the studio has been transformed into a state-of-the- art technology center that has been rightfully named the Central Bates/ Mohler Campus.
Bill came out of retirement again in 2003 to be named CEO of Seattle’s public television station KCTS. Through Bill’s strategic thinking and forceful leadership, that station was saved from oblivion and remains on the air.
Bill has been an active member of many, many organizations and has been recognized countless times for his prowess as a leader and manager. But to him, family always came first.
As his son Andrew said: “My Dad would call nearly every day. And when things were tough or challenging he would always offer his support and encouragement. He truly loved each of us deeply.”
The day before Bill died, his son Patrick married. Patrick was the last of Bill’s children to marry and Bill couldn’t have been happier. In fact, it was one of the best days of his life.
Bill is survived by his wife of 37 years, Marjorie, his children William (Bill) Jr. (Mary), Kari Montgomery (Bill), Rebecca Haukaas (Eric), Patrick (Alicia) and Andrew (Hillari) and his grandchildren Mikayla, Jared, Isa, Grayson, Bryce and Troy.
A celebration of Bill’s life is scheduled for Saturday, August 1st at 1 o’clock at his alma mater Pacific Lutheran University in the Mary Baker Russell Music Center. Donations can be made in Bill’s name to the Bill Mohler Scholarship Fund at the Bates Foundation.