History of Olympic College

Olympic College Celebrates its 75th Anniversary during the 2021-22 academic year

Drafted by Olympic College Communications Department, 2007, updated 2021

In 1935, state Senator Lulu Haddon started the “college movement” in the city of Bremerton, advocating for the founding of a college in the Kitsap community. Interest in the subject intensified during the Second World War, as local civic and military leaders recognized a future need for postwar educational opportunities for veterans. To that end, in 1945 local educators formed the Junior College Planning Committee. After conducting a regional postcard survey, questioning local high school students about their educational plans, and touring other Washington State community colleges, the Committee recommended that the Bremerton School Board (100-C) apply to the Washington State Superintendent of Instruction to authorize the founding of a junior college in Bremerton.

In June 1946, authorization was granted. Olympic Junior College opened its doors on September 5, 1946, under the authority of the Bremerton School District. It was the ninth junior college in Washington state. The name was suggested by Cmdr. Wallace Howe, USN, and Al E. Huguenin, two individuals involved in the early planning of the college. The name was chosen to indicate that the school’s intended service area was the entire Olympic Peninsula, rather than Bremerton alone.

The 1946 Purpose Statement read as follows:

“The Junior College will offer the citizens of the Olympic Peninsula opportunity to receive study in advance of high school graduation. The students will find a closer relationship between student and faculty than in the large universities and colleges. The adjustment to college methods is made much easier. Vocational training is offered in the Junior College for the benefit of those who may not wish to transfer to an institution of higher learning.”

The first Dean was Donald Patterson. Enrollment was 575 students (423 men and 152 women), 225 of whom were veterans. Tuition was $6.00 per credit hour, or $35.00 per year.

In 1948 President Harry S. Truman visited Bremerton while on a postwar tour of the Pacific Northwest. During his visit, Olympic Junior College conferred upon him an Honorary Associate in Arts degree. Truman’s own words on the event were as follows:

"Again, I am most happy to be in this great state of Washington. I have just had an honor conferred upon me right here. The Olympic Junior College has made me an Honorary Associate in Arts. You know, my daughter graduated from George Washington University a year or two ago to receive a degree, and they gave me one, too. She worked four years to get hers, and I got mine right then and there, without any effort! That is the way I got this one, this one here, without any effort on my part, although I hope to deserve it, and I hope to earn it at a later date, maybe." Source: Truman Library.

In 1953, OC was first accredited, by the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges. That same year the college name was changed again, from “Olympic Junior College” to “Olympic College,” at the suggestion of Dean Lloyd Elias, to reflect that the college’s role in the community was larger than the term “junior” implied. 

In 1967 the Washington State Community College Act was passed. The Act separated community and junior colleges from school districts statewide, and placed them under the authority of the newly-formed state community college board. Olympic College became “Community College District #3”, serving Kitsap and Mason counties.

Olympic College currently serves Kitsap and Mason counties with educational opportunities in Bremerton, Poulsbo, and Shelton. Olympic College has three campuses and co-located training sites located in Kitsap and Mason Counties. A range of academic, professional-technical and developmental programs are available at these locations serving the needs of students pursuing associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, certification, employment retraining and job skill updates.

Land and Buildings

The earliest white-owner of the land, which later became the location for Olympic College Bremerton was William Bremer, founder of Bremerton. Over time, Bremer’s property was parceled out to various private and government owners. By the end of WWII, the area surrounding 16th Street and Chester Avenue was a patchwork of private lands, some of which had been leased to the military during wartime and used for temporary housing.

OC’s first classes were held in the former Lincoln School on 11th Avenue, in 1946. The earliest physics and chemistry classes were held in West High School. Additional buildings were obtained by petitioning various federal agencies on behalf of veterans, utilizing such legislation as the Mead Bill and the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. Other buildings were bought from private owners as leases expired. Classes were held in Quonset huts and former military housing units. The first new building was the Math and Science Building, completed in 1954.

In 1983, Roosevelt Field (at 16th Street & Warren Avenue) was demolished for construction of a student parking lot.

OC Bremerton currently covers approximately 33 acres.

Individual Buildings – Stats & Trivia

OC Bremerton Libraries: The First Library; the LRC; Haselwood Library (Bldg. 6)

OC’s first library was a small room located near the Registrar’s office in the Lincoln School building on 11th Street. For the first two quarters, the library had almost no books or periodicals, and the librarian (Lorraine Carter) had to share the small space with the registrar and the manager of the bookstore. In 1947, a courtyard in the interior of the Lincoln School (used as a basketball court and auditorium) was partitioned, and the first reading room was constructed in the space.

In 1954, the Library moved again, to the south end of the Public School Administration building on Chester Avenue; owned by the Bremerton School District at the time, the building was later acquired by OC and renamed the College Administration Building. The Library moved yet again in 1963 to a different building across Chester Street. In 1967 a rather puzzled octopus was fished out of the library fountain.

In 1968 the Library finally got its own building when the Learning Resource Center was constructed. The LRC’s total square footage was 22,499, with 21,108 utilized. It had 3 stories (basement, lower floor, and main/balcony) and held book stacks, classrooms, and offices. By the early 1990’s, its tech capabilities included slide/film projectors, VHS equipment, and phone/network connectors. In May of 1996, OC’s Capital Projects planned a 5,000 square foot addition to the LRC, with funding to come from the Bremer Trust and Western Washington University, for the purpose of adding new classroom spaces adapted to current technology capabilities.

Plans for expansion were cut short in December of 1996, when the roof of the LRC collapsed after an unusually heavy ice storm. OC lost $1.5 million in books, periodicals, media, and equipment. In 1997 the WA State Legislature passed emergency House Bill 1158, earmarking funds from the state capital budget for the rebuilding of the OC library. Chuck and Joanne Haselwood provided the lead private donation of $250,000 (the new library was named in their honor, as the first private donors). During construction of the new facility, OC’s library was housed in the 9,000 square feet that had not been damaged in the roof collapse; this area was later converted into Media Services.

Haselwood Library was designed by architects Schrieber & Lane, in the Northwest Lodge style. It was completed in the year 2000 at a capital cost of $7.9 million. It stands 3 stories tall with total square footage of 40,199. It was built on the footprint of the former LRC. The clock tower in front of the Library was designed as part of the renovation, as a focal point at the campus’ main entry.

Bremer Automotive Technology Center (Bldg. 17)

The Bremer Automotive Technology Center was located on Warren Avenue and 17th Street, across from the Bremerton campus main entrance. It was two stories tall and utilized 8,102 square feet. The building was first constructed in 1938; OC obtained the building in 1995. It contained classrooms, tool and maintenance rooms, and auto repair bays in support of the Automotive Technology program, which closed in 2012. In 2013, the building was converted into a Mechanical Engineering lab in support of the college’s partnership with Washington State University.

Art & Music Complex

In May 1967, the federal government allocated a grant of $347,045 to OC for the construction of vocational and art/music buildings. Funds for construction had been part of the college building program since 1965, when the college was still part of the Bremerton School District; but with the passage of the Washington State Community Colleges Act in 1967, the availability of previously-allocated funds was called into question, and building plans were delayed while the issues were sorted out.

Plans were further delayed in the summer of 1967 when it was discovered that previous cost estimates for the building were out of date and the new bids were much higher than originally intended. (Del Guzzi Construction of Port Angeles offered a low bid of $2,368,559.) To cut costs, two buildings were dropped from the original eight-building plan, as were plans for parking lots and landscaping. Eventually a budget was accepted, and the groundbreaking ceremony took place on August 15, 1967.

The Art & Music complex was constructed from 1967 - 1968.  According to former art faculty member Jack Crouse (dsc.), the facility was built with input from faculty at the time. The architects were Kenneth and Barry Branch of Branch, Branch & Garrison. The Art section covered 20,088 square feet. Its facilities included a design studio, painting studio, drawing studio, darkroom, kiln room/ceramics studio, and gallery space. It also housed the Career Center. This complex was demolished in 2015/16 as part of the construction of the College Instruction Center, where art, music and health care programs were relocated to in 2018.


OC’s Theater building was constructed in 1959 and occupied in 1960.  It utilized 5,524 square feet on one story (with a maintenance/electrical basement room, and storage mezzanines). It was a classic proscenium type theater, with audience seating for 180 people. The first play performed there after the building’s construction was “The Diary of Anne Frank.” In spring of 1973, members of the Bremerton Garden Club donated plants and shrubs for the beautification of the Theater building. Former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna utilized the theater for a speaking engagement on his “GUARD IT!” Washington identity theft awareness tour (August 2007). The building was demolished in 2018 as part of the construction of the College Instruction Center where the new William D. Harvey Theatre is located.

Business/Technical Building (Bldg. 12)

The Business & Technical building was constructed in 1968. It utilizes 12,548 square feet on 2 stories. Facilities include classrooms, computer labs, and an electronics lab. OC’s student paper, The Olympian, had its offices in the north end of the building.

College Service Center (Bldg. 5)

The College Service Center was constructed in 1969. It was initially intended for use as a co-ed student dormitory. Students began moving in before construction was completed in 1970.  In November 1971 OC held a Residence Hall open house, inviting visitors to tour the new facility, and inviting parents of dorm residents to stay over as guests. Ultimately the dormitory idea did not prove effective and it was closed in 1975. The building is currently used as an administrative center. It included departments such as Admissions and Registration & Records, as well as various Deans’ offices, conference rooms, and the OC President’s office. It covers 57,166 gross square feet on a total of 5 stories.

Engineering Building (Bldg. 11)

The Engineering building was constructed in 1963-1964. It covers 8,298 square feet on 1 story. It contains classrooms, labs, and faculty offices. It is noted for the large circular classroom on its north end, referred to as the Rotunda.

Health Occupations/Early Childhood Education Building (Bldg. 3)

The first childcare facility for children of OC students opened in 1973 in the basement of the First Baptist Church. It was funded by a $5,000 grant from the ASOC, to match collected service fees.

The Health Occupations/Early Childhood Education building was constructed in 1976. It was the first building constructed after the separation of OC from the Bremerton School District. The new building was dedicated on June 4, 1976. It covers 9,949 square feet and contains faculty offices, classrooms, and nursing labs. In 2002 the childcare received a four-year federal grant to subsidize the cost of care for 1- and 2-year-old children for low-income students. In 2007 the parking lot behind the building was converted into a new playground for the childcare.


The old Humanities building was constructed in 1959, under the auspices of the Bremerton Public School district. It was initially called the “English & Social Sciences” building, according to a dedication plaque hanging in one of the building’s breezeways. It was completed in 1960. The architects were Branch & Branch. It covered 25,710 square feet and included classrooms, a Testing Center, the Access Services office (offering assistance to ADA students), a computer lab, and an open courtyard with raised beds and outdoor artwork. It was demolished and replaced by the Humanities & Social Sciences building on the site of the former Math & Science building.

Math/Science Building

The Math/Science building was the first new building on campus. Groundbreaking took place in 1953. The building was completed in 1954, with an addition completed by 1960. Constructed when OC was still part of the Bremerton School District, the building was designed to serve as an elementary school, should OC prove unsuccessful. The building originally had a large lounge in the center wing, complete with a fireplace. When the building was remodeled and the lounge converted into a classroom, the chimney was capped and the fireplace remained in a wall in the middle of the hallway, between two restrooms.

The building was replaced by the new Science & Technology Building, and demolished in Fall 2007 and replaced by the new Humanities and Social Sciences & Humanities Building in 2010.

Math/Science Mosaic Mural 

The mosaic formerly located on the south side of the building is thought to be entitled The Progression of Mankind, though its official title is unknown. It was designed and built by local artist and former OC art faculty member Harrison “Hank” Blass, with assistance and cooperation from OC art students and the Bremerton community. Individuals involved in the process included Mr. Harlan Matheson (a recent OC art graduate at the time), OC student Brad Kauzlaric, and Mr. Philip Dunn, who is credited in the dedication ceremony program as “devising the method used” to construct the mosaic. Women from the local Kiwanis group raised funds and provided tools, supplies (including drives for collection of used glass and bottles), the frame, and landscaping. Initial design began in 1953. Actual construction began in 1957 and was completed in 1959, with a dedication ceremony taking place on May 15, 1960.

The mosaic is made out of pieces of broken glass, china, tile, and metallic squares. It is assembled on a substrate consisting largely of concrete and plaster of Paris. Glass was collected by request from members of the community. Mosaic sections were initially assembled in small squares, then adhered to the side of the Science building. Partway through assembly, Mr. Blass changed his construction method, perhaps to speed completion of the piece.

The mural represents the development of humankind through time. Thelma Engebretson and Mrs. Charles Ullock, in text from the dedication ceremony program, described the mosaic’s meaning as follows:

“All of this before you is a simple depiction of that which Man has been, and is, and shall become, in brief summation. His achievements are legion, and of magnificence, but when he has grasped the ‘wrong handle’ of the oracle, he has wrought unto himself death and destruction.”

The building was demolished in September 2007, having been replaced by the new Science & Technology Building. A new Humanities building was constructed on the site. The mosaic was dismantled in 3 pieces as of August 31, 2007. It was stored on the OC Bremerton campus until its relocation on the north end of the campus green, adjacent to Bldg. 12. 

In 2007, the OC Anthropology program published an in-depth report on the installation and history of the Mosaic

Science & Technology Building (Bldg. 8)

In 2003, Governor Gary Locke’s budget plan called for $22 million in state funds to build a new science building on the OC Bremerton campus, as a replacement for the aging Math & Science building (see above). In 2004, Yost Grube Hall Architecture came up with plans for the new building. Groundbreaking took place and construction began in 2006, on the site of the former Facilities building next to the Bremer Student Center. Construction was completed in 2007 and the building opened for classes in summer 2007. Ultimately, the building cost $18 million and took approximately 18 months to build. Funding came entirely from state sources; there were no private donors.

The building was the first new instructional building on campus in more than 40 years, built independent of any emergency need. Yost Grube Hall Architecture of Portland, Oregon was the primary architect, with Rice Fergus Miller Architects as associates. The new building is over 58,000 square feet and stands forty feet high (including the maintenance shed on the roof). The roofline on the west side of the building was designed to echo the lines of the Haselwood Library facing it. The front of the building features a 2-story glassed atrium with a mezzanine overlooking a green space; the area provides a light-filled entryway with areas for students to gather. Cases on the first and second floors showcase science-related displays, including antique equipment, objects of interest, and live biological specimens (including at least one tarantula).

Facilities include new faculty offices, classrooms and labs. The building is fully wired for tech access of all kinds, including wireless networking. Of note is a large stockroom in the center of the building, designed to provide common storage access to several labs at once.

In the foyer is an art piece by Patrick Zentz entitled “Puget Sound System.” The piece is an interactive work connected to a weather station on the roof of the building. It responds to external changes in temperature, wind and light with internal sound and light displays.

A Grand Opening ceremony was held on Oct. 26, 2007, for the Science & Technology building and the Bremer Student Center and Bookstore remodel. The keynote speaker was Dr. Bonnie Dunbar, former shuttle astronaut and current CEO of Seattle’s Museum of Flight. Guests enjoyed a ribbon-cutting ceremony, informal tours of the building and refreshments after the speaking engagement.

Facilities Building/Physical Plant (Bldg. 15)

The heat plant was constructed in 1983, to power a campus-wide underground heating system. In 1997 the system was badly in need of repair; the state legislature utilized HB 1158 to appropriate approximately $2.4 million for immediate emergency repair of the system.

College Instruction Center (Bldg. 7)

Completed in 2017, the College Instruction Center (CIC) is a multi-purpose facility that will benefit students, faculty, staff and our community for decades to come. This 70,000-square-foot building includes space for Health Occupations programs like Nursing and Physical Therapist Assistant. It provides new locations for Art, Music and Theater programs. A 276-seat venue/classroom – the William D. Harvey Theatre – will attract the community to our campus for events like the Olympic Jazz Classic, Bremerton Symphony and youth orchestra performances. Site work included in the project improves traffic in the busy Warren Avenue corridor and provides enhanced transit access via an on-campus bus turnaround.

History of Branch Campuses


  • 1935: State Sen. Lulu Haddon starts the “college movement” in the city of Bremerton, advocates founding of a college in the Kitsap community.
  • 1945: Local educators form the Junior College Planning Committee; recommends the Bremerton School Board apply for authorization to found a junior college in Bremerton
  • June 1946: Authorization to form a junior college is granted.
  • September 1946: Olympic Junior College opens its doors under the authority of the Bremerton School District; it’s the 9th junior college to open in the state.
  • 1948: President Harry S. Truman visits Bremerton on a postwar tour of the Pacific Northwest; Olympic Junior College confers him with an Honorary Associate in Arts degree.
  • 1953: Olympic Junior College becomes Olympic College, and is accredited by the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges.
  • 1959: Construction of the mosaic located on the side of the math/science building, “The Progression of Mankind,” is completed by Art Professor Harrison “Hank” Blass and his students. The mosaic is made out of pieces of broken glass, china, tile, and metallic squares, and represents the development of humankind through time.
  • 1967: The Washington State Community College Act is passed, separating community and junior colleges from school districts and placing them under the authority of a newly-formed state community college board.
  • 1973: OC begins an instructional program for inmates at the Shelton Correctional Facility, with classes for the Shelton community being added over time in leased buildings.
  • 1996: The roof of the college library collapses after a heavy ice storm.
  • 2000: The newly-constructed library opens. It’s named the Haselwood Library after Chuck and Joanne Haselwood donate $250,000 for its construction.
  • 2004: Olympic College’s Poulsbo campus opens. The building covers 39,000 square feet and costs $12.9 million to build.
  • 2007: The math/science building is demolished. The “Progression of Man” mosaic is dismantled in three pieces and stored until it can be relocated.
  • 2007: The Science & Technology building opens for classes for summer quarter. The building cost $18 million and took approximately 18 months to build. It was the first instructional building added to the campus in more than 40 years.
  • 2010: The Humanities & Social Sciences building opens. The building was constructed on the former site of the Math & Science Building. 
  • 2015: Olympic College named one of the top ten community colleges in the nation by the Aspen Institute. 
  • 2015: Olympic College launches the Yama Project Archeology Field School in partnership with Bainbridge Island Historical Museum and other community partners. 
  • 2017: The “Progression of Man” mosaic is relocated adjacent to the Engineering Building along a highly visible and prominent walkway.
  • 2018: Olympic College apprenticeship partnership with PSNS & IMF named outstanding College/Corporate Partnership of the Year by American Association of Community Colleges.
  • 2018: College Instruction Center opens for instruction. The 70,000-square-foot building includes space for Health Occupations programs like Nursing and Physical Therapist Assistant and provides new locations for Art, Music and Theater programs.

Famous Visitors to Olympic College

  • 1946: Former President Harry S. Truman. Truman visited OC on a postwar tour of the Pacific Northwest. He was awarded an Honorary Associate in Arts degree in June, 1948 (see quote above).
  • 1959: The Four Freshmen, band.
  • 1973: Richard Bach. Bach, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, gave a lecture by the title of “Jonathan Livingston Seagull in 1973.”
  • 1974: Ralph Nader. Shortly after the start of the Arab oil embargo of the 1970’s, Nader visited OC to give a lecture on the hazards of nuclear power.
  • 1974: Charles Kuralt, CBS broadcaster (of “On the Road” series) presented a lecture on “The America Behind the Headlines” at the OC Theater.
  • 1976: Steve Martin. The comedian gave a performance at OC “with the generous use of balloons.”
  • 1979: The Four Freshmen perform at a return concert after 20 years.
  • 1979: Donna Fargo, country-western singer.
  • 1983: Herbie Mann, jazz flutist.
  • 1984: Dizzy Gillespie, jazz trumpeter, performed at the Silver Anniversary Jazz Festival at OC.
  • 1985: Sid Caesar, comedian, performed at OC as a stop on his “World of Comedy” tour.
  • 1985: Tammy Wynette, country-western singer.
  • 1987: George Plimpton, writer (author of Paper Lion).
  • 2003: Former WA Governor Gary Locke gave a speech at OC on his “Jobs Now” tour.
  • 2017: Angela Davis, scholar, activist, author.

Olympic College Presidents

  • Mr. Donald Patterson, 1946
  • Mr. Armin G. Jahr, 1947
  • Mr. Gerald O. Cannon, 1948
  • Dr. L. J. Elias, 1949
  • Dr. J. Warren Leaden, 1957
  • Dr. Frederick Mintzer, 1958
  • Dr. James Park, 1960
  • Dr. Norman Richardson, 1969
  • Dr. Henry M. Milander, 1972
  • Dr. Michael D. Connolly, 1987
  • Dr. Wallace Simpson, 1988
  • Dr. Donna M. Allen, 1995
  • Mr. Karl K. Jonietz, 1997
  • Dr. David C. Mitchell, 2002
  • Dr. Marty Cavalluzzi, 2017-Present