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GRCC Board of Trustees meets for first time following death of trustee Richard Ryskamp

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By Sean P. Mulhall – Editor-in-Chief

Today’s Grand Rapids Community College Board of Trustees meeting began with a moment of silence in honor of recently deceased trustee Richard Ryskamp.

“Before we start this meeting, I’d like to acknowledge an empty chair here at the board table,” said Bert Bleke, chairman of the board, before the moment of silence. “Those of you that follow this college’s board all know that we lost a wonderful trustee recently. Dr. Ryskamp died a few weeks ago and that is a tremendous loss for this board and for this community college as well.”

Ryskamp died Sept. 8 and his absence had an effect on other trustees as well. Some used the final board comment section of the meeting to talk about Ryskamp’s time with the board and the impact he made on the board, the school and the community.

Trustee Ellen James spoke about the man who was often her ideological rival.

“It appeared that we disagreed on a lot things, but he and I agreed on more than we disagreed on,” James said. “I will miss voice at this table because if he had something to say about an issue he was very committed to, he would speak up. And I think all of us do the same and will continue to do the same.

“Certainly, we have been strengthened by the fact that he was on this board and I will personally miss him at this table.”

Trustee Cynthia Bristol used to carpool to board meetings with Ryskamp and talked about his absence on her drive to campus today.

“I’ve had two days of hard driving,” Bristol said. “One was driving away from this school when I retired and I was leaving my students. And then driving down here today … Today was very sad for me to drive down here by myself. It felt very lonesome.”

Even the president of the Faculty Association, Fred van Hartesveldt used some of his time to eulogize Ryskamp.

“I’d like to share with you also the acknowledgement of Dr. Ryskamp’s passing and his contributions to the institution,” van Hartesveldt said. “He was a real good example of the ‘power of one.’ … He was a very active trustee member. On behalf of the faculty I want to offer not just his family condolences, but also you (the board).”

The meeting however was not just a memorial of the former trustee. Presentations were given to the board including a $175 million Grand Rapids Public Schools bond proposal by John Helmholdt, which was not voted on, but Bleke and James both vocally offered support.

Other presentations included the Local Strategic Value Resolution and a finance update from Vice President of Finance and Administration Lisa Freiburger; the Student Success Indicator report, focusing on articulation, from Provost Laurie Chesley; the Executive Limitations Treatment of People report from Cathy Kubiak and new Student Alliance President Brandon Sinclair appeared in front of the board for the first time.

GRCC President Steven Ender spoke about the effect the loss of Ryskamp will have and acknowledged the hard work done in the enrollment office, over the last three weeks of summer, to get 2,000 more students enrolled by the fall semester, which helped to balance the budget for fall.

Other things Ender spoke about included his future plans of tearing down one of the parking garages on campus, in the hopes that all students will be “bussed in in the future,” and a cryptic mention of an announcement he said would be revealed in a press release at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

“I can’t speak much about this next piece of information, because we’re embargoed until tomorrow morning,” Ender said. “Our campus will be honored with an acknowledgement from a national organization around work we have been doing here for several years, as it relates to being a data-driven institution, being transparent with what we know. We are really working hard to achieve success at this institution. This acknowledgement will be one piece of recognition that says we’re on the right track. We’re still not where we want to be with our numbers, but we are clearly on the right track and we are being distinguished for that with this national recognition.”