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Dianne Van Hook is BFF’s ‘Woman of Honor’

College of the Canyons chancellor will be feted as a women of vision at Saturday’s sold out event at

Posted: September 12, 2009 5:04 p.m.
Updated: September 13, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Dianne Van Hook , center, is the chancellor and president of College of the Canyons. She has been named the Betty Ferguson Foundation Woman of Honor. Right to left, Betty Ferguson Foundation board members John Klymshyn, Marjanne Priest, honoree Van Hook, Jane Bettencourt-Soto and Judy Cox.

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A woman of vision will become a vision of honor when Dianne Van Hook is recognized as the Betty Ferguson Foundation’s Woman of Honor for 2009 on Saturday. The ninth Woman of Honor Dinner will be held at the Tournament Players’ Club in Valencia and will gather community leaders, family and friends to recognize Van Hook, who serves as chancellor of the Santa Clarita Community
College District and president, College of the Canyons.

Since 1988, Van Hook has worked at the community college level to provide opportunities in higher education to prospective students.

Through programs and initiatives geared to provide untraditional vocational training to women as well as increased opportunities for working individuals, Van Hook has stayed steadfast in her mission to open doors in academia that were once shut tight.

“If you can dream it, you can do it,” said Van Hook. “I never let anyone tell me I can’t do something. If you believe in yourself, you can do anything.”

From her rural beginnings in Minnesota to a career which paved new roads in education, Van Hook has shown that perseverance and dedication are two qualities you don’t just use on the farm.

“I look back now and realize that I use the same skills and principles I learned while doing chores,” said Van Hook. “When something needs to be done, you get on with it no matter how difficult it looks or seems. Our biggest obstacles in life are always ourselves.”

Challenging obstacles have been all in a day’s work for Van Hook since harsh winters in Wadena, Minn. were switched for hot summers in Long Beach, Calif. when her family settled there in the early 1960’s.

After graduating from high school, Van Hook took a trip to Long Beach City College and was guided by school counselor, Charles Kane as well as the school’s Associative Women Students advisor, Beverly O’Neill, who later became mayor of Long Beach from 1994 to 2006.

“They helped show me that I could do something,” said Van Hook. “They both believed in me and because of what they saw inside, they made me start to see myself.”

Van Hook began exploring her interests and knew she wanted to pursuit an education in architecture, a degree that wasn’t available to women at the time.

“Careers for women in those days were limited,” said Van Hook. “I could either be a teacher, flight attendant, nurse or secretary. But I was always good at visualizing things and building in my head.”

From hearing the word “no,” Van Hook wanted to change the limitations placed upon women in the educational system, starting from inside.

Drawing from the schoolteacher background of her grandmother, Emma Ohman, Van Hook decided to pursuit her own path in education. But following one path inspired Van Hook to embark on roads less traveled.

She also created new ones of her own.

After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in Education from California State University, Long Beach, Van Hook received her joint master’s degrees in Psychology and Counseling from the University of La Verne.

These degrees allowed Van Hook to obtain lifetime teaching credentials for community college in both concentrations.

“I like the idea that there is a lot of room for change and growth at this level,” said Van Hook. “This is where I felt I could really improve things.”

Van Hook began working on a two-year grant for Santa Ana College in the Rancho Santiago Community College District.

“This was really amazing, because it not only provided me with a steady job for two years, but I was able to do something I really believed in,” said Van Hook.

The program was designed by Van Hook to provide vocational educational equity for women to work in non-traditional fields.

Aptly named “New Horizons” the program was Van Hook’s dream come true, as the proposed funding would open new doors for women seeking career and educational opportunities not previously offered to them based on gender-discrimination.

“I couldn’t believe it when I received the call that the program was going to be funded,” said Van Hook. “I was even more amazed that I was being asked to run it.”

Running the program was only part of the plan for Van Hook, who was not yet finished with her personal educational goals.

After realizing a passion for working at the community college level, Van Hook enrolled in a doctoral program at La Verne, where she received her doctorate in Educational Leadership in 1980.

An advocacy for advancements in education along with a direct approach in meeting challenges stood Van Hook in good stead to meet the next project at hand.

Van Hook became superintendent and president of College of the Canyons in 1988, becoming the youngest California Community College chief executive officer, at 37. She was hired at a time when only four other women served in district-level CEO positions.

With a new decade on the horizon, Van Hook began looking ahead into visions that would soon become a reality.

“I wanted to start work on bringing even more education to people,” said Van Hook. “It can be really difficult to go to school, especially with jobs, kids and a household. How do you do anything?”

Van Hook built the idea in her head for a more easily accessible higher education, for those who wanted one — but had busy lives.

The 1994 Northridge earthquake thwarted initial plans for the project through the community college district, but Van Hook did not wane in her efforts to shake up the world of education.buzk

“People who know me know that when I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to,” said Van Hook. “And I won’t stop until I get it done.”

In 1999, plans for the University Center began to unfold, spurred on by Van Hook’s intent to provide extended educational opportunities to all students.

The interim center was opened on the community campus in 2002 and plans were in development for a larger facility to house the newly offered degrees and credentials.

After bringing in $20 million from the state, $2 million from federal funding and raising $5 million in privately generated funds, the Dianne G. Van Hook University Center broke ground in 2007.

The center’s newly built doors to higher education flung open earlier this month, offering more than 20 different degrees on bachelors, masters and doctoral levels.

“No sitting in traffic, no need to re-arrange your entire life,” said Van Hook. “Someone can obtain their personal educational goals and still live their lives.”

Accepting the Chancellor title in July 2009, Van Hook continues to break new ground in the educational arena as the longest serving CEO in the California Community College system.

Since her project, “Horizons” was first funded, the vocational program has been used in more than 60 California college campuses.

The program was so popular that Van Hook couldn’t even get it placed on the COC campus until the early 1990’s. But Van Hook’s advancements for women in education are not just given out in the classroom.

Under her leadership at the college, the number of female administrators has increased from 2 to 54 percent, as she has hired more than 90 percent of all full-time staff since her first year. In addition to providing opportunities to women in education, Van Hook organized the Pace Program, geared to help working individuals achieve higher education at their own pace level.

“I have spent my whole career designing opportunities for people,” said Van Hook. “I feel fortunate to have been given the chance to create chances for them.”

The Betty Ferguson Foundation knows it is time to give Van Hook the chance to be honored. Co-founders Judy Cox and Marjanne Priest formed the organization in 1998 with the mission, to train, develop and empower women and youth to be a vital force in society.”

Since gaining nonprofit status in 2000, the foundation has supported and promoted the personal and professional growth of women and teen girls in the community through various workshops, seminars, clubs and programs.

Active advocates for women of all ages and girls from fifth-grade to high school, the foundation promotes education by offering scholarships to College of the Canyons. The organization also knows how to honor women in the community who have portrayed visions of strength, motivation and independence and the 2009 recipient is no exception.

The foundation’s milestone anniversary event, now in its 10th year, will honor Van Hook as a woman who exemplifies a history of philanthropy and service to the community.

“This event is fun and it offers all of us involved an opportunity to publicly recognize and thank someone who has done so much for people,” said Foundation co-founder, Judy Cox. “I expect us to have a record turnout.”

Guests will enjoy an evening of dinner and dancing amidst the plush surroundings of TPC, while tapping their feet to the live musical styling of the local Journey tribute band “Don’t Stop Believin.’”

A live auction will be set up and feature items such as a “Princess Cruise for two,” as well as tickets to the TV shows, “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Dancing With the Stars” and “Two and a half Men.”

Pampering prizes such as beauty makeovers and a luxurious weeklong getaway are also hot ticket items up for bid.

The event’s 2009 title sponsors are Klassen Corporation and Lundgren Management.

All proceeds from the evening will benefit the foundation’s projects and initiatives approved by the board of directors.

“For us, this event is the high point of every year,” said Foundation co-founder, Marjanne Priest. “We’ve honored several amazing women over the past nine years and are looking forward to seeing many of them at this year’s event.”

Past recipients include Cheri Fleming, Roberta Veloz, Marlee Lauffer, Dianne White Crawford, Debbie Reynolds, Ruta Lee, Linda Hafizi, Elizabeth Hopp and last year’s recipient, Liz Seipel.

Van Hook feels fortunate to be recognized for her accomplishments and continues to gain inspiration from people in her life such as her husband, Roger, her former city college speech teacher and spouse of the past 38 years.

“I live by the principles that I will not be deterred by anyone else’s pessimism,” said Van Hook. “I stay strong in trusting my own intuition, ability to change and determination to never give up. To be honored by a group that supports women to find this in themselves is a true honor to me.”

Tickets to the upcoming event as sold out, but the foundation is providing community members the chance to win two tickets to the 2010 Woman of Honor Dinner with a $50 donation. For volunteer information or to make a donation, call (661) 702-8712, www.bettyfergusonfoundation.org.

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