Teaching and administrating from corner to corner of the US


Gerald Pumphrey, president of South Puget Sound Community College, plays music and develops tricks when he’s not organizing future college outcomes.

Pumphrey moved a lot when he was young. He was born in Gainsfield, Florida and shortly after that moved to Marianna, Florida, his father’s hometowm. During that time, his father taught vocational agriculture at Chipola Junior College.

From there, he and his family moved to Tallahassee, Florida where his father then ran an egg farm. They stayed there until the middle of Pumphrey’s third year at elementary school.

Finally, they moved to Jacksonville, Florida where Pumphrey lived until the day after he graduated high school.

In the middle of his sophmore year, Pumphrey grew bored of high school. From pulling pranks that involved human levitation and slide rulers to making a deal with the devil, which is what he called his German teacher, he survived his last two years.

“I was a bit mischievous,” said Pumphrey, when asked about his school days.

According to Pumphrey, his high school band director lacked a sense of humor and a good sense of music. The incompatibility between Pumphrey and his instructor didn’t go too well, at least for his teacher.

Pumphrey confessed to his trickery. In secrecy, he would take a big mechanical wind up clock, set an alarm to go off during rehearsal, and place it under his band conductor’s podium.

“He demonstrated human levitation,” said Pumphrey.

“I remember his little baton flapping at the apex of his flight like a butterfly wing,” Pumphrey laughed.

The band director took it well at first, but according to Pumphrey, he wasn’t entertained at all the second time.

Pumphrey’s high school band director wasn’t his only prey though. In his physics class he found that trickery came easy.

“He was a tad absent-minded which made him the prefect victim,” said Pumphrey of his physics professor.

Mr. Smith worked on the Oak ridge project during WWII helping with nuclear science, said Pumphrey.

He was incredibly smart and nice too but Pumphrey felt that Mr. Smith wasn’t meeting his full potential by teaching. Teaching didn’t seem to challenge Mr. Smith enough, so Pumphrey decided to take it upon himself to create a new challenge.

When Pumphrey was in high school, slide rulers were used to do calculations. In the front of class was a six foot slide ruler above the chalkboard on which Mr. Smith would work out math problems, said Pumphrey.

Mr. Smith was so intelligent, that according to Pumphrey he would be able to work out multiple-step problems without using the slide ruler until the last couple of steps.

So every now and again Pumphrey would sneak into the classroom and place the slide backwards. As a result Mr. Smith would work a problem out onto the blackboard until the very end of the problem, then begin using the slide ruler, and end up getting an entirely wrong answer.

Then, there was Pumphrey’s German teacher. Both Pumphrey and the teacher could tell they weren’t going to get along with one another, said Pumphrey, so they made a deal.

Pumphrey could sit in the back of the class with a German-English dictionary as long as he didn’t disrupt class.

“The joke was on me though,” said Pumphrey. With two years of German under his belt he was expected to take the second year of German in college. He suffered through that class because he hardly learned any German in high school.

Once Pumphrey was done with high school, he began at Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City, Florida and then transferred to Florida State University (FSU) for a B.A. in English and a minor in Philosophy. Pumphrey wanted to earn his English degree in order to teach.

At the time Pumphrey transferred to FSU, his father lost his job, changing the course of Pumphrey’s life. It was then that Pumphrey found a job in a cabinet and architecture mill working in order to support himself and pay for college.

While working towards his English major, Pumphrey came to the realization that teaching wasn’t what he wanted to do. In many of the classes at FSU he found that students weren’t engaged or respectful to the professors. He wondered why anyone would want to spend their career with students that weren’t committed to learning.

After college, Pumphrey continued in wood working to support himself. He decided to start a small business that ended up requiring a contractor license. In order to get his license he took a class at Mayland Community College in Spruce Pine, North Carolina to prepare for the contractors exam.

According to Pumphrey, six months later the college asked him to teach the course. Eventually, Pumphrey agreed and enjoyed it a lot. He felt that the students were mature and willing to learn.

The job progressed to various positions as Director of Workforce Preparedness, Dean of Instruction, and Vice President of Instruction at a number of different community colleges. He ended up working for five years at Bellingham Technical College as the President. Then, on August 1, 2006 Pumphrey became the President of SPSCC.

His career as the President of SPSCC was “a natural progression,” said Pumphrey.

Much like his career, Pumphrey’s musical interest developed naturally as well. A band director visited Pumphrey’s elementary school recruiting children. Pumphrey thought that playing an instrument would be fun.

Ever since seventh grade, Pumphrey has played the oboe and later on, he learned the guitar. He also plays the flute, tin whistle, and mandolin.

Pumphrey’s middle school and high school band directors were like night and day. In middle school Pumphrey connected well with his band director. According to Pumphrey, he was fun and really loved to teach.

“He was the only man I knew who washed his records and hung them on a close line to dry,” laughed Pumphrey, ”I guess you could say he was very serious about music.”

Most Tuesday nights, Pumphrey plays at O’blarney’s irish pub from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. with a crew of music-loving performers.

Though his career keeps him busy, he has developed many other hobbies as well with the influence of his grandfather who “was an avid outdoorsman,” said Pumphrey.

Hunting, camping, and sailing the Puget Sound are things that Pumphrey enjoys doing but the list doesn’t end there. Pumphrey has become interested in photography as well.

“I mostly take pictures of wildlife, landscapes, and the great outdoors,” said Pumphrey.