Doug McKeever: Solid as a Rock

by Gennette Cordova

Horizon Reporter

Whatcom Community College’s longest standing building is the Laidlaw Center, constructed in 1987. Its longest running sport is the intercollegiate basketball team, established in 1997. The longest existing piece of artwork on campus is the “Earth Mound with Trees,” erected in 1987, and the longest employed faculty member is Doug McKeever, hired in 1971.

The geology teacher, who will begin his fortieth year with the school next fall, was interested in geology and the outdoors long before he decided to go into teaching.

As a freshman at the University of Idaho, McKeever initially planned to major in forestry, but his focus quickly shifted to geology after he took a physical geography course his first semester.

“It was really fascinating,” said McKeever. “I’d been a climber and outdoorsman all my life. It was fun to learn about the things I was seeing all around me, and understanding them better.”

He transferred to Western Washington University his sophomore year, citing the university’s lack of a foreign language requirement as one of its appealing qualities. After graduating from Western and returning to the university as a graduate student, McKeever was approached about teaching geology part-time at night.

Though he initially declined, McKeever eventually decided to apply for the position at Whatcom, which he secured after outcompeting a peer and good friend of his for the spot.

In the fall of 1971, he began teaching at Whatcom. At the time, the school was “a college without a campus.” The school and its staff had originally committed itself to a decentralized campus due to a limited budget.

In Whatcom’s earlier years, classes were held in various borrowed, rented and leased facilities including the Blaine Air Force station and a remodeled Thriftway store. The college also utilized different high schools in the area, such as Ferndale High School, where McKeever taught his first class.

“In my first class I had eight people, said McKeever.  The oldest person was 84 and the youngest person was 14.  Two of the people in that class, who I still know, had a newborn baby who is 40 years old now.”

McKeever, whose favorite class to teach is his Natural Disasters course, has created and taught the curriculum of numerous geology classes over the years.

“I had a class called Geology for Gardeners, Homeowners and Landscapers,” said McKeever. “The name sounded like something out of the hippie era, which it was. So, I changed it to Applied Geology, but kept all of the same material.”

The geology teacher’s interest in the Earth is apparent in areas of his life beyond teaching. He built his own home in 1981, which he heated for 14 years using passive solar energy and wood gathered on his property. He has also been interested in mountaineering for most of his life.

McKeever has been climbing for over 48 years and plans to climb in the Cascade Mountains this summer. In the past he has climbed mountains in Mexico and Ecuador, as well as Mount McKinnley in Alaska, which is over 20,000 feet high. His future climbs include Mont Blanc in Europe, which is a two day climb.

“I don’t climb as much as I use to,” said McKeever. “I’ve gotten fat and sassy in my old age.”

As a charter member of Whatcom’s faculty, McKeever has seen the school change considerably, from the addition of a centralized campus to the changes in technology usage. What hasn’t changed throughout the years is his students’ appreciation for his enthusiasm in geology.

Terry Maiers, a Whatcom student from the ‘70s, tells of her experience as McKeever’s student in the book “Walking the Whatcom Way”, written by former Whatcom President Harold Heiner. In the book, which focuses on the history of Whatcom, Maiers describes McKeever as someone who lived what he taught. She recalls a time when he took his class in a plane to fly around Mt. Baker for a geology field trip.

Decades later, his students seem to share that same sentiment.

“It’s obvious that he really cares about what he’s teaching,” said Ben McCoy, 21, who had McKeever as a teacher last year. “His passion about the subject really shows.”

Another thing that has remained the same is how much McKeever truly enjoys teaching here at Whatcom.

“I look forward to coming here each day, even after almost 6,800 days on the job and over 70,000 miles commuting daily by bike,” said McKeever. “I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to work here and interact with thousands of students and fellow employees.”

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