Pierce College Fort Steilacoom gives their final send-off to former president Denise Yochum
For what felt like a storm for the first time since 2020 began, it wasn’t raining.
Dim lights and classical music greets guests as they approach the Performance Lounge at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom’s campus. As the music swelled, a mixture of voices chatted and laughed amongst each other. Flowers and white tablecloths decorated the scenery, and the environment held a peaceful and inviting atmosphere.
It captured the essence of Pierce College’s former president, Denise Yochum, as faculty members from all around shared a final farewell together.
Pierce College Fort Steilacoom held a memorial ceremony for Yochum on Feb. 9, following her passing on Jan. 13. It’s a rare and cherished thing to be able to rejoice in times of sorrow. Many guests were given the opportunity to comfort one another and share memories of Yochum, during and after the ceremony.
Duncan Stevenson, director of District Athletics at Pierce, shared with the crowd Yochum wanted to be remembered through laughter and smiles, rather than through tears. “As always was the case with Denise, she was very clear with me,” Stevenson said. “‘Duncan, I know people will be sad, but I don’t want the day to be a somber one’.”
“‘I want people to hold onto the good memories, to celebrate the incredible life I was fortunate to live and the amazing people who became my dear friends.’”
Yochum started out her career at Big Bend Community College, where she served as the Dean of Arts and Science for six years. From there she became the vice president of instruction at Grays Harbor College for four more years before her path eventually brought her to Pierce College.
Yochum served as Pierce College’s president for 13 years before retiring January of 2019. She pioneered a number of projects on Fort Steilacoom’s campus and was a major contributor to the college’s growing success.
For those who’ve worked with Yochum personally however, the former president was more than just her work. To many faculty, Yochum remains a beloved part of Pierce College’s family.
“I was incredibly blessed to have the privilege of working with Denise,” Stevenson said. “During that time, she became my mentor, my sounding board, and most importantly, one of my best friends.”
As the memorial continued, those who spoke recalled traits Yochum possessed, which solidified her into the leadership role most faculty members knew her for. Mike Kelly, vice president of Grays Harbor College, recalled a few conversations that he’s had with Yochum in the past. “She had a way with words, and [could] talk to people very sophisticatedly,” Kelly said.
Bill Bounaudi, a retired president at Big Bend Community College, shared his personal feelings of Yochum’s magnetic and strong leadership skills, as well as her willingness to lead. “She came to the rescue, or as we called it – she drew the short straw,” Bounaudi said. “She wasn’t one to be deterred by minor obstacles.”
Bonaudi spoke how Yochum’s personality made it hard for her to go unnoticed. This included a time they were out, which he could hear her laughter from another area. “She was everything,” Bounaudi said. “Typical Denise. You always knew when she was around.”
As the event came to a close, a photo montage played moments of Yochum’s life. Music filled the room once again, and laughter was brought on with one another, some sitting in comfortable silence with their neighbor.
Many speakers at Yochum’s memorial were able to capture a piece of her in their own words. Whether it be from a reflection of themselves or through old memories they shared with Yochum. One voice stuck out the most amongst the crowd came from Phil Yates, the Pierce College Foundation director, officer, and governor.
Yates shared a story to the crowd which resonated with most attendees there. He recalled a time Yochum last visited the campus after retiring in 2019. Yates recalls Yochum being given a handcrafted crown as a gift, which she wore that day.
“I envision Denise now as wearing the golden crown on her head,” Yates said. “I think of her as a gem. One of a kind, irreplaceable; a precious, beautiful gem. The finest jeweler would be hard-pressed to find any flaws in that gem.”
What was shared that day still carries on in those who knew and loved her. Yochum may have passed on, but the treasured memories and evermore spirit lives on.