Dr. John M. Eaton, founding president of West Shore Community College, died on December 23. He was 94.
He came to West Shore in 1967, from Cochise College in Douglas, Arizona, where as founding dean of instruction, he hired the school’s first faculty and developed its curriculum and academic standards. That experience served him well in his role as West Shore’s first president in creating and developing the college. When he looked across the fields and woods of the would-be campus, he said in a 2016 interview, “I saw all sorts of possibilities there. The woods by the stream, the pine trees on the west side, the open field where we could plant buildings – it was like a dream.”
The first permanent building constructed there, the Student Services Center, now the Administrative and Conference Building, was the fulfillment of Eaton’s wish the building be student-centered, a welcoming space that provided for their needs.
The students were always Eaton’s priority, and he assembled a faculty that would prepare them well for employment or senior institutions. He traveled the U.S. interviewing potential instructors, seeking dynamic experts in their fields who possessed the pioneering attitude and enthusiasm necessary to help shape the new college. “The first faculty and staff hit the ground running because John Eaton chose them so well,” said Judy (Claerr) Caldwell, one of Eaton’s first faculty hires. “He saw in people potential they themselves didn’t see. He nurtured those qualities and used them to benefit West Shore and the faculty members themselves.”
He established academic goals and missions that ensured students a well-rounded education and that have endured at WSCC for more than 50 years.
Under Eaton’s guidance, West Shore’s practical nursing program was established – despite doubt by state officials that such a program could function before a campus existed. He recognized the importance of the ability to write effectively, and he urged faculty to assign research papers and essays in courses across the curriculum, and English Composition I remains a requirement for every college program. He brought drama, dance, music, film, and the literary arts to West Shore and in 2017, recalled, “My liberal arts exposure provided me with an appreciation for the arts and humanities. It was my goal to provide West Shore students, and the communities of the college district, exposure to more than what is now referred to as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).”
Social science professor Hal Berry found in Eaton a mentor who supported the innovative projects he proposed for the college’s theater department. “John Eaton encouraged young educators trying to find their role in the world,” said Berry. “He made us all feel that we were a family, a community that together would make this experiment work.”
That experiment became a successful college, a place of learning, optimism, and hope. Under his leadership, fields and woodlands were transformed into a thriving institution serving students and the greater community.
When Eaton’s term as president ended in 1983, he and his wife moved to Arizona and started an educational consulting firm, focusing on learning styles and brain behavior. He served as director of the University of Arizona branch campus in Sierra Vista, Ariz., then as executive director of the Cochise College Foundation, and was elected to the Cochise College Governing Board.
But his love for West Shore never waned, and he returned in 2017 to participate in the college’s 50th anniversary. That spring he joined all West Shore presidents, past and present, at the commencement ceremony.
Current West Shore president Scott Ward stated: “Dr. Eaton’s vision for WSCC is embodied in the campus facilities that we enjoy but, more importantly, in the service we provide to students and the community. I was blessed to spend time with Dr. Eaton over the last several years and witnessed his continued passion for the college and our mission. He was very proud of the service the college has continued to provide for over 50 years.
“The greatest honor to his legacy is to continue forward movement on our mission.”
That legacy is tangible on the West Shore campus in the John M. Eaton Boardroom and John Eaton wing of the Administration and Conference Building, the Mary and John Eaton Scholarship Endowment Fund. His legacy also includes the countless students, instructors, and members of the West Shore community who were influenced by his love for education, his high standards, and his friendship.