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Linda Herrera: Retired, but not gone for good

Linda Herrera. Photo by Megan Stewart

Linda Herrera has strolled Chemeketa Community College’s halls longer than many of the students with whom she interacts have been alive. Now, 31 years later, her reign as one of the most familiar faces at Chemeketa is coming to a close.

On June 29, Herrera officially retired from her position as the Diversity and Equity Officer, which she held for four years. She will continue as a part-time employee, working 15 hours per week on miscellaneous projects until the college no longer needs her help. Since starting at Chemeketa in 1987, she has played numerous roles, from her first position as part-time reading companion to the elderly, to her second-to-last career endeavor as the Dean of Academic Development.

No matter what job she had, however, Herrera’s focus has always been on the people she serves.

“Her service to the college and campus community has been an inspiration to many students in completing a degree or certificate, and in fulfilling their dreams and goals,” wrote Linda Ringo-Reyna, in her recommendation letter to the Chemeketa AAWCC Excellence Award Selection Committee.

In 2015, Herrera was one of 16 female community college employees to receive the American Association for Women in Community Colleges’ Excellence Award.

“Linda has nurtured hundreds of talented students during her career as an educator at Chemeketa Community College. She has assisted students to be responsible and productive working adults in our community,” wrote Ringo-Reyna.

Herrera and Ringo-Reyna, Chemeketa’s Multicultural Student Services Coordinator, have been close friends for 19 years, when Ringo-Reyna joined the staff ranks.

“She and I hit it off the first time we met, and our working relationship blossomed into a sister-friend relationship,” Ringo-Reyna wrote in an email.

Ringo-Reyna remembers that back when Herrera was the director of Chemeketa’s College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), she used to invite all the students involved and their parents to campus for a meal at the beginning of the year. Later, she’d call each student to the front to honor and thank them for selecting Chemeketa as their school, transitioning between English and Spanish so everyone could understand. At the end of the year, she hosted a similar CAMP graduation, where she encouraged parents to share stories about their child’s academic journey.

“[It] was phenomenal to experience the testimony of the parents,” wrote Ringo-Reyna.

Perhaps it was Herrera’s background that helped her know how best to treat these first generation students and their families.

“I came from very humble beginnings,” said Herrera.

Born to migrant parents, Herrera spent much of her childhood working in sugar beet fields in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

“That’s how I started. I remember working in the fields, and the rows were so long, like, I thought they were miles long…it was really hot, and I remember looking at that and saying, ‘I do not want to do this for the rest of my life.’”

She found hope for a better future in school, and it is for that reason that she continues to encourage students with similar struggles to get an education.

One of her many sponsored projects at the college was Chemeketa’s “Hold Fast to Dreams” essay contest, which asked current students to discuss these obstacles.

“I believe we can get students here, but it’s really easy to get discouraged, right? So, as a student, we can get here, we’re excited at first to be here, and then life happens, and it’s really easy just to give up. Especially if you don’t have someone that you can talk to or someone to kind of encourage you,” said Herrera.

“I was hoping that when they wrote their story that they would say, ‘Wow, look at what I’m doing…Look at how far I’ve come. Look at what I’m doing now. I’m in college.’”

Even after she finishes up her part-time stint, Herrera plans to keep the contest going.

“She has made it her life work to advocate for and support others, especially those who have historically been denied access to education and services,” said Julie Huckestein, Chemeketa’s president and Herrera’s former supervisor.

Another one of Herrera’s accomplishments was helping get the ‘preferred name’ measure adopted at the college. Since its enactment, students and faculty can request to go by a name different from their legal one.

Though most might consider this a move just for the transgender community, Herrera says the change actually positively affects everyone. Every person associated with the college can switch or alter their names with ease for whatever reason, if so desired.

As the Diversity and Equity Officer, Herrera continually strove to consider the entire Chemeketa population, in addition to minority members, when she advocated for policy change.

She said she often had to sit down with Chemeketa’s president and executive leaders and ask, ‘‘Hey, have you all thought about this? Or that? How does this benefit our students? How does this benefit our community? How does it benefit our employees? How can we make it so that, yes, we have access for everyone, but also so we have equity?”

She cited the American Disability Act as an example of how laws can do just that, specifically the aspect requiring government-funded public places to install automatic door openers.

“Well, if you think about it, how many times have you used that [button], or have I used that because my arms are full, right? In the end, it’s something we had to do by law, but it really benefits everyone,” said Herrera.

Cultivating inclusivity is what makes retirement from her job difficult.

“I will miss doing that type of work, but I will continue to do it in other ways,” Herrera said.

Herrera already has plans to continue writing grants, serving on community boards, and helping the Salem area anyway she can, all while utilizing the skills she’s gained over the years.

But why retire now?

Because Herrera’s now eligible. A Tier 1 retirement candidate who meets both ‘either or’ categories, Herrera has worked at Chemeketa for 30 plus years and lived for a total of 58.

She also feels it is time to move on.

“I think, for me, really, I wanted to do something different,” Herrera said.

“I felt like I’ve already given Chemeketa all I could. I feel like it’s time for me to help in a different way. And the only way I can really do that is not to be at Chemeketa … as a private citizen, I can do whatever I want, right?”

So, this isn’t a final goodbye then?

“I don’t think it is,” Herrera said with a smile.

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