One of Green River Community College’s biggest supporters isn’t an alumnus. In fact, he didn’t even go to college.
Dan Zgolinski, 94, is a longtime friend of Green River. A scholarship he started has helped 36 students pay tuition there, and his years (1991-98) on the college’s fund-raising arm, the GRCC Foundation Board of Directors, have helped garner important funds.
Now, his name will be connected to the school’s new Zgolinski Welcome Center, due to the $800,000 he gave to ensure students find a helping hand as soon as they walk through the college doors.
He said his generosity and good attitude stems primarily from his Christian faith, and it has led to a long and happy life. He remains upbeat and quick-witted, despite a recent broken hip.
“I try to make people happy around me,” he said. “I always have a smile on my face. I try to look for the good, not the bad, and I’ve had a happy life.”
The Zgolinski-GRCC relationship started with his participation in a golf fund-raiser for the school.
“I really wanted to start a scholarship program somewhere, and when I played in the tournament and saw how nice the people were at Green River, I thought this was the place to do it,” he said.
The south King County-area native, now living in Kent, graduated from Renton High School but never went to college, instead serving in the Navy during World War II before starting his career. His many years working at Sears Roebuck, where he stayed until his retirement, taught him the importance of having a higher education.
“I didn’t have a college education, but I would train these people coming in who did but were less experienced than me,” Zgolinski said. “Pretty soon, they would be in management positions over me. I began to see having a college education allows you to get to the top.”
He endowed the Dan and Helen Zgolinski Scholarship in 1988 to help students pay for an education. Several are now nurses and teachers, and one is an architect, he said.
After one of his would-be scholarship recipients dropped out because of a lack of counseling, he gave $800,000 (matched by public funds) to develop the $1.6 million Welcome Center, which provides personal assistance with the college-entry process and connections to services and academic advising.
“The student registers there, and they have counselors right there to guide them through their education to help them reach their goals,” Zgolinski said.
GRCC formally dedicated the center June 2, honoring the man who made it possible by naming it after him.
“Dan is a man of action,” said GRCC president Rich Rutkowski. “He doesn’t just talk about getting something done. He does it.”
“You’ve got to provide an avenue for kids these days to have a good education and get good jobs, so we have a strong community,” Zgolinski said.