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BMCC dean left legacy of kindness

Kathy Aney

East Oregonian

Published on February 15, 2018 4:28PM

Last changed on February 15, 2018 10:35PM

Gene Ann McLean, shown here at her retirement party in 1997, shaped the lives of numerous Blue Mountain Community College Students.

Contributed photo

Gene Ann McLean, shown here at her retirement party in 1997, shaped the lives of numerous Blue Mountain Community College Students.

Gene Ann McLean as a young woman.

Contributed photo

Gene Ann McLean as a young woman.

Professional cowboy Brad Goodrich won’t soon forget his college advisor, Gene Ann McLean.

Goodrich arrived at Blue Mountain Community College in the late 1980s with college rodeo on his mind, but not much else. McLean pushed him to get to class, tracked his grades and made him ponder life beyond rodeo. When the teenager found himself without a place to stay, she took him in.

Goodrich said McLean’s unique blend of encouragement and discipline was impossible to resist.

“She kept everyone in line,” Goodrich said. “She was good at motivating you to take care of your business.”

McLean, who died on Feb. 9 at age 80, had plenty of fans besides Goodrich. Many of them gathered Thursday in BMCC’s Bob Clapp Theatre to celebrate her life. They remembered her grace, sass, patience and the red lipstick she always wore.

McLean came to BMCC in 1965 to teach French and serve as dean of women, and later as director of student activities. As part of her duties, McLean advised athletes on the school’s rodeo team, but didn’t limit her influence to tête-à-têtes about academic progress. She attended rodeos, cooked team meals, rode herd and acted as a second mom.

Pat Beard, an assistant coach for the team in the ’80s, said many of the cowboys had left their hometowns and ranches for the first time to go to college.

“They were, in some ways, ill prepared socially,” said Beard, who now manages the Pendleton Convention Center. “She bucket raised a lot of boys on the rodeo team. She was a little bit mother hen, a little bit confidante. Without her, a lot of them wouldn’t have made it.”

McLean, he said, “mothered more rodeo champions than anyone in the world.”

Her orb extended beyond the rodeo team, he said, as “she was handed down from graduating class to graduating class.”

Mike Beers, who went on to rope and bulldog professionally after his time on the BMCC rodeo team, credits McLean for keeping him on track academically.

“If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have made it through school,” he said.

BMCC Foundation Director Margaret Gianotti, a friend and colleague, said McLean was strict but driven by kindness. Gianotti said McLean co-founded BMCC’s annual community Christmas Eve dinner.

“She made sure they used real linens and glass plates — she wanted people to feel like it was a four-star dining experience,” Gianotti said. “She found people in need to attend.”

Goodrich got a front-row seat to the ways of McLean during the almost two years he lived under her roof. Routinely, when he got home from rodeo practice, sometimes at 11 p.m., he found her asleep on the couch like a worried parent waiting for him to return.

“I’d go take a shower,” he said. “When I came out, she’d have dinner ready at the dining room table.”

Years later, McLean helped with food at Goodrich’s wedding.

At yesterday’s memorial service, a tube of McLean’s favorite shade of red lipstick sat in a display, along with photos, her favorite apron and her white gloves. During a time of open remarks, BMCC graduate Rex Baker described a prank involving McLean’s cherished green Volkswagen Bug. Baker and his fellow pranksters disabled the car, gave her a ride home after she couldn’t start the engine and promised to get it running.

Instead, under cover of darkness, they later removed the center post of one of the doorways of Pioneer Hall, drove the car into the hallway and parked in front of her office. The next morning, a secretary put a ribbon and bow on the vehicle. BMCC President Ron Daniels placed a tongue-in-cheek note on the windshield, which Baker paraphrased to best of his memory: “Gene Ann, while I realize that you’re unhappy with your present parking situation, I must point out that these subtle hints are of little help.” McLean, aghast, ordered her car removed “before the newspaper gets here.”

Grinning at the memory, Baker’s expression sobered as he expressed gratitude toward his former advisor.

“She mothered me, bossed me, fed me, educated me and made me realize my self-worth and intelligence,” Baker said. “She is a big part of everything in me that is good. God speed, G.A.”

Before and after her retirement in 1997, McLean volunteered in the community and served on the Arts Council of Pendleton board.

McLean and many of the students she nurtured stayed in touch over the years. She watched many of her cowboys compete at the Pendleton Round-Up. Goodrich won the all-around title there in 2004. Beers, a world champion roper who was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2003, won the steer roping title in Pendleton in 2004.

Neither will forget McLean.

“She was a legend. …” Gianotti said. “She really made a footprint here.”


Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0810.


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