BAKER CITY — When Daniel Koopman arrived in Baker City in August 2015 to become the Baker County director of Blue Mountain Community College, smoke darkened the sky and hung over the town.
It was the summer of the Cornet-Windy Ridge blaze that torched nearly 104,000 acres south of Baker City, including homes and outbuildings in the Stices Gulch area.
“That was really rough,” Koopman said of his first month in his new position.
But he was happy to be in the community where his father, Calvin H. “Bud” Butts, lived until his death at the age of 86 in September of last year. Butts had grown up in the Halfway area, but moved away as an adult. He returned to Baker City in the early 1990s to retire and spent the rest of his life in the community.
Koopman is proud of his heritage as a fifth- or sixth-generation Oregonian. His father’s adopted family came West in 1845. He’s proud of his “deep roots” in the history and traditions of the state and Baker County.
Now that his dad is gone, Koopman is leaving for a while on a new adventure, he says.
But he plans to be back. The 60-year-old says he’ll return to his property at the base of Hunt Mountain in six to eight years.
This week, he’s starting a new position at Southwestern Community College in Coos Bay where he’ll serve as dean of the college’s Career and Technical Education program.
Koopman, who began his employment with BMCC in 2010, worked in the same role at Blue Mountain for a number of years before taking the Baker City director’s job for the college. From 2010 to 2015 he also served as associate vice president of instruction on the Pendleton campus.
As part of that job he served for two years as dean of Correctional Education. In that role he was the administrator for the prison education programs for inmates at the Powder River Correctional Facility in Baker City, Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton and Two Rivers Correctional Institution at Umatilla.
He completed his doctorate in Adult and Higher Education at the University of South Dakota in 2015 just before moving to Baker City.
He recalls telling his supervisor back in 2013 that if the Baker City director’s job ever came open, he’d be interested in order to be closer to his aging father.
“The opportunity came when I least expected it,” he says.
Koopman was eager to become a part of the Baker City community once he made the move in 2015. In addition to his day job, he also served as a Baker City Police reserve officer and volunteered with the Baker City Lions Club and the Baker County Chamber of Commerce Board. He served as the 2018 chamber board president.
Koopman says because of his devotion to the Lions Club and the good work its members do, he intends to retain his Lions Club membership and support the group in any way possible while he’s away these next few years.
Looking over the past four years of his work in Baker City, Koopman points to innovative programs he’s supported to help students succeed.
“By helping students embrace distance and videostreamed education, we have helped them complete a degree in two years,” he says.
The Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer degree allows students to pursue bachelor’s degrees at any Oregon university as juniors and the one-year Oregon Transfer Module transfers entry level classes to any Oregon four-year university.
BMCC also offers a variety of career pathway certificates, one-year certificates and two-year associate of applied science degrees ranging from accounting technology to construction trades, criminal justice and diesel technology.
“What an absolute honor this has been,” Koopman says of his time in Baker City. “The individual students I’ve met along the way have been absolutely heartwarming and to see more of our students finish in a timely manner and to bring more resources than we thought we could when I started.”
While the college had once hoped to move the Baker program into a new building, that plan has been put on hold. The focus has moved to making the investment to upgrade the current BMCC Baker City center at 3275 Baker St. on the west side of town, Koopman said.
As he looks to the future of the Baker City program, Koopman hopes to see BMCC work more closely with the Baker School District.
“We hope to collaborate with 5J to the point that we have a steady stream of 5J students here,” Koopman said. “I am immensely hopeful that we can see an increase in collaboration so families can make well-informed decisions to help them save money when it’s time to go to college.”