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Herns give OC a touch of class

POULSBO — John Hern has all kinds of stories about things he’s seen and done during his 22 years in Poulsbo.

Helping Viking Ave change and grow.

Being on the mayor’s “blue ribbon” committee.

Creating a thriving auto row from the ashes of a dead Ford dealership.

But there’s one subject that he clams up on immediately — a $65,000 donation he and wife Terri recently made to the Poulsbo branch campus of Olympic College.

“It was just something we did,” he said recently at the mention of the gift, a blush spreading over his face. “We didn’t do it for publicity.”

The recent donation is one of two large, local donations the campus recently received. The Poulsbo/North Kitsap Rotary made a donation of $100,000 earlier this month. Hern, owner of Courtesy Auto Group and a fellow Rotarian, said Terri and his decision to make a donation of their own was inspired by seeing the club make such a major commitment. The Herns pledged they would make a donation to the campus about five years ago but were waiting for the right time to write the check — namely, around the same time as the Rotary’s gift.

“All Rotary worked very, very hard to make this a reality,” Hern commented on the club’s gift. “Once we set our minds up to it, there’s 100 Rotarians who are the hardest working, best believers who will accomplish the project I’ve ever seen.”

The Herns’ donation was also sparked by their mutual love of education. Hern said growing up in a small town with few educational opportunities available made him appreciate the idea of a college branch campus in Little Norway.

“The number one thing for the next 10 to 15 years that Terri and I want to focus on is the education of all the young people coming up,” Hern said. “I don’t feel North Kitsap can get ahead if we can’t educate everybody and everybody has the educational facilities available to them.”

The $65,000 donation will create a technologically-advanced, interactive lecture hall on the campus — appropriately named Hern Hall. The couple was recently invited to tour the campus and see their namesake hall.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Hern said of the campus. “I like the design of what they’re doing on it. I think it’s going to be a beautiful campus. I can’t wait to see the next 20 years and what we can do out there.”

Hern also recently found another pleasant surprise waiting for him at the Poulsbo OC branch. The campus will house, at least on an interim basis, OC’s nursing program.

“The second thing I’m most interested in is medical. I’m hoping I live to see Harrison Hospital open a branch in North Kitsap,” Hern said. “Medical and education, these are the two most important things I’m going to work on.”

And while the $65,000 donation to OC is a major milestone for the new campus, it is just one part of a legacy of giving the Herns and Courtesy Auto Group have been leaving in the North Kitsap community for years. From scholarships and donations to classrooms, to sponsoring baseball and soccer teams and helping local civic organizations, the name Hern is synonymous with making things happen. Even Poulsbo’s famous Third of July festivities owe quite a bit to the Herns, as Courtesy Auto became the event’s sponsor in recent years. Hern said he doesn’t keep track of all the donations because, “That’s what you do.”

“You have to do things in the community. It’s just something I believe in that you have to give back, you have to set an example and I would hope that other people will get on the bandwagon and do the same things,” Hern said.

Hern added that Poulsbo has been kind to his family and his business the last 22 years. As he looks forward to son Rick (a third-generation auto man) carrying on the family tradition, Hern said he hopes for more successes to come. But with success comes responsibility, Hern said, and he always plans to step up to the plate.

“I’d like to leave this place when it’s my time with the feeling that it’s 10 times better when I leave than when I came here, then I’ll know I accomplished something,” Hern said.

“You get a great feeling right here when you do these things,” he added, tapping a finger against his heart. “That’s the enjoyment I get out of it.”

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