West Hills President Don Warkentin named Lemoore Citizen of the Year

Don Warkentin and wife Betty
Don Warkentin and wife Betty
The Lemoore Chamber of Commerce, and its past Citizens of the Year, recently voted in a new member to that exclusive group. Don Warkentin, a Lemoore resident for 40 years and the President of West Hills College Lemoore, will be enshrined in January as the next Lemoore Citizen of the Year.

Warkentin will be inducted on Friday, January 24 in the West Hills College Lemoore Golden Eagle Arena, the very structure he helped come to fruition.

The Chamber also announced Monday that Stoney’s Sand and Gravel, a longtime Lemoore area business, was named the Chamber’s Business of the Year and the Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department earned honors as the Organization of the Year.

Warkentin, over the past four decades, has been involved in many community organizations, planning committees, and has served as one of Lemoore’s leaders in education and has helped to shape Lemoore into the spirited community it is today.

“I told them they made a big mistake,” he said when contacted by the Chamber of Commerce. “I couldn’t believe it and I was at a loss for words. It was really quite a surprise.”

Warkentin has always been a very visible member of the community, having arrived here in 1973 as a biology teacher for Lemoore High School. During his tenure at Lemoore High School, Don was also a football coach, baseball coach, athletic director, administrator, and principal of the continuation high school.

The Chico State grad and Vietnam veteran was instrumental in starting the Lemoore High School Athletic Foundation which helped provide financial support for all sports at LHS. In the '90s Don also was a member of the steering committee for the LHS General Obligation bond. With his guidance the bond passed and has helped LHS with numerous facility improvements including the building of a new swimming pool.

Warkentin moved up in the world, taking a job as an associate dean at West Hills College Lemoore in 1986. With the help and guidance of his leadership, the college has increased enrollment from 700 students in what once was a campus consisting of just portable buildings to over 4,400 students today, in one of the state’s newest community college sites.

He was a driving force in making WHCL an independent campus as well as building the Golden Eagle Arena and is currently overseeing the construction of a state of the art Student Center.

He has lead WHCL through two very successful accreditations as well as serving on 10 state accreditation teams to other colleges.

He has brought in community education classes; expanded vocational education programs to include the college’s nursing and culinary programs and has partnered with businesses in Lemoore and Hanford to provide a qualified work force.

Through Warkentin’s leadership the college has added eight athletic teams and has played host to community college state championships in soccer, wrestling, and golf.

As West Hills College president, Warkentin has been a driving force in bringing cultural events to the area in nationally recognized speakers such as Sarah Palin, former first lady Laura Bush, Dr. Cornell West, and most recently the home boxing debut of Olympian and professional boxer Jose Ramirez. He has offered the college as a venue for numerous organizations to hold conferences, workshops, job fairs, dinners, and graduations; all in the spirit of community partnership.

Warkentin also served 12 1/2 years on the Lemoore Union Elementary School Board, including a stint as board president. While on the board, Don was a revered and well-respected leader, and his experience in education proved to be most valuable to the District.

A few of his accomplishments included hiring a new superintendent, (Dr. Ron Meade), building Cinnamon Elementary School and the Liberty Middle School gymnasium; the acquisition of the district office property on 19th and Cinnamon, and the addition of the University Charter School.  Warkentin was a supporter and friend to both administration and faculty, all the while keeping the best interest and success of the students his primary goal.

Warkentin is also a member of the Kings County Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors. He was elected treasurer in November 2007 and has been on the Executive Board ever since. Now in his second term as Chairman of the Board, he has been a voice for economic development with a critical emphasis on the importance of training a skilled workforce, and has helped to facilitate the bridge between the community college system and businesses in our area through an emphasis on higher education opportunities for our area. Through this bridge between education and business, Warkentin has facilitated attraction of new business to our community and region.

Presently, Warkentin is the acting CFO for the Lemoore Chamber of Commerce. He is serving his second term and is actively involved in the day to day operations and events the Chamber conducts. As a member and past president of the Lemoore Kiwanis Club, he has helped to set up and arrange the floats for the annual Christmas Parade, and assisted in the coordination, along with the late Bill Henry, the annual Kings-Tulare County All Star High School Football game. This game is steeped in tradition and has been a customary event for several decades. 

Warkentin is also a member of the Lemoore Odd Fellows Club and supports other community service clubs such as the Lions and Rotary Clubs. Consequently, he has not missed a Rotary Crab feed in many years. In the 80s and 90s Warkentin served as a Deacon for the Lemoore Presbyterian Church, and as a lover of history, he supported the Lower Kings River Historical Society which restored many of the family cemeteries in our area.

Undoubtedly the most important act of service was his voluntary duty in the United States Army. Warkentin was a lieutenant in the Army during the Vietnam War, and as a platoon leader with the 25th Infantry Division, he was on the ‘front lines’ of the war. During his tour in Vietnam he received two Purple Hearts and still to this day has a chunk of shrapnel in his leg. He is a very proud Veteran and supports the VFW and other Veteran Organizations in our county. He has a soft spot in his heart for the many veteran students at the college.

Though his list of public service and achievements is quite extensive, Warkentin will tell you that the most rewarding role he has had is that of husband and father. When his children, Brooke and Steven, were young, he coached their little league softball and baseball teams and was always at their events cheering them on. He remains a constant source of support to his wife and children, and his strength never waivers. He has been, and always will be, a pillar in the community, a dedicated veteran and family man

The 2014 Citizen of the Year ceremony will be held at West Hills College Golden Eagle Arena on Friday, January 24 beginning at 6 p.m. with a social hour, followed by dinner at 7:30 p.m. and the program at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 per person if purchased before January 17. After January 17, the price is $65.

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