Community Remembers Local Scientist, Professor

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  • Bill Swaney, education department head for Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, discussed the legacy of former Salish Kootenai College professor Patricia “Pat” Hurley during a memorial ceremony on March 30. Hurley’s brother-in-law Robert Skaggs filmed the event. (Brett Berntsen/Lake County Leader)

Service honors legacy of Pat Hurley

Lake County Leader

Despite threatening skies and gusty winds, a crowd gathered outside Salish Kootenai College last week to celebrate the life of local scientist, educator and artist, Patricia “Pat” Hurley.

“She was the first woman I ever met that was a real scientist,” SKC President Sandra Boham said. “She was an inspiration. That legacy will live forever.”

The principal founder of the college’s environmental science program, Hurley died unexpectedly on March 16. Although Hurley retired in 2015, she left a lasting impression at the school which she helped build into one of the premier tribal colleges in the country.

“I know it’s sad and we all feel like there’s a hole,” said Bill Swaney a former SKC professor and the current education department head for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. “But I know how Pat would want us to celebrate and feel invigorated.”

Speakers took the podium to share many memorable moments from Hurley’s life, from her jalapeño pepper-eating prowess to a profound love of animals (which she often took to comical lengths).

SKC Founder and President Emeritus Joe McDonald said one of his earliest memories came when Hurley was leading a fish dissection class. After the anatomy lesson was finished, Hurley brought out her charcoal grill, providing students with an alternative viewpoint of conservation.

“That really made an impression on me,” McDonald said.

This focus on engagement was a staple of Hurley’s lectures.

“The student centered nature of this institution was largely due to her influence,” SKC Professor Dr. Tim Olson said.

Growing up in the American Southwest, which likely contributed to her fondness for spicy peppers, Hurley eventually made her way to the Mission Valley where she became a pillar of the community.

“I see her fingerprints all over this valley,” Hurley’s brother-in-law Robert Skaggs said.

Such respect for nature is reflected in Hurley’s science as well as her artwork. And, as more than one speaker pointed out, the feeling may have been mutual.

“I guess she’s up there right now because we did get some blue sky,” Skaggs said, noting that forecasts had called for a 100 percent chance of rain.


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