Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson poses with Carmento Floyd, the wife of Elson S. Floyd, the former Washington State University president who died nearly two years ago. Stephanson was given the inaugural Elson S. Floyd Award on Thursday at Tulalip Resort & Casino. (Contributed photo)

A mayor, a college president and the phone call that landed WSU

TULALIP — Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson recalled making the pitch Sept. 4, 2009, cold-calling then-Washington State University President Elson S. Floyd.

An effort to land a branch campus of the University of Washington had gone sideways. Stephanson talked to Floyd about bringing WSU to Everett, how it could help middle- and low-income families who couldn’t afford to send their children away to college.

“Almost immediately, I had him hooked, I knew I had him hooked,” Stephanson said. “Elson was about bringing education to people who needed it, who were the first in their family to go to college. He knew that it could change their lives in a significant way.”

Those first discussions led to the creation of what is now Washington State University North Puget Sound, which is about to open an anchor campus building in north Everett in August.

Floyd died two years ago of complications of colon cancer. His wife, Carmento Floyd, described the conversations from the other end of the line.

“When Elson started on this journey to have another campus in Everett, Washington, I can remember numerous times when there were phone calls from your Ray Stephanson. They didn’t sound like they were going too well many times. It was apparent there were issues they needed to work through.

“Sometimes it was political. Sometimes it was financial,” Carmento Floyd said. “It was always something. But I can remember Elson sitting there at the end of the conversation. He always had a sense of peace about what happened and what they had accomplished.”

Stephanson and Carmento Floyd spoke about these early talks at a luncheon Thursday of Economic Alliance Snohomish County. At the meeting, the mayor received Economic Alliance’s inaugural Elson S. Floyd Award for honoring visionary leadership. Several hundred people were in attendance at the Tulalip Resort & Casino.

Carmento Floyd thanked Economic Alliance for creating the award.

“I have to tell you when I got the call, I was so astonished and so emotional about it,” she said. “When they asked if I could possibly come, I couldn’t imagine any place I would rather be right now. I thank you very much for honoring Elson.”

Economic Alliance also honored Tina Kuna, giving her the John M. Fluke Sr. Award. She’s the co-founder of Dream Dinners, a meal assembly business that started in Snohomish with franchises around the U.S. The business supports the nonprofit Living the Dream Foundation, which focuses on feeding families.

She said she has been blessed with a supportive family and business partner, staff and franchise owners who have helped “spread the mission of growing great kids especially around the dinner table where we think the magic happens.”

Everett’s retired executive director of government affairs Pat McClain was honored with the Henry M. Jackson Award. McClain worked on several major projects for the city during his tenure, including helping attract WSU to Everett.

“I accept this on your behalf,” McClain told the crowd. “None of this happens in a community without teamwork and tenacity. In teamwork, I’d like to recognize those who invest and fund, thank you. To those who speak out, thank you. To those who write, thank you. To those who host, thank you. To those who vote, thank you.”

The city of Everett’s public health and safety director, Hil Kaman, was also recognized for winning the Emerging Leader award from The Herald Business Journal.

WSU in Everett would never have happened without the support of the community, businesses and other higher education institutions including Everett Community College, Carmento Floyd told the crowd. She singled out for praise McClain, current Chancellor Paul Pitre and former Chancellor Bob Drewel.

“Bob, there’s something else you have that Elson respected,” she said. “Bob has the largest Rolodex in the state of Washington and Elson knew he needed that Rolodex.”

The friendship that developed between Stephanson and Floyd grew almost as big as the campus, Floyd said.

“When Elson announced his illness and his needing to step down, I know who came first and I know who stood by him and that included Ray,” she said. “I appreciated that.”

When they were working to secure money to bring WSU to Everett, Floyd was a rock star when he met with lawmakers in Olympia, Stephanson said.

“I won’t tell you all of the stories and all of the plots that Elson and I cooked up, because you wouldn’t believe it,” Stephanson said. “He and I shared what could be and what could happen. We weren’t much about the details. That’s why we had Pat and Bob and Paul. They were the guys who could help us get it done.”

Stephanson joked that he and McClain are riding off into the sunset and they would start up an “Irish-Icelandic bar. I’ll do the finances and he’ll be the barkeep.”

Stephanson urged the crowd to continue supporting and advocating for WSU in Everett. So far, 163 students have graduated from North Sound campus including 70 this past spring. Students from WSU’s medical school will arrive in Everett this fall and eventually train in the community.

“This medical school is going to be huge, this campus is going to grow,” Stephanson said. “I’ve said this and I hope I’m going to see it in my lifetime. This campus is going to be bigger than Pullman someday. It will be.”

Jim Davis: 425-339-3097; jdavis@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @HBJnews.

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