Bob Dolphin, the longtime Fort Lewis College administrator who led buildout of the campus in the 1990s, died Saturday in Phoenix at the age of 84.
Dolphin first came to FLC in 1984 to serve as dean of the School of Business Administration. Two years later, he was named vice president of business and finance – leading the school to a balanced budget during a period of financial upheaval. He served as president of the school from 2002 to 2004.
“Dad always impacted every community he lived in for the better. He was very civic-minded,” said Chris Dolphin, his daughter.
Funding for construction on campus in the 1990s was secured by Dolphin, including the money to make the campus compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was particularly poignant for Dolphin who lost the use of his arms after contracting polio in the late 1940s just after graduating from high school.
Chris Dolphin said her father was an Indiana state champion wrestler and his immediate plan after high school was to wrestle for the University of Iowa with plans to become a dentist.
Nancy Dolphin, Bob Dolphin’s wife, said “He had a full-ride scholarship to the University of Iowa, but a few days before he was suppose to report, he was in an iron lung.”
Chris Dolphin said her father spent six weeks in an iron lung and his chest, back ad legs recovered, but he lost the use of both his arms.
After losing use of his arms, he conducted a career aptitude test with an occupational therapist who found Dolphin to be highly creative. The therapist suggested Dolphin become an artist painting postcards with a the brush clenched between his teeth, Chris Dolphin said.
Instead, Dolphin took a year off before entering college and visited people in various professions to determine, given his physical limitations, the career that would best suit him. He decided on accounting.
In eight years, he received an undergraduate degree in accounting, a master’s in business administration from Indiana University and a doctorate in finance from Michigan State University.
Before his arrival in Durango, Dolphin established Camp Riley, a summer camp in southern Indiana for handicapped kids and a hospice program in Dayton, Ohio.
Dolphin also served a stint as director of the United Way in Durango.
FLC Vice President of Finance and Administration Steve Schwartz said Dolphin was his mentor.
“He gave people confidence. He helped people discover they could do more than they thought they could,” Schwartz said.
Sitter Family Hall, FLC’s science building that opened its doors in 2017, Schwartz said, was originally a concept initiated by Dolphin.
“Bob was a visionary,” he said. “He could sit back and look at the college, whether it was facilities or systems – and he put a lot of financial control systems in place – and he could see it was people behind those facilities and systems that were the real assets of the institution.”
Nancy Dolphin said during his time on City Council and as mayor, her husband was most proud of his effort to rename Sixth Avenue to College Drive.
“It was a big thing,” she said. “People didn’t want to change the name of their street. But Bob’s point all along was: We have all these tourists coming to town, and they don’t even know we have a college here.”
Chris Dolphin said her father had suffered from post-polio syndrome the past five years, eventually having trouble walking and using a wheelchair. But up until the final month of his life, Chris Dolphin said, her father was comfortable and could get around to see people.
Bob Dolphin is survived by wife, Nancy; daughter, Chris Dolphin; son, William Dolphin; son-in-law, Jerry Safir; daughter-in-law, Michelle Newhart; five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A memorial service open to the public will be held in Durango at a time and location to be determined. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Fort Lewis College Foundation for the Bob Dolphin Business School Scholarship.