Gullickson brings a mother’s fierce love and determination to leading Germanna thru pandemic
By Michael Zitz
Janet Gullickson is one tough mother.
Since she arrived at Germanna Community College in 2017 as its first woman president, she’s been a can-do, no-nonsense, find-a-way-to-make-it-happen president, focused like a laser beam on what needs to be done to make GCC all it can be.
Enrollment soared, as did fundraising.
Now, she’s confronted with the darkest moment in Germanna’s 50-year history. The pandemic may hurt both enrollment and fundraising at GCC– and just about every other college —and could result in funding cuts by the state legislature. It also forced the cancelation of Germanna’s annual Monte Carlo Night event in Culpeper that raised $700,000 last year.
More than anything else, she worries about her students at Germanna. Many work to support a family and put themselves through school, often doing front-line jobs that put them at risk.
Germanna has begun a program that helps connect students affected by the pandemic with services and funding.
She worries about all the Germanna nursing and health career graduates who are headed to the pandemic’s front lines.
Those who know her know she always finds a way to pull those she loves through—and she dearly loves Germanna’s students.
Gullickson grew up on a livestock and grain farm in South Dakota that her great-grandparents homesteaded. She tells this story about the kind of stock she comes from:
A Native American man was drowning in a river near the farm. Her great-grandfather jumped in to save him and drowned.
When the terrible news was brought to her great-grandmother, who was laboring on the farm, she bit her lip and said to her five children, “We’ve got chores to do,” and forged ahead.
Gullickson inherited some of that steely determination, but her heart isn’t frontier flint–and an iron will and a soft heart make for about the strongest combination there is.
Her truth is not in the story of her great-grandmother. It’s in the story of her adopted son Gus Simonton. It paints a portrait of a woman—and a mother—who’s clear-eyed, persistent and deeply caring.
When she and her husband decided to start a family, her first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.
Then their birth daughter Allison Marvasti was born.
Then there were two more miscarriages.
“Like all things, when one door shuts, people of faith look for an alternative,” Janet says. “The door kept shutting,” she says, “So we looked at adoption. We really wanted to adopt internationally.”
Gullickson and her husband decided to adopt through their church program from Colombia, South America. They ran into one obstacle after another and finally traveled to Colombia. “Those people who have adopted know there’s tons of frustration involved,” she says. “Delay and hurry up.”
“At that point we were able to get our son, Caesar Augusto… He had been left in the last stages of starvation before death in a hospital in Colombia. We don’t even know the date he was born.”
After he recovered from malnutrition he had been sent to a series of foster homes. When Gullickson met him he was about 14 months old and didn’t walk or talk. Occupational, physical and speech therapy followed. By the third grade he was testing considerably above average in all subjects. However, he continued to overcome a sense of loss and depression related to his abandonment as a baby.
At age 30, Augusto, now known as Gus, still calls Gullickson his “forever mother” who has always pulled him back onto the right path when things went awry. He always knew that was love and says he was never treated differently than his sibling.
His sister Allison says that Gus’ heritage made the outside world’s reality far more difficult for him than for her.
Gullickson became keenly aware of that. “He brought me to an awareness I never would have had,” she says. “I learned what mothers of children of color feel when their children are judged by others. I have enormous respect for parents of children of color as I know their constant fear.”
“He was very loving,” she says. “He wanted love. He gave love. We were just thrilled to have him.”
Gus credits Gullickson with convincing him to leave a job he disliked in Denver and bringing his young family to Washington state, to go to school at Spokane Community College. There he was trained to be a pneumatics-hydraulics technician.
Gullickson’s sister, Darnelle Nelson, jokes that Jan drove to Denver, “kidnapped” Gus and his family and brought them to Spokane. They lived with Gullickson and her husband, Bobby Farmer, for almost a year.
When one door closes, she says, another always opens.
It’s a pretty safe bet that if the pandemic closes two doors, Janet Gullickson will pry at least that many open with midwestern grit and a deep love for Germanna, its students, employees and the communities it serves.
Michael Zitz works in media relations and public affairs at Germanna.