PULLMAN, Wash.—The recipient of the 2024 Emerita-Emeritus Society Legacy of Excellence Award is John C. Pierce, lifelong educator, author, researcher, and university administrator who maintains strong ties to faculty, friends, and the community” at Washington State University.

Pierce will present “My Research on American’s Democracy: From Herbert McClosky to Thomas Foley” at a ceremony Tues., March 26, at noon in CUE 518 on the WSU Pullman campus. The event is open and free to the public.

Pierce will also speak at the Foley Institute at noon Wed., March 27, in 308 Bryan Hall, with book co-author Kenton Bird, WSU alum in political science.

Pierce was nominated for the Society’s award by Nicholas Lovrich, last year’s awardee who has co-authored eight books with him. Lovrich will introduce Pierce on Tuesday.

“Receiving this award is wonderful and it means a lot to be recognized by people with whom I have worked for so many years,” said Pierce. “WSU is a special place, and I respect its commitment to its land-grant mission. Pullman is also special because it’s where my wife, Ardith, and I raised our kids.

“It’s always nice to feel like I’m coming home.”

As a professor and graduate faculty member, Pierce served as dean of the (then) WSU College of Liberal arts from 1986-1997 after being chair of the (then) Dept. of Political Science from 1976-1984. He came to WSU in 1973. He was a tenured professor in political science at Tulane University prior to WSU, and also served as a Congressional Fellow with the American Political Science Association in 1970-71.

Following many years in Pullman, the Pierce’s made their home in Colorado, Oregon, and Kansas, and now reside in Missouri. His current appointments reflect ongoing ties and service: Vice Chancellor (Academic Affairs) Emeritus and Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs; affiliate and graduate faculty at the School of Public Policy at Oregon State University in Corvallis; and adjunct research associate/affiliate professor and lecturer at the School of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Kansas at Lawrence. From 2003-2006, he served as executive director of the Oregon Historical Society.

For Pierce, education is the family business and community service is social capital—how he can further give back to society. With a Norwegian heritage, his parents taught as teenagers in a one-room schoolhouse in Nebraska before the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl forced them west to settle on a farm in Yelm in western Washington. His father died in his forties driving his milk truck; his mother had cooked for farm workers and volunteered on town projects.

Following high school graduation, Pierce went to the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma to study pre-law while remaining near his family. A research job led to a published paper on institutionalized juveniles, and that piqued his interest in research and writing in an academic setting.

The lure of a scholarship led him to the University of Minnesota, where he earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. in political science. A Congressional Fellowship with Idaho’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Frank Church and U.S. Speaker of the House Tom Foley, an eastern Washington Democrat, confirmed that “politics, democracy, and community” were to be the focus of his professional life.

“Those three topics are very important to me and resonated with my own values,” he said.

During his undergraduate years at the University of Puget Sound, Pierce met his wife of now 58 years, Ardith. Her family was from Kansas “close to my own roots in Nebraska, and we had many things in common, such as the fact that she valued education as much as I did and we were both in the Greek system.” Their first son, Forrest, was born in New Orleans, and their second, Lamar, in Pullman where they moved to be closer to both mothers in the Inland Northwest.

Ardith earned her master’s degree in elementary education and her Ph.D. in education administration. In Pullman, she taught and was principal at Jefferson and then Franklin elementary schools. Her service in education continued beyond their time in Pullman.

Additional members of the Pierce family—young grandchildren aside–also are deeply devoted to education. His sister, Muriel, was a special education expert at the University of Washington in Seattle and served in the Peace Corps in Turkey; she now lives in Massachusetts. Son Forrest is a music composer on faculty at the University of Kansas and the recipient of many international awards, while son Lamar holds an endowed professorship in Washington University in St. Louis and is an organizational ethics researcher.

In addition to hundreds of his own articles and essays, Pierce has published around 30 books/monographs/journal symposia; several are co-authored with WSU colleagues. Among his recent academic interests are alternative energy systems, immigration, and civility in state legislatures. Some of his publications, though, are on his personal passion: fly fishing. He is preparing a new book of essays, “Searching for Home, One Stream at a Time.”

“Will I write forever? I don’t know. With every book, I say ‘This has got to be my last.’ But the ideas for more just keep coming,” Pierce said.

Pierce’s WSU Emerita/Emeritus Society Legacy of Excellence Award is the latest in a long line of accolades. This particular award recognizes a professor emeritus who, in retirement, continues to make outstanding contributions to academia, the university, and the community. It has been presented every year but one since 2007.


By Bev Makhani