|Bill Verbeck receives honorary degree from|
Scott Herrin, Cuyamaca College interim vice
president of instruction; Chancellor Cindy
Miles and board president Bill Garrett applaud.
As the late-afternoon sun began to set, the smiling octogenarian accepted the honorary associate of arts diploma from Governing Board President Bill Garrett during Thursday’s commencement ceremony at Cuyamaca College. It was the first conferred in the history of the college district.
Wearing the customary cap and gown, Verbeck waved from his wheelchair to acknowledge the standing ovation given to him by the more than 600 Class of 2015 graduates and their family and friends.
Garrett said he was proud to bestow the award on the Spring Valley resident who inspired, mentored, and supported so many in the community.
“I am pleased to honor his lifetime of work and dedication and how unselfishly he uses his gifts to serve the needs of others,” Garrett said.
Chancellor Cindy Miles cited Verbeck’s professional accomplishments and outstanding service to students and the community.
A successful businessman, Verbeck is well known as the owner of Grossmont Escrow in La Mesa, an enterprise he took over after coming to San Diego from his native Nebraska to operate a printing business.
“Mr. Verbeck has given back to East County and become an integral part in the success of many of our civic organizations, including the Foundation for Grossmont & Cuyamaca College, the Water Conservation Garden at Cuyamaca College, and the Boys & Girls Club of East County,” Miles said. “He has a strong passion for mentoring and unselfishly shares his talents in business with his staff members, who constantly praise his work in their testimonials. He is also generous with his time and expertise in providing internships and jobs for high school and college students interested in pursuing careers in business.”
Despite all of his success, Verbeck always regretted not getting a college degree, she added.
“We want to recognize him today for his entrepreneurialism and social responsibility by presenting him with this honorary degree,” she said.
Verbeck said he had looked forward to the day with excitement.
"I am grateful for this award. I am humbled and honored to receive it," he said.
The 87-year-old widower, whose wife of 64 years, Norma Mae, died of cancer in April 2012, has donated or pledged a fortune to various East County causes. In addition to the college district’s foundation, they include the Grossmont Hospital Foundation, Home of Guiding Hands, the Jarrett Meeker Foundation, the Boys & Girls Clubs of East County, and scores of local high school scholarships.
Commendations and plaques cover the walls of Verbeck’s home. A ceremonial shovel used in the official groundbreaking for a new Heart and Vascular Center at Sharp Grossmont Hospital – a center in which Verbeck and two other philanthropists contributed a combined $3 million – stands against the corner of a wall in a back office. He has been praised by local mayors, county supervisors, state lawmakers and college presidents, but Verbeck brushes aside the accolades as unnecessary.
The farmer’s son raised on a 160-acre plot of wheat and corn said modestly that he didn’t think he’s done anything more than any other person in his circumstances would have.
“It's all about helping people. If you’re in the position where you could help people, then you should help,” he said.
Verbeck, who got his start by investing money his father had given him when he returned to Nebraska after serving in the Air Force, had the Midas touch when it came to business. Starting with a restaurant and moving on to other business enterprises, including printing, and developing a security system, he eventually bought Grossmont Escrow, where his wife had worked for years.
Verbeck, who is suffering from congenital heart failure, is thankful he’s been able to affect so many lives in a positive way. But he’s not done sharing his wealth for worthy causes.
“I came into the world with no clothes, no money, no possessions, and I kind of expect to go out that way,” he said.