Wildcat alum represents passion for CWU on the road

  • December 6, 2023
  • Robin Burck

Two-time Central Washington University graduate and former alumni association board member Dan Ford is a Wildcat through and through.

Ford was a first-generation college student who decided CWU would be a good fit for him since it was close to his home in Selah. While enrolled as a student, starting in 1982, he quickly found that Central cares about personal connections and relationships.

“During summer quarter, I met one of the most influential instructors in my early life, Professor Marco Bicchieri,” Ford said. “There was an error in the registration information, which made me miss a couple of weeks of his class, and Professor Bicchieri contacted me and provided me with a tutor to catch up. It spoke to that one-on-one involvement between instructors and students that Central is known for. That influence never left me and later served to be a reminder that Central was interested in my success.”

Ford ended up transferring to Yakima Valley Community College and entering the workforce before deciding to return to CWU several decades later. Not only did Ford fulfill his dream of obtaining a bachelor’s degree in ITAM from CWU in 2013; he also earned his master’s degree in administrative management in 2016.

dan-ford-alum-2a.jpeg“Central is a school that wants its students to be successful and is willing to take the extra steps to make that happen,” said Ford, who currently works for the City of Toppenish in a variety of roles, including assistant city manager. “The instructors are not only approachable; they are some of your biggest cheerleaders.”


From being the first in his family to attend college to having a family of Wildcats, Ford’s son also attended Central and worked as a campus tour guide, while his daughter graduated with her degree in construction management. He says those experiences deepened his appreciation for Central even more.

Looking back over the course of his collegiate career, Ford recalls a conversation with a fellow Wildcat years before returning to CWU that influenced his aspiration to reconnect. 

“During the ‘in-between-years’ when I was away from Central, I had a chance meeting with Mr. Darwin Nelson, who, if I remember correctly, was on the CWU Alumni Board,” he said. “I don’t remember the entire conversation, but he asked when I graduated, and I told him I had not. He suggested I could still be on the alumni board, and in that way still be a part of the university, if I had a certain number of credits. That helped fuel my desire to return when the opportunity presented itself.”

Years down the road, Ford’s previous interaction with Nelson led him to look into becoming a CWU Alumni Association Board member, which he says, “was like making up for lost time, or more accurately, a lost connection.”

Ford, who just completed his last term on the board, spent years creating engagement opportunities for Wildcats, and that work has had a profound impact on the way alumni gather back on campus. Most notably, he played an important role in getting the Alumni Plaza inside Tomlinson Stadium up and running in 2018.

“The Alumni Plaza is really the only physical connection that the alumni board has with students and alumni and is something I believe embodies the purpose and objective of the alumni board, which is to engage,” Ford said. “It’s huge, and it’s our way of connecting by providing a place where alumni gather and renew old and create new relationships.”

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In addition to hosting alumni in the plaza at home football games during the season, the CWU Alumni Association offers RV parking, where many gather to tailgate before heading into the stadium. As an avid CWU athletics supporter and Wildcat football fan, Ford enjoys driving his RV to home games to cheer on the Wildcats.

To further represent the pride he has for his alma mater, Ford had an idea to turn his RV into a Wildcat on wheels. When he was looking for somebody to transform his RV, he found alumni-owned Blackbird Wraps and Vinyl in Ellensburg and left it to owner Sy Danton to make his vision come to life.

“While it was only in our shop for a week, Dan definitely hit it out of the park with all of the leg work before (and after),” said Ernie Kilburn, a business manager for Blackbird. “We spent many months trading design ideas and fine tuning the layout to make it what it is today. 

Kilburn explained that as supporter of CWU, Ford wanted to make Central a key element of the design, including the Wildcat head, the Tomlinson Stadium reader board, and the color of the vehicle. A hidden element is the mountain range in the background that is based on the Mount Stuart ridgeline.

“It was an absolute blast working with Dan, and as CWU alumni, we are excited to see such a positive symbol for Central,” Kilburn said. 

Ford now feels more connected than ever to CWU and the Wildcat family, and he looks forward to remaining engaged and representing Central in his branded ride.

Looking back over his time as a Wildcat, Ford says his favorite memories, both as a student and alumnus, are the friendships he has built.

“From a personal perspective, it’s all about relationships for me,” he said. “It’s about those people who I have met through connections with the university who have allowed me to be a part of their lives. It’s about seeing them achieve their goals and helping if I can. It’s about watching their families grow and knowing that I am a very small part of a much bigger and better Wildcat family.”

Although he has retired from the alumni association board, Ford is still as engaged as ever with CWU, and he is helping get the Tri-Cities alumni chapter up and rolling. He will also continue to be at Central home football games, so be sure to stop by, check out his RV, and say hello!

If you’re interested in becoming a member of the CWU Alumni Association Board, contact Casey Ross at Casey.Ross@cwu.edu.

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Robin Burck

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