Honoring Washingtonians during Women’s History Month


Dan Newhouse U.S. Congressman

More than 36 years ago, three women in Central Washington pioneered their vision of serving their community through improving access to higher education opportunities for students who society may not have considered college-bound. Martha Yallup and Violet Lumely Rau of the Yakama Nation, and Sister Kathleen Ross of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus, came together to found what would become Heritage University in the Yakima Valley. Their determined efforts continue to bear fruit in Central Washington communities and in the lives of graduates.
Decades ago, Fort Wright College, the predecessor of Heritage University, planned to shutter its regional Yakima Valley location due to financial challenges and low enrollment. These three women understood that without a college with a mission to reach them, many students in the community would lose the chance to pursue a four-year degree. Yallup and Lumely Rau had worked together at the Yakama Nation’s Head Start Program. They joined efforts with Sister Kathleen Ross and worked to overcome many obstacles to found and operate what was then called Heritage College in 1982. Despite the odds they faced, they have proven to be advocates for present and future Heritage students by striving to keep the doors of the college open.
Over the years, and under strong leadership, Heritage has grown to become “the University of the Valley.” Heritage now offers more than 50 undergraduate and graduate majors. Many in the Heritage student body come from families below the poverty line, and most students are the first in their families to pursue higher education. Heritage has proven to be fertile ground for these students and has so far graduated an astounding 9,000 students. That total represents an amazing contribution not only to our community, but to the long-term future of these young people and their professional and personal enrichment.
Sister Kathleen Ross served as the first college president and has received the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship “genius grant.”
Violet Lumley Rau sadly passed away in 1994, but her legacy of strong advocacy on behalf of Heritage lives on.
March is Women’s History Month, and the pioneering example of Martha Yallup, Violet Lumely Rau, and Sister Kathleen Ross stands out. Central Washington can be proud of these incredible women and acknowledge their contributions that have overcome barriers and enriched so many lives.

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