December 1, 2017 10:35 am
Dr. Stan Flemming jokes that he’s already lived three lives in one, based on his storied careers in the military, as a physician and as a politician. And, there is a great deal of truth to it.
Like many students, the Pierce College alumnus did not know exactly what he wanted to do after graduating high school. But his future looked bright from the start, especially after being admitted into his dream school: Stanford University. “Stanford was my original goal, but I ran into a little hiccup called money,” he said. “And my father had a strict rule at the time. That rule was, when you turn 18, his job of raising you was over and you’re on your own. When I asked him for money to hold my seat at Stanford, he put his arm around me, told me how proud he was that I got in, but that it was time for me to sink or swim on my own.”
Flemming knew that he couldn’t afford Stanford tuition on his own, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him from reaching his educational goals. Both of his parents were physicians who instilled in him and his brothers the importance of higher education. He chose to attend Pierce College because it was local, affordable and had a positive reputation in the community. His brother had gone to Pierce and spoke very highly of the college.
“I had a wonderful experience at Pierce College, because I found that the professors truly had a passion for teaching that was very evident,” he said.
Flemming’s ultimate goal was to follow the family tradition of going into medicine, but he admits he struggled in math and science courses. Luckily, his professors at Pierce made it their mission to help him succeed.
“I was fortunate to get paired up with some really awesome teachers at Pierce,” he said. “My most memorable class was math with Dr. Vandruff, who drove home the point that any student, given the right set of circumstances, could learn the material. I was probably the worst student he had, but he insisted that I go to his office every morning at 6 a.m. for extra tutoring. I never missed a tutoring session. He would not let his students fail even if they wanted to.”
Flemming graduated from Pierce College in 1973 and was accepted into medical school during his junior year of college. His experience in medical school was not what he hoped it would be, and he was quickly disenchanted. “There was a dean who made it clear that as a physician, we were above everyone else,” Flemming said. “I always thought people went into medicine because they wanted to help others, not because they wanted to be perceived as better than other people. I struggled with that, and whether becoming a doctor was the right path for me.”
He made the decision to put medical school on hold, and set out on a new career path by enlisting in the Army. He performed so well in basic training that his drill instructor took the time to help him earn a scholarship to finish his education.
During his time finishing his degree, Flemming met another physician who insisted that he reconsider medical school. “He was adamant that I think about going back to medical school, and he called me every day for a year,” Flemming said. “But, I had a wonderful career going for me in the Army that I wasn’t ready to leave. But one day, I told him that I would spend a couple days with him in his practice if he promises to never call again. After spending time with him, I realized that I had never been more impressed by a physician. His patients just loved him, and I told him I wish I had met him years earlier. At the time, I was 28 years old and thought I might be too old to switch careers.”
In spite of his reservations, Flemming made the decision to apply to medical school once again. Unfortunately, his science courses were then too old to be considered, and he was forced to take several classes all over again. “I was pretty mad at that point,” he admitted. “I really didn’t want to take these science courses a second time because they were hard enough the first time around.”
But he enrolled at Pierce College once again and was able to fulfill his requirements within a year.
“After that, I took my transcripts back to medical school, showed them my grades and finally was accepted,” Flemming said.
It didn’t take long after launching his career as a physician that friends began suggesting that Flemming run for public office. After much consideration, he made the decision to run for a seat in the Washington State House of Representatives. “I had no idea I would win the election, but I soon found myself serving in the state House,” he said. “I learned what a privilege it was to serve and that our job as elected officials is to truly serve the needs of the people regardless of political affiliation.”
Because of his experience in government, Flemming was also called upon to help develop the City of University Place, where he served as the first mayor. “We had no money, no government and the state said we had 120 days to put everything in place to become a city, or it wouldn’t happen,” he said. “We wrote laws all day every day, built the city government, passed our first budget and the rest is history.”
“I’ve been able to have some wonderful experiences throughout my career, and Pierce College is at the center of all of it,” he said. “Pierce College truly gives you a foundation you can build on, and not only a foundation of knowledge. It also gives you valuable experiences and connections to the community. It’s what you choose to make of it, but for me, it was the lynchpin that made all other things possible.”