County honors OCC founder for his work

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Farmington Press | Published December 11, 2012

On Dec. 10, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, along with other county officials, honored three of the area’s finest, including a local attorney whom Patterson has referred to as “the Abraham Lincoln of Oakland County.”

Birmingham’s own George Mosher received the recognition at the 20th annual Oakland County Quality People/Quality County awards breakfast. The ceremony, held at the Marriot Centerpoint in Pontiac, was originally established by Patterson in 1992 to honor individuals who “step forward to brighten our world by enhancing the quality of life for their fellow citizens,” as he said in a prepared statement. Also honored were restaurateur Curt Catallo and philanthropist Erica Cale.

The list is long of Mosher’s accomplishments, including a stint in the U.S. Navy, a law degree from Columbia Law School and a distinguished career as a trademark attorney with General Motors. But he’s perhaps best known as the founder and charter board chairman of Oakland Community College.

He and his late wife, Doris, were integral figures in the establishment of the county’s first college. The pair campaigned for passage of a proposal on the 1963 ballot that would not only establish OCC, but also provide a millage to fund the project.

The task of convincing Oakland County voters to approve the venture might seem daunting to some, but for Mosher, it was an enjoyable opportunity that fell into his lap.

“Those things just happen. When I look back at my life, so many things happened on accident, you know, just by meeting someone and talking over a cup of coffee,” said Mosher. He explained that then-Gov. George Romney had approved a bill for a community college, and he was approached by a source close to the project to see the effort through.

“I thought it would be fun to be a part of that. When I came home and talked to my wife about (the plan to build the college), of course she already knew about it. So I said, ‘I think I’ll run for the board.’”

With that, Mosher ran for and was elected chairperson of the first OCC Board of Trustees, a position he held until 1970. The college has thrived, expanding from three campuses with just fewer than 4,000 students to five campuses and more than 80,000 students in 2011.

He resigned from the board in 1976 to focus on his law career. At 90 years old, he still practices at Southfield law firm Brooks Kushman.

Looking back, though, Mosher said there’s not a lot he would change in his journey to build OCC. From the first board meetings held in his living room to the institution as it is today, boasting the highest freshman and sophomore enrollment of any college or university in the state, Mosher said it all came together the way he had hoped.

“I kind of liked the way it went,” he said with a laugh. “I wanted to have a top-notch college, and in the first years, it was amazing to see people from all over the United States coming to see how we did it.”

There are new faces now on the OCC Board of Trustees, but Mosher’s vision is still intact. OCC Chancellor Timothy Meyer nominated Mosher for the Q2 honor, saying Mosher’s dedication to the college continues to inspire him and the rest of the school’s administration.

“His novel vision (was) that OCC was going to be the college the rest of the nation would look to to see the potential of a community college. A lot of times, you inherit a great institution, but don’t have the opportunity to talk to those who had the vision,” said Meyer. “I continue to honor that challenge, if you will, that OCC will be the best in the nation. We continue to assume that role, and part of the work we do now is to sustain that role as the best-in-class in the nation.”  

Mosher doesn’t get around to the campuses much anymore, but he said he’s glad to have helped create a college that Oakland County students can be proud to attend, from the world-class instruction to the state-of-the-art resources and even the contemporary architecture. To Meyer, that’s what makes Mosher so deserving of the Q2 honor — the fact that he’s accomplished, yet seems to always redirect the focus back to the students and their achievements.

“He’s extremely proud of OCC and extremely proud of the students who’ve gone through it. He’s like a father to all of them, taking pride in all of them,” said Meyer. “But at the same time, he’s very humble. He’ll come across as very humble and very reserved, but there’s a lot of horsepower behind that.”