Pat Kemp, a man who holds responsibility for the systems that connect people and deliver goods and materials throughout Alaska, is Centralia College’s 2014 Distinguished Alumnus Award recipient.
Kemp, a 1973 Centralia College graduate, is the Alaska commissioner for Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF). The department is responsible for highways and roads, the state ferry system, airports, measures and commercial vehicle regulation, and design and engineering services. His responsibilities stretch from the rain forest of Southeast Alaska to the Ice Road link to Prudhoe Bay.
Kemp is the college’s 37th Distinguished Alumnus Award recipient and will be recognized during June 13 commencement day ceremonies.
“It is truly an honor to receive this award,” Kemp said. “I looked through the list of the people who have received this award and the list is impressive. It’s an honor to be included.”
Kemp was born and raised in Southeast Alaska, and graduated from Juneau-Douglas HighSchool, located in Juneau, the state’s capital, in 1971.
“I was invited by (then coach) George Gablehouse to play basketball at Centralia College. I saw that as an opportunity to continue to play ball,” Kemp said. The fact that his grandfather was a railroad engineer for the Union Pacific and once lived in Centralia helped to cement the decision.
He came to the college planning on a teaching career, which would have followed in his father’s footsteps. He earned his Associate in Arts degree in 1973.
“I realized teaching wasn’t for me and that I wanted to go into civil engineering,” Kemp said. He had worked summers in Alaska as a surveyor, construction inspector and drilling helper, work he enjoyed.
He reset his goal, returned to Centralia College, and earned his associate degree in engineering, then transferred to the University of Washington.
“I was young and my time at Centralia College helped me get focused,” Kemp said. “I don’t think that as a 17-year-old freshman I could have made it going straight to the University of Washington from high school. Centralia College was important as a transition college. My time there helped me build a great foundation and prepped me well for the university. Among other things I learned how to study.”
Kemp also met his wife, Becky (Rogerson), while both were attending Centralia College. The couple has been together for almost 40 years.
His success at Centralia College was passed on to his oldest daughter, who is a Centralia College civil engineering graduate, and is working in Juneau. The Kemps have two other children.
After earning his bachelor’s degree, the Kemps headed north to Alaska.
Kemp began his career with the Alaska Department of Highways in 1971 as a rear chainman on a survey crew. He began full-time employment with the Department of Transportation in 1977 and shortly thereafter became a licensed professional engineer.
During his first 30 years in the divisions of construction and preconstruction, he worked in management and design development of heavy construction projects for highways, airports, buildings, harbors and ferry terminals. He became a Preconstruction Engineer, the highest engineering classification in the state. He retired from the department in 2006 but in 2011 was invited back by Alaska Governor Sean Parnell to serve as the deputy commissioner of Highways and Public Facilities, and in 2012 was appointed commissioner.
Kemp oversees a department with a budget approaching $2 billion, with about 3,200 employees who plan, design, construct, operate, and maintain a very large multi-modal transportation system.