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Robert DePoe III wipes away a tear while delivering a speech during his inauguration as president of Salish Kootenai College on Wednesday in Pablo. DePoe has been on the job since summer and announced several new initiatives during the emotional ceremony.

TOM BAUER, Missoulian

PABLO – Salish Kootenai College lost its president Monday, when Robert Reginald DePoe III lost his battle with cancer.

DePoe, just 38 when he assumed the reins of SKC two years ago, “passed away peacefully on Dec. 21 surrounded by his family and loved ones” the college announced.

He had told the Missoulian he had been diagnosed not long after being hired.

DePoe lost his father, Robert Reginald DePoe Jr., just a month ago at the age of 59, and less than a week before Thanksgiving. The SKC president’s survivors include his wife, Jamie; daughters, Neah and Kalin; and son, Isaac.

Some considered DePoe a surprise choice when the Salish Kootenai College Board of Directors tapped him to replace Luana Ross, who abruptly resigned in October 2012.

DePoe was not among those who were surprised. 

“I knew the other candidates were really strong, and it was humbling to be at the same table with them,” DePoe told the Missoulian after he was hired. “But I’ve always been successful. I was brought up to understand that you end up in the places you’re supposed to be. I just knew something was right about this.”

DePoe, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, was 2 years old when SKC was founded. He never attended the Pablo college – he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Southern Utah University – but says it was still important to him.

“I always knew I had a place if I didn’t fit in – I don’t like the term ‘fit in’ – if I didn’t feel comfortable someplace else, I could always come back home and go to school,” he said.

DePoe was a 638 contract specialist – the title refers to the number of the law that identifies the 1975 Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act – with the Bureau of Indian Affairs when he was named president of Salish Kootenai College.

Prior to that he spent nine years working for the Paiute Tribe in Utah, most of them as the tribe’s education director.

DePoe is from Polson. He graduated from Ronan High School in 1993.

Grogan Funeral Home in Polson is handling arrangements, and services will be announced later.

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