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Lakeland Community College turns 40!

A Skerry Story
A Former Student Becomes President
Looking Ahead

On a cold February day in 1964, a group of 22 visionaries gathered at Mentor Recreation Park (now Garfield Park) to discuss a radical new idea then: to establish a community college in Lake County. Led by Mr. Erwin Maus III, then the general manager of the News-Herald, they engaged in heated discussion and rhetoric about the opportunities that such a college would bring to the area? How does this idea get this off the ground? Whose support do we need?

It was 1964, and America was in the midst of a sweeping trend: the community college. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, between 1961-1970, almost 500 of these regional schools sprang up throughout the country, more than any other decade in history.

The Lake County group moved swiftly and just a few days after that initial meeting in the park, they approached the Lake County Board of Commissioners to say that they would get their proof that Lake County indeed needed this type of educational institution in its backyard.

“We knew very bright kids who went to school with our sons who were not thinking about college” said Ruth Densmore (in a previously taped interview), one of the first citizens, who was instrumental in getting the community college concept up and running. “They came from families where neither parent had a college degree. My husband Ray and I knew, from this personal experience, that this need for a college in our area existed.” The following year, a feasibility study was conducted, and when all the results were in, the recommendation was indeed in line with what the Densmores already knew - Lake County needed a community college.

The League of Women Voters didn’t wait around patiently. They took action and petitioned to place the community college issue on the ballot. On Election Day 1965, the citizenry of Lake County voted to approve the creation of the college. After the election, they received further support when the State of Ohio authorized the county to create an institution of higher education, and a board of trustees was appointed. On May 2, 1967, final approval to open and operate a community college district was given when Lake County citizens approved a 1.7 mill levy.

The very next month, Dr. Wayne Rodehorst was named as the first president of Lakeland Community College on June 9, 1967. He was hailed as a pioneer in the field of community college education. Under his guidance, he helped develop the College’s first curricula and selected the initial 26 faculty from among hundreds of applicants. He ensured that course approvals and accreditations were received and that space was leased and remodeled and equipped for college use within three months of receiving notification that he was selected to be the college’s first president. Dr. Rodehorst served as Lakeland’s president for 15 years until 1981.

In the fall of 1967, the first group of 1,073 students walked through the doors on September 25. Classes were dotted throughout Painesville. Several buildings held makeshift classrooms including the Trust Building, the YMCA, and the Painesville Methodist Church, until a permanent college site was determined.

“The administration was originally housed in an abandoned mortuary home,” said Lakeland’s Manager of Special Projects Sharon Blankenship, who works extensively to catalogue college history and archives. “Eventually the college purchased about 400 acres belonging to the old Moore estate in Kirtland, and it’s been the permanent college site since 1971.” Today, the college encompasses ten buildings on the main campus and three off-site locations that in Madison, Painesville and Willowick.

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A Skerry Story
The year after Lakeland opened, a 23-year-old kid from Boston was working at a local record store and searching desperately for a teaching job. “I had just received my master’s degree, I was getting married soon, and I needed a well-paying job like you could not imagine,” recalls Dr. Philip Skerry, who retired from Lakeland this past May after 35 years in the classroom.

“A friend walks into the store and tells me that he heard Lake Erie College is hiring,” said Skerry. He jumped at the chance. With an okay from his boss at the record store to make a quick call from the back, he dialed information. “It has the word ‘Lake’ in it,” he told the operator.

“We have Lakeland?” said the operator.

“Sure that’s it,” and the rest is history said Skerry, who at the time thought he was going to Lake Erie College for an interview.

“In a sense, over the last 40 years, Lakeland and I have grown up together just as if we a family,” said Skerry. “In fact I consider Lakeland, my other family.”

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A Former Student Becomes President

From humble beginnings to a state-of-the-art campus, the college has been guided by the leadership of five remarkable presidents:
Dr. Wayne Rodehorst (1967-1980)
Dr. Willis Kern (1977)
Dr. James Catanzaro (1981-1987)
Dr. Ralph Doty (1988-2001)
Dr. Morris W. Beverage, Jr. (2001-present)

Current college president, Dr. Morris W. Beverage Jr., is a classic Lakeland story of how starting small can lead to big things.

“I was not a stellar student in high school,” said Beverage. As a first generation college student, the topic of attending college was seldom discussed growing up. “I knew I would go to college, but didn’t really know what that meant, or how to go about it.” Going away to a college or university was not an option.

Beverage knows first hand what so many of Lakeland’s students have faced: attending college as an adult student, being married, working, and raising children. “It gave me a real appreciation for how difficult it can be to balance school with all of the other responsibilities of a working adult with a family.”

It is this experience that reminds him daily of how important it is for Lakeland to find ways to ease the burdens many students carry so they can better balance their loads. “The excellent support services we provide – Childminders, Women’s & Men’s Centers, Tutorial Services, to name a few – afford our students a greater chance at successfully making it though the semester,” said Beverage. He added that increasing options such as offering courses online and at offsite locations, removes time and place barriers for students who work or who have family responsibilities. Keeping tuition affordable ensures that fewer people in Lake County are not priced out of a college education. “I feel privileged to be a part of an organization that does that and helps transform lives in the process.”

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Looking Ahead

The history of Lakeland Community College has been one in which “community” has been the operative word. In its 40 years, it has proudly served many generations of Northeast Ohioans, serving the educational needs of over 250,000 people.

As the college continues to grow, it will remain true to its original guiding principle and the dream of those 22 citizens who envisioned a reality few could have imagined in those early organizational meetings of 1964-to impact lives through learning.

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Opportunity Starts Here
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