Alex Tech looks back - and ahead
Things were a bit quieter around these parts 50 years ago.
Alexandria's population was only about 6,000.
The city limits ended about where the Douglas County Hospital is located.
And a brand-new concept, a two-year college known as the Alexandria Area Vocational Technical School, began its first year with three programs and 23 students.
Today, the Alexandria Technical and Community College has 48 programs and annually enrolls 4,500 students from all 87 counties in Minnesota and the surrounding states.
This was how the current ATCC president Kevin Kopischke set the stage during last Friday's luncheon to kick-off a weekend celebration of the college's 50th year. The ATCC Foundation sponsored the event.
Kopischke said two key factors drove the college's success over the last half century - vision and investment.
Early vocational college leaders like Vern Maack had the vision to see what a big difference the college could make here and others in the community were quick to invest in its future.
The result, said Kopischke, is a thriving, vibrant college that's in tune with the community, local manufacturers and students seeking satisfying careers.
The college, Kopischke noted, now has an annual budget of about $22 million and about 850 students graduate from the school each year.
The ATCC has a strong track record of success, Kopischke said. Its 90 percent or higher graduation placement rates consistently rank in the upper 2 percent of all colleges in the U.S.
Since it began, about 28,000 have graduated from the college and many of them, 4,500, Kopischke said, choose to live within 50 miles of Alexandria.
They live here because there is "something different" about Alexandria - a bond between the college and the community, a commitment to student success, innovation and curiosity over pursuing "what's next," and the college's resiliency to prepare students for the future.
Kopischke said it all goes back to what Maack said about the college's beginning 50 years ago: "We just wanted to be the best."
Kopischke urged the 750 people attending the fundraiser/luncheon to continue to invest in the college and its future. He added that the ATCC has a success story that very few schools across the nation have had.
After Kopischke ended his speech, entitled "Our Vision," a video was shown called, "Our Purpose." It highlighted the college's history and included comments from former presidents Vern Maack, Frank Starke and Larry Shellito.
One tidbit from the video: When the college first started in 1961, it didn't even have a building. Students met in shops and businesses. Today, the college's buildings occupy more than 500,000 square feet.
Next, a skit-like presentation called "Our Impact" featured five past ATCC alumni - Merle Wagner, Patty Wicken, Jan Mahoney, Jill Stoeck and Brandon Chaffins. They shared their stories about how the college and its teachers helped them in their careers and in their personal lives.
Later, another alum, Jill Blashack Strahan, the founder and CEO of Tastefully Simple, talked about how the college opened doors for her and continues to inspire students, one by one. She encouraged people to discover the power of tithing or giving 10 percent of your income to worthy causes as a way to show gratitude.
The 50-year celebration continued with socializing and dancing Friday night at Arrowwood Resort for alumni, faculty, staff and friends of the college.
On Saturday, a reunion took place on the ATCC campus and included a picnic in the new law enforcement tactical warehouse, followed by a reunion program, tours, and a gathering at The Barn.