After nearly four decades spent in service to Southwestern Community College (SWCC), Board Chairman Ken Rech, of Red Oak, retired from the college’s board of trustees in September.
Rech’s 37 years have encompassed the early years of the community college’s development all the way through to the EF2 tornado that struck the campus in 2012 and all the development beyond.
SWCC was officially established in 1966. Rech joined the board in 1980.
“I was appointed to fill in a resignation in our area,” said Rech, “because the lady was moving out of town. I owned a retail store — a decorating center. And prior to that, I taught school and was also in the construction world for about 10 years.
“I just had an interest in the community college,” said Rech, “because it was so new to the whole area.”
A lot has changed on campus since Rech first joined the board. Not just the buildings on and off campus, but the college’s programs as well.
“When I went on to the board,” said Rech, “as you looked at the college campus, there was the administration building, the athletic facility, the academic center, the maintenance buildings, two of the old dorms and the tech building. And, at that point, that was the gist of it. The rest of SWCC operated in storefronts throughout the whole district.
“And in 1980, computers were just beginning to show up,” said Rech. “A computer was a room-full — larger than your house.”
SWCC now offers areas of study in both the arts and sciences and career and technical education, including degree options ranging from welding to graphic design. The college’s enrollment is around 1,700 students.
“One thing that really stood out was the growth in the ‘80s, when all of the sudden we saw high schoolers being able to take credit hours,” said Rech. “And they basically were furnished by the college, and there was extreme growth and a look at how this was all going to work out. And now just about every high schooler in the district has the opportunity to take credit hours.
“So, as the campus grew,” Rech continued, “which included the new nursing building, an addition to the tech building, an adaptation to the farm, the partnership between the city, YMCA and college at the new YMCA, the three great big new dorms, the permanent campus in Red Oak, in Osceola — there’s just been a huge investment of capital in the campus facilities. And that was kind of exciting for me, having spent a majority of my time in construction.
“But as the campus continued to grow,” Rech explained, “the programs were being developed according to the revolving needs of students, and where their career opportunities were.”
Rech has served as chairman of the SWCC Board of Trustees for the past five years.
“And I was blessed with the opportunity to have had so many good board members with which to serve,” said Rech.
“They’ve been so dedicated to the students,” said Rech, “and didn’t come with a particular axe to grind like some board members do. They came with the outlook and the foresight to help the college and the district.”
And according to Rech, these board members have made his life significantly easier than in years past.
“In the last 12 or 15 years, the administration in the college has been so good that it made my job so easy,” said Rech. “I mean Dr. Crittenden, Tom Lesan, Bill Taylor — that whole group are just on top of it. They are thought of so well statewide that they’re just really a resource for that board.
“We’ve had some bouncy and hilly roads, but it’s been a great time,” Rech summarized. “A great opportunity to intermingle with people, and to be able to search out their intelligence and use it. It’s been a wonderful experience.”
But according to Rech, the highlight for him each year is always the same.
“The most memorable thing is every spring — graduation,” said Rech. “The gleam in the eye, the smile, the accomplishment of so many students — they may have been a first-generation student, they may have just changed careers, they may have even been forced to change careers. I mean, you’re looking at 250 people in Creston that are going to be looking at changing careers with that (Ferrara) closure. But it’s always the same.”
Moving forward, Rech sees SWCC as an increasingly viable option for students looking to advance their education at a reasonable cost. He believes SWCC to be well-positioned in the education sector’s changing demographics.
“The student pool is changing,” said Rech. “And the college is working harder to address that, and offer students what they need to continue their careers.”
Outside of his service to the SWCC Board of Trustees, Rech has been retired from Oak View Construction for about five years.
In his free time, Rech enjoys playing golf, spending time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and traveling, which he hopes to do more of in the future.
“And just really trying to enjoy life a little bit more right now,” said Rech.