June 28, 2022

41 years flown by

Tom Lesan reflects on his many years of service at SWCC

It was Sept. 3, 1980, when the last camper came through where Tom Lesan was staying in the wilderness near Earfall, Ontario, Canada. For the next month, he saw no one else. It was just him and a dog, Blue, running trap lines. He quickly learned that a life of solitude, a life without people, wasn’t for him.

It makes sense that reflecting on the many years he worked for Southwestern Community College (SWCC), it’s the people and the relationships he will miss the most.

Lesan, a Creston High School graduate, studied at SWCC and graduated in 1978. He went on to graduate from the University of Iowa in May 1980. By January 1981, he was back home working for SWCC as their adult education coordinator. He retires this year as the vice president of economic development.

Barb Crittenden, recently retired SWCC president and Lesan’s high school classmate, said he was a perfect fit to lead industrial training and economic development programming. “Tom’s early work in adult and continuing education took him out into the communities within the district and helped him to develop a good understanding of the needs of employers and people in the area,” she said.

About every two to three years, something new would come along. “They would give it to me,” Lesan said. “In July, 1983, economic development really started with the 260E program. They gave it to me because I was setting up training for companies already so they just thought that was a good fit.”

The 260E program is an Iowa industrial new jobs training program administered by the 15 community colleges in Iowa. Just this year, Lesan helped facilitate a $3 million contract for Wellman Dynamics.

SWCC board member Jerry Smith, took time in the June 14 board of trustees meeting to pay his respects to Lesan’s work, “I would submit to the group here that Tom has played just an instrumental part in hundreds of millions of dollars being administered by local community colleges and tens of millions of dollars being administered here for local people,” he said. “We joke around about stuff, but he made a hell of a difference.”

Though his retirement at the end of the fiscal year is just over a week away, he said he isn’t counting down the days. “With everything we’ve got going on, it’s just flown by,” Lesan said. “I haven’t had a lot of time to think about it.” It hasn’t just been these last few weeks flying by, he said his whole career at SWCC has gone by faster than he could have imagined.

When deciding when was the right time for retirement, he went to Crittenden. “I knew we were both getting close to retirement age. I said I’ll retire because I don’t think it’s a good idea for both of us to retire at the same time,” he said. “She ran to get her letter in to the board, making me stay one more year to help get through the process. That’s my story, I’m sure she has a completely different story.”

Crittenden said Lesan was always her first call when difficulties arose. “When a tornado struck campus, the administration building flooded, the gymnasium flooded, there were budget cuts implemented at the state level or other issues,” she said. “It didn’t matter whether it was picking up debris on campus, setting up tables for a meeting, checking on buildings after hours or a multitude of other things, if something was needed, Tom was always willing to step in to help.”

Lesan said Crittenden has been making retirement look really nice. “I didn’t think she could,” he said. “I thought it would drive her crazy, but she’s really relaxed and seems to enjoy it a lot. She’s got me really looking forward to trying that stuff out.”

On the retirement agenda are all of Lesan’s favorite hobbies: hunting, fishing, golfing and traveling. He looks forward to spending the first few months bugging his wife, Danette. “Just so that when hunting season rolls around, it will be OK for me to keep hunting,” he said. “She’s got to get really tired of me being around all the time for me to be able to hunt as much as I think I’m going to hunt.”

This year’s hunting season brings something Lesan has never experienced - the ability to hunt freely in the fall instead of focus on back-to-school. “It starts Sept. 1,” he said. “With dove and teal and everything else. And in the fall, the fishing gets really good at the lakes.”

He certainly isn’t concerned with finding ways to fill his time, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. “Letting go is hard,” Lesan said. “Not being in the know is going to be hard.”

Community involvement will continue to be a part of his life with his position of treasurer at the shooting range and his being a member of the hospital board.

“Tom will be missed at the college as he begins a well-earned retirement,” Crittenden said.

There will be a retirement reception for Lesan from 3:30-5:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 28 at the Crestmoor Golf Club.

Cheyenne Roche


Originally from Wisconsin, Cheyenne has a journalism and political science degree from UW-Eau Claire and a passion for reading and learning. She lives in Creston with her husband and their two little dogs.