If there’s one thing that sticks out to Jerry Smith from his 26 years as a Southwestern Community College trustee, it’s the graduation ceremonies.
“We’ve had some very interesting moments,” Smith said. “We’ve had Gov. (Kim) Reynolds speak at graduation. We had then wife of the vice president and now First Lady Jill Biden speak at graduation.”
It’s only fitting he timed his June retirement to ensure his attendance at one last graduation ceremony.
“I remember all those graduations,” Smith said. “When you see young adults and even older adults going across the graduation floor, it’s such a heartwarming feeling that they’re marching off into careers that are going to make their lives better.”
After nearly three decades representing the Osceola district with SWCC, there were several factors telling Smith it was time to retire. “First of all, I’ve got three grandchildren,” he said. “My wife is also going to be retiring in the upcoming year, and we’ve got several travel plans we are starting to work on.”
Smith is also hoping this will be his last winter living in Iowa. Though he does’t want to buy a home in Florida or Arizona, he said he’s inclined to visit.
Smith anticipates leaving to be difficult. “I just think Southwestern is an absolute treasure,” he said. “It has been, and it will be going forward. That’s the hardest part for me is saying goodbye to that.”
The college doesn’t look the same as it did when he began his tenure. “I think of the new health center that was built back in 2006,” Smith said. “We remodeled our ag complex out north of the college. We’ve had upgrades to our Red Oak and Osceola satellite centers. The list is endless. A lot has occurred.”
In addition, the men’s basketball team winning a National Championship stands out amongst many cherished memories.
“There have been a lot of really exciting things in the past few years,” Smith said. “I think it’s very exciting that we’re working very closely with local school on concurrent enrollments and helping juniors and seniors in high school get a jump start on their college careers.”
Nearly half of Southwestern’s class enrollment comes from high school students.
Since the year he started on the board of trustees, Smith has been SWCC’s representative on the state Iowa Association of Community College Trustees (IACCT) board. Through this, he’s been able to connect with leaders in education throughout Iowa.
“That has provided me the opportunity to visit all 15 community college campuses in Iowa,” he said. “It gave me the opportunity to interact with state legislature on the development of statewide policies, and tell the case of the importance of community colleges as it pertains to the entire state of Iowa.”
After announcing Smith’s retirement at Tuesday’s board meeting, board President Dr. Tony Cass acknowledged Smith’s tenure and impact on the college. “You’ve been an extremely valuable board member for all these years,” he said.
When he looks back on the difference he’s made in Southwestern’s future, he thinks of the Allied Health and Science Center. “Southwestern has always had an outstanding nursing program — one of the best in the state,” he explained. “That facility that was built with state-of-the-art simulation manikins which allow students to do a lot of work. I just think that our nursing program is absolutely outstanding, and it’s recognized statewide.”
Cass said the board will have 30 days to appoint a new board member in Smith’s district. Fred Shearer of Corning and Kevin Britten of Red Oak volunteered to assist on the subcommittee to fill Smith’s position.
Smith said he’s asked how much it pays to be on SWCC’s board of trustees. “You don’t receive monetary compensation, but you sure get a whole lot of gratitude giving people education,” he said. “I just think Southwestern is an absolute treasure. The role it plays in the community is amazing in totality.”