A familiar face will be absent from the Mid-Plains Community College Board of Governors beginning in January.
Louis “Louie” Stithem, who represented District Three, officially retired from the board Wednesday, bidding farewell to an organization he was part of for more than a third of his life.
“I’m 82 and have been on the board for 32 years,” Stithem said. “That’s enough. It’s time to get some new blood in there.”
Stithem was no stranger to education when he joined the Board of Governors in 1984. He had worked in the Broken Bow Public Schools since 1961 – first as a math teacher and coach and then as a middle school principal.
Stithem was encouraged to run for the Board of Governors by Keith Wade, who had sat on the board previously. When election time rolled around, the existing District Three representative, Jeff Evans, decided he wasn’t going to refile, and Wade convinced Stithem to try for the spot.
“Broken Bow had always had one of the two seats representing District Three, and I didn’t want to see that end,” Stithem said. “Also, at that time, I was in charge of community education at the high school. I thought that by being on the board and part of Mid-Plains, I might be able to encourage some new offerings that would benefit our Broken Bow students.”
Filing, however, wasn’t as easy as it should have been.
“When I filed, we had a brand-new county clerk,” Stithem said. “She held on to those filings until the day they were due in Lincoln. So, I had to get my name on the ballot by petition. I called up and down Highway 2 to other principals and people I knew, and they circulated petitions for me. In two days, they had enough signatures.”
He was elected and reelected to the board many times over the next 30-plus years. The only time he was absent from the board was when he decided to vie for a position as Nebraska senator representing the 43rd district in 2004.
“I did that because there were a couple others running that felt community colleges should not have taxing authority,” said Stithem. “That was also the year for me to file for reelection for Mid-Plains, and you cannot not hold two elected positions at the same time.”
Stithem gave up his place on the MPCC Board of Governors but lost the legislative race to Deb Fischer. He had to wait four more years to win back his spot on the board.
Serving on the board allowed Stithem to stay involved with education despite his retirement from the public schools in 1997.
He held every position possible over the years – except for treasurer. That included serving as chairman and vice chairman multiple times and representing MPCC on the Nebraska Community College Association Board.
“The thing that has intrigued me most has been selling an idea to the general public,” Stithem said. “There are still a lot of misconceptions about community colleges. People think of them strictly as places for the trades, and students come out of the high schools thinking they have to go to a four-year college or university to be successful, and that’s a bunch of baloney.”
He’s been stressing the one-on-one instruction and cost-savings of community colleges for years.
“That’s been my big push,” Stithem said. “No matter what students choose to go into, they can get their first two years at a much more affordable rate by attending a community college.”
Of all the advancements he’s witnessed at MPCC over the past three decades, he lists the growth of online classes and expansion of the four campuses in Broken Bow, Imperial, Ogallala and Valentine as the college’s greatest accomplishments.
“MPCC is a tremendous value for our service area, and much of that is because of those four campuses,” Stithem said. “They tailor their programs and training specifically to the communities they serve.”
While Stithem is stepping down from the board, he won’t be absent from Mid-Plains entirely. He still has plans to drop in on the occasional meeting – especially those in Broken Bow.
“I will definitely miss the camaraderie of the other board members,” Stithem said. “They’re all there for the same purpose, and I’ve loved listening to the different views and working with them to provide a quality education for MPCC students. It’s been a great time.”