Eclipse 2017 - 16 (copy)

An aerial view of Linn-Benton Community College's Albany campus. 

Mark Ylen Democrat-Herald

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the date when the first classes were taught at Linn-Benton Community College, an occasion that's worth both celebration and reflection.

In retrospect, one of the impressive things about those first classes is that they came just months after the December 1966 election in which voters, by a 2-to-1 margin, approved the formation of LBCC. 

It would have been easy to wait for money to break ground on a building before starting any classes; in fact, the community leaders who pushed for the creation of LBCC thought it would be at least a year before any classes started.

The college's first president, Eldon Schafter, thought otherwise.

"He was a driver," recalled Russell Tripp, one of the key community leaders who fought to create a community college to serve Benton and Linn counties. "We thought at least a year. He said no, we've got to have them right now." 

By July 1967, LBCC had established a headquarters on the corner of First and Ellsworth streets in Albany. By September, part-time instructors were teaching evening-only classes in a variety of locations around both counties. 

It would be another year until LBCC hired its first full-time instructor (biology teacher Bob Ross, who still teaches at the college). But that initial urgency to get classes up and running — to start teaching students who wanted to further their education — captures something essential about LBCC.

From those earliest days, LBCC has prided itself on its flexibility and agility, its ability to anticipate the needs of students and to move with speed to build programs that will help to meet those needs.

The college has come a long ways from the days when it met in a variety of locations around Linn and Benton counties. (In fact, the travel required to get from class to class prompted students to start calling themselves "Roadrunners," a tag that helped helped to inspire the school's mascot.) Today, LBCC has facilities throughout the mid-valley, from Corvallis to Sweet Home. It has a new facility in Lebanon that helps train the next generation of auto mechanics. Just this past summer, it held the grand opening for a health care facility, also in Lebanon, that finally allows the college to place under one roof all of its health care training programs. Both facilities are quintessential LBCC, helping to train workers for fast-growing professions.

We have a different understanding and appreciation these days for the roles community colleges play. As we increasingly understand that many good jobs don't necessarily require four-year degrees, community colleges have stepped in to the fill the gap by creating training programs for the workers who will fill those jobs. And community colleges like LBCC have become essential community partners, reaching out to businesses and other schools. Those partnerships not only offer different educational options to students today, but work to strengthen the mid-valley's economy.

But community colleges such as LBCC also offer numerous educational opportunities for residents who may just be interested in learning ceramics or how to use their smartphones or brushing up on a foreign language before a trip abroad. There's a place for those students as well. 

In fact, community colleges like LBCC understand that education not only leads to better job opportunities for students but also to lifelong learning experiences. Fifty years ago this week, the first LBCC instructors met their first students, people looking to improve their lives in some way. LBCC offered that opportunity then. It still does today. (mm)

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