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Retiring WITCC President Dunker lauds Cherokee

Monday, June 6, 2011

Credits Lundsgaard, Ballantyne for 'dream' come true

WITCC President Dr. Robert Dunker and Cherokee WITCC Campus Director Darla Struck are flanked by Cherokee "WITCC pioneers" Joe Lundsgaard, left, and Joan Ballantyne. Dunker lauded the pair for being integral in bringing the WITCC Campus to Cherokee, saying "WITCC wouldn't be here were it not for Joe and Joan." Photo by Paul Struck
Retiring Western Iowa Tech Community College President Dr. Robert Dunker made his final "official" visit to Cherokee's WITCC Campus last week, attending the Cherokee WITCC Campus Advisory Board Meeting.

Dunker gave a power-point presentation on the many benefits and educational services offered by WITCC and lauded the on-going efforts of Darla Struck, Director of the Cherokee WITCC Campus and Northern Services Area, in helping the Cherokee WITCC and Conference Center grow and prosper during her tenure here.

Dunker also spoke of his fondness and admiration for Cherokee "WITCC Pioneers" Joe Lundsgaard and Joan Ballantyne, who teamed with Dunker to establish the WITCC facility in Cherokee 15 years ago.

Retiring WITCC President Dr. Robert Dunker displays the beautiful hand-made vase from Schroeder Pottery of Cherokee. The vase was presented to him by Cherokee WITCC Advisory Board member Joan Ballantyne (left). Photo by Paul Struck
Dunker makes no bones about the importance Joe and Joan played in partnering with him to make the "dream of a WITCC facility in Cherokee" come to fruition in 1996 through their dedication, labors, and persuasiveness for the cause.

In response, Ballantyne thanked Dunker for his faith in Cherokee and his expertise in guiding them through the process, with much of the cost of the facility raised locally during fund-raising and planning for more than three years. WITCC and then-available grant monies also combined with local fund-raising to pay for the facility.

"This communuity is simply wonderful," said Ballantyne. "They opened up their hearts and checkbooks to make it all happen. This community and its people are the reason Joe and I have never left. We love living in Cherokee."

Dunker said when he was hired as WITCC President in 1991, the major item on his plate was to reach out to rural communities to help grow the Sioux City-based college.

"WITCC is now a big part of the fabric of this community," explained Dunker. "It would not have happened without the vision, fortitude, and tenacity of Joe and Joan. The Cherokee Campus now hosts a multiplicity of functions and without Joe and Joan, none of this would have taken place. The future is indeed bright for the Cherokee Campus in Darla's and your hands, and those of my successor's."

Dunker reiterated his vow to locate the entire WITCC Wind Energy Program in Cherokee once a local group partnering with WITCC is successful getting a wind turbine erected here.

"We will need to build a new facility here to house the wind energy program," added the third WITCC President in its 44-year history.

"WITCC is the economic engine that drives Western Iowa economy," continued Dunker. "We have 700 employees who put money and taxes back into our communities. We need community support at all times."

Retiring WITCC President Dr. Robert Dunker displays a giant chocolate chip cookie (his favorite) gift presented him at last week's Advisory Board meeting at Cherokee WITCC. Enjoying the moment is Hy-Vee Store Director Tim Haupert, Cherokee WITCC Campus Director Darla Struck, and WITCC Executive Vice President Dr. Terry Murrell. Photo by Paul Struck
Dunker also referenced the upcoming Plant Fund Levy to be put before voters on September 13. Of that local levy, an estimated 45-percent goes to the cities, 39-percent to community schools K-12, 12-percent to the counties, and just .5-percent - one-half of a penny - goes to WITCC.

Dunker stressed the importance of voters participating in that September 13 vote.

"We need your help in getting Darla and me before the community members to show them this presentation and how vital WITCC is to this part of the State," Dunker advised the Advisory Board members in attendance.

Dr. Terry Murrell, WITCC Executive Vice President, advised the Board of five new and exciting programs now available at WITCC, including Audio Engineering, Independent Film, Associate Degree Photography, Social Media, and Associate Fine Arts Degree, the first of its kind in the State.

Murrell also lauded Dunker for his long-standing policy to introduce five new programs each year to continue growing the college and its services.

Janet Gill, WITCC Dean of Enrollment, shared the college's skyrocketing enrollment figures with the Advisory Board, reporting that a record 5,975 Western Iowa Tech Community College students registered for the spring 2011 semester, a 12 percent increase over 2010, when the spring headcount exceeded 5,000 students for the first time in school history. Spring enrollment measured in credit hours was 55,604, also an increase of 12 percent.

Gill broke down by county the enrollment increases for WITCC, including 8-percent for Cherokee, 6-percent for Crawford, 15-percent for Ida, 4-percent for Plymouth, and 3-percent for Monona.

At the Cherokee Campus, student enrollment has doubled in the past two years and bookings at the WITCC Conference Center and the Auditorium continue to increase each year, with more groups big and small recognizing the quality and convenience of the large events center.

In his closing comments, Dunker again thanked Cherokee and Lundsgaard and Ballantyne.

"Cherokee is a wonderful, wonderful community," said Dunker. "I've always enjoyed coming here and you have always made me feel like I'm among friends. Thank you for your support, Cherokee. I hope you will continue to invite me back in an unofficial capacity."

After Dunker left last week on his final "official" visit, Struck said, "He's been such a valuable mentor and resource for so many. His door is always open and his expertise and guidance are the reasons WITCC continues to grow and achieve in so many areas. His vision and people skills are unmatched.

"One of his favorite sayings is that students don't come to WITCC for a math or history class, they come to WITCC to realize a dream. I'll always remember that and how firmly he believes in that reality."

Dunker said he's retiring officially on July 26, and that the WITCC Executive Board expects to complete a national search and hire his successor by August 1 of this year.

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