COEUR d'ALENE - Nearly 30 years ago, Orville Dockter sat in the back of a classroom at Lewis-Clark State College in Coeur d'Alene and listened to a lecture. He didn't mind listening because his job was to drive his wife, Audreilee, back and forth to class from the Silver Valley - he hadn't planned on learning - but he did.
"It opened my eyes. I had these 'Ah-ha,' moments and it didn't take long before they had me signed up for classes," Orville recalled. "I was working underground as a hoisting engineer. LCSC was great because I didn't have to miss one day of work."
The Kingston couple, among the college's first students in Coeur d'Alene, earned their bachelor's degrees in 1983.
"LCSC helped us a lot to advance in our jobs," Orville said. "I really enjoyed the classes and my wife kept going back to get refresher courses."
Orville observed that 30 years ago most of the students worked full-time jobs and needed flexibility. There was a sense of excitement throughout North Idaho about the college offering classes.
"We were all in the same boat," said Orville. "Of course that was the day when we had the old-fashioned computers. You actually had to write our own programs, so we learned a little bit of everything."
Lewis-Clark State College started offering business courses in Coeur d'Alene the fall semester of 1982. The first courses were a result of a partnership between LCSC and GTE, which most people know today as Verizon Communications.
Lorraine Landwehr was also one of LCSC's first students in Coeur d'Alene. She needed business courses to finish her degree. LCSC delivered. She was able to graduate, pass the CPA exam and help support her family. Today she is retired, but she has nothing but fond memories of her experiences at LCSC.
"It was fabulous," said Landwehr. "The instructors were great. I was able to finish and earn a degree."
The popularity of these courses quickly led to the development of a full business degree program in Coeur d'Alene. It was one of the first bachelor's degrees offered in North Idaho.
Rodney Frey, who was the center's director from 1987 to 1998, said the college's presence in Coeur d'Alene started growing in 1987 because additional degree programs were added to the portfolio, such as Nursing, Justice Studies and Social Sciences.
"It was an incredible experience," said Frey, who now is the Director of General Education for the University of Idaho. "The college allowed me to be flexible and experiment. We had some innovative programs in Sandpoint and the Silver Valley."
Many of the programs and initiatives Frey launched, such as advising and helping students with financial aid, have evolved and become part of the Coeur d'Alene Center's everyday operations.
Frey said one of the highlights from his tenure with the college is a partnership he initiated with the Coeur d'Alene Tribe.
"We went to the tribe and asked them about what bachelor's degrees that they might be interested in pursuing with us. They wanted business management and elementary education. We developed a 4-year cohort program for them that moved students through."
In 1993, the college and GTE partnered again and the college occupied a downtown building. The additional space allowed LCSC to add Social Work and Communications Arts to its Coeur d'Alene degree program lineup. It only took four years for the college to outgrow that space and it moved onto the North Idaho College campus. Shortly thereafter, the college hit the 100-student benchmark with seven degree programs.
"We moved a lot," Frey said. "We were housed in various places all over town. "
The faculty was a special group of dedicated instructors, Frey said.
"They were so motivated and diverse," he said. "The students were wonderful too. I loved working with the students. The entire community was excited about LCSC. We had a great relationship with North Idaho College and we had a lot of fun with the University of Idaho. There was a lot of joshing back and forth with Jack Dawson and his staff.
"I got really involved in the chamber and visiting businesses in the region," Frey said. "We were working with human resources people and helping out our students. Back then, you could get credit for life experience and did a lot of portfolio work."
LCSC's dreams got bigger and bolder. In 2004, the college moved into the Harbor Center. With the growth, Pathways for Accelerated Certification and Endorsement Education (PACE) and Applied Sciences were added.
A student like Christie Wood was able to finish her degree. Today, she is one of the North Idaho College trustees and one of the community's leaders. LCSC helped propel her career.
"LCSC's legacy is that it has given access to higher education in North Idaho," said Wood, who graduated with a degree in Communications in 2004. "There are so many residents that wouldn't have had that opportunity. They have been able to finish here."
If you look back at the college's history there are roughly 1,500 Coeur d'Alene graduates.
The college is building toward the future. 458 students are enrolled in 16-degree programs through the Coeur d'Alene Center. LCSC is working with NIC and UI toward building a joint-use facility on the NIC campus, according to Rocky Owens, interim director for the Center.
"The joint cooperation between the colleges has never been better. With our educational partners the future of LCSC in Coeur d'Alene is well positioned for the next 30 years," said Kathy Martin, LCSC Dean for Community Programs and Governmental Relations. "Our long-term plans include growth, expansion of programming and services in Region I, and continued collaboration with our higher education partners. We couldn't be successful without the efforts of many great faculty, wonderful staff and outstanding students."
Marc Stewart is a spokesman for Lewis-Clark State College.