Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 26, 2012

Forum: NMC: Compassion for all students

By Charlene A. Lutes

— As I made my way through the front door at 314 East Front Street, I was waved on to the back of the building by an employee. Entering the back room, which was to me a converted garage, I stepped around old radio consoles, lights, old desks and chairs. A light shone down to my left onto a single black leather chair, and in it sat founder and philanthropist (now deceased) Les Biederman, surrounded by another pile of used equipment.

He was owner and operator of radio station WTCM. It was the mid-1970s, when the area was not so populated, and you were prone to know those residents coming and going, especially if you were a journalist working outside the state and country.

At that time he knew I had left Indiana teaching to pursue my career, and he was curious why I left education, because he was just getting started in trying to make a difference by helping establish Northwestern Michigan College and serving, from 1955 to 1979, as first chairman of the board of trustees.

I cannot remember many specifics about our several conversations from time to time in those days, but the feelings these conversations  left me with was how much he believed in his cause: a college where local citizens could go to get an education because of other commitments in their lives.

I held this impression of his soul — the compassion for the nontraditional student — while I worked one-on-one myself with these students who were first-semester learners over the last 23 years at NMC.

Today, NMC is experiencing lots changes through restructuring of people and programs, loss of personnel who have been working closely with the community over the years, and other college cultural changes. What advice would Les Biederman give if he were here today?

His advice would be the same. We still have residents who cannot leave to attend a four-year university to seek a higher education. They cannot leave their farms, their jobs, their families. As the college strives to become relevant in the world and its programs connect with other countries, etc., I would venture that Less Biederman would remind us that human beings are still the same. They want and need personal attention, and they deserve an education beyond high school. They still want to know they have a purpose, and there is a place for them as productive citizens as they attain their educational goals. NMC is that place to start.

About the author: Charlene A. Lutes, of Traverse City, is retired from Northwestern Michigan College as Director of the Bridge Program Learning Community, June 30, 2012. She was the developer of this program for nontraditional students, which began in 1994. It has won national, state and local awards over the years for its unique service and environment for nontraditional students who had always wanted to go to college.