Bold Idea Leads to Major Accomplishment
It all started with a bold idea: create a higher education institution whose mission is to provide affordable and accessible education for all who desire to learn regardless of wealth, heritage, or previous academic experience. The idea for a publicly funded, broad-based higher education institution actually began in the early 1900s and took many years for the idea to really take foothold and become a wide spread reality. In the early '60s, legislators started drafting bills to establish the nation's first community college system. Governor William Scranton signed into law the Community College Act of 1963 creating Pennsylvania's community college system. Local communities petitioned the Pennsylvania State Board of Education to sponsor and establish community colleges in the Commonwealth.
Each college needed a local sponsor, which may be a city, county, individual school district or consortium of these entities. Luzerne County Community College became a reality on December 15, 1965 when the Luzerne County Commissioners adopted a resolution agreeing to act as sponsor of a two year-college.
The commissioners appointed the County Board of School Directors to survey the needs of high school students and local employers. By September 15, 1966, the Pennsylvania Board of Education, on information presented by the commissioners, approved the plan for the college.
And so Luzerne County Community College formally began operations on October 2, 1967. The first class of 836 students attended classes in two buildings in downtown Wilkes-Barre located near the Hotel Sterling. The college offered 11 programs at the time with tuition at only $12.50 per credit.
"There was a lot of excitement in 1967," August "Augie" Piazza '69 recounted. "The amazing influx of students were googley-eyed at this new college in downtown Wilkes-Barre." Piazza said the affordable tuition was an initial reason he was interested in LCCC. Once he started at the College, Piazza said he and his fellow classmates were very impressed by the professors. "They were very caring and helpful in making sure we truly learned from their class," Piazza said. "Even when I visit LCCC now, that caring and friendly attitude is still there." The Main Campus Building, located at 19-21 North River Street, housed classrooms, laboratories, the library, faculty and administrative offices, and the bookstore. The Student Center Building, located a few doors down at 63 North River Street, held the counseling staff, seminar and conference rooms, laboratories, canteen, and offices.
The health and physical education program utilized the facilities of the Catholic Youth Center and Jewish Community Center for physical education programs. Students also used the swimming pool in the neighboring Hotel Sterling. LCCC's athletic teams, the Minutemen and Minutemaids, participated in swimming, basketball and wrestling at the YMCA.
The College couldn't have arrived at a better time. As the coal industry jobs in northeastern Pennsylvania faded away, the area became a hotbed of various new businesses and industries that needed employees well trained in new technologies and trades. LCCC offered the education companies needed for their employees. With an open admission policy, low tuition, numerous academic and technical programs, and the commitment to provide a quality education to anyone who had the desire to pursue a higher education, the idea quickly caught on.
"In 1967, I was a young man with a great deal of ambition but limited financial means," said Leonard V. Shimko. "It wasn't easy getting my Associate Degree in Accounting. I held down a full-time job as well as being a full-time student. Earning my degree and becoming a member of the first graduating class of LCCC was one of the greatest moments of my life." Shimko is the retired CEO and President of Cross Valley Federal Credit Union, the largest credit union in the Wyoming Valley.
Class size nearly doubled the second year. By the fall of 1968, enrollment totaled 1,500 and in 1969, the first 210 students graduated. Congressman Daniel J. Flood delivered LCCC's first commencement speech.
Dr. Sheldon Spear, professor emeritus at LCCC remembers the College's first graduation. "It was held in the unairconditioned Irem Temple on Wilkes-Barre's North Franklin Street on an unseasonably muggy evening," he said. "We sat there, students and faculty, in our caps and gowns (worn, in the case of men, over buttoned jackets and fastened neckties), while several administrators and band members droned on endlessly. Fortunately, the guest speaker was Congressman Dan Flood who, after quickly praising the graduates, exclaimed: 'It's hot. Now let's get the hell out of here!' And we did."
Brooke Yeager was hired in the Fall of 1968, as a biology professor to a new concept in higher education -— a community college. "The idea of a community college was quite a bit different," Yeager said. "We were the new kid on the block." Yeager started out at the College's original Wilkes-Barre campus. "Most of the faculty were quite young in their late 20's and early 30's. It was a different world then." Yeager reflected, "The Vietnam War was going on, registration was done using manila cards, and there were no computers, copy machines, or voice mail."
During the College's first five years, LCCC served more than 5,000 students. The two buildings were becoming more and more cramped and the College expanded to a third building, the Technical Annex on North Main Street in Wilkes-Barre in 1971. The Commissioners created the Luzerne County Community College Building Committee to begin planning for a permanent campus.
Then in June 1972, Hurricane Agnes, passed over northeastern Pennsylvania bringing heavy rains and a devastating flood from the overflowing Susquehanna River. Many LCCC students, faculty, and staff assisted with the sandbagging efforts to hold back the surging river. However, the Susquehanna River broke through and the College, located along the river, saw flood waters reach up to the second floors. Everyone eventually pitched in to help with the clean up and recovery efforts. This included shoveling mud and debris from the buildings. "After the College opened back up in October, our library suddenly became very popular," recalled Mary Dolon, '74. "Because the library was on the third floor, it was one of the few libraries in the area that wasn't destroyed in the flood."
Quickly outgrowing its headquarters in Wilkes-Barre, LCCC embarked on a plan to find a permanent location. The College wanted a space for expansion that was conveniently located for all residents of Luzerne County. The Building Committee finally settled on a site.
In January 1974, the College moved to its permanent 122-acre campus in Nanticoke. The campus consisted of eight buildings designed with the latest technology and ample classroom space to handle the rising student population.
"When I was in high school, I had an interest in construction and architecture, but wanted to understand it better before I devoted my entire life to it," said Charles Consagra '74. "I enrolled in the Architecture Program at LCCC and learned a tremendous amount about the work involved in the field. I continued my education after LCCC and received my degree in Architecture from Boston Architectural College. My LCCC teacher even helped me find my first job." Consagra is a principal with Highland Associates in Clark Summit.
More spacious and newer buildings and facilities greeted the students at Main Campus in Nanticoke. Many students wondered how the College could possibly fill all the new buildings.
By the end of the decade, LCCC's offerings grew to Associate's Degrees in 13 Liberal Arts programs and 15 Technical-Career programs. The late '70s saw the LCCC School of Nursing awarded formal accreditation by the National League for Nursing and ribbon cutting for the new Medical Arts Complex (Building 9).
LCCC's athletic teams excelled throughout LCCC's history. A huge crowd greeted the women's basketball team at the airport on its return home from Overland Park, Kansas after competing in the NJCAA National Tournament in 1978. The team, under the direction of Ruby Steele Carmon, finished in 5th place after beating teams from Wyoming, Kansas, Arizona, and Texas. LCCC also began to participate intercollegiately in men's and women's and coed volleyball.
The campus continued to expand in the '80s to meet the increased educational needs of the area. An Educational Conference Center was constructed to meet the needs of business and industry and offer additional space to hold continuing education classes. With the addition of an $8 million, 85,000 sq. ft., Advanced Technology Center in 1988, the College offered an array of high-technology programs such as robotics, engineering, automotive, motorsports, broadcast communications and laser-electro optics.
The College's Dental Clinic opened to the public for the first time in 1981. Veteran men's basketball coach, Jim Atherton won his 500th career victory in 1989.
During the early 1990s, Telecollege classes were offered for the first time on WVIA and the Alumni Association held its first Craft Fair.
Enrollment in 1992 reached a high of 7,450 full and part-time credit students and 8,000 non credit students.
Luzerne County Community College began a large scale expansion and remodeling project in the late 1990s. A 13,000 square foot addition to the Advanced Technology Building was completed to house the Commercial Art Department, including studios, lecture rooms, computer labs, and photography studios and darkrooms. The new Business and Computer Center took over the previous Student Center in Building 7.The Library received a new look and technology. And a new $8 million Campus Center opened in the Fall of 1998 housing the bookstore, fitness center, student lounge, cafeteria, student activities, counseling services, support services, and the President's office. The number of buildings at the Main Campus reached fourteen. The College introduced a new logo in 1998, changing the College colors from red, blue, and white to teal and navy. LCCC sports teams changed names from the Minutemen/Minutemaids to the Trailblazers.
LCCC acquired additional property in the late '90s along Prospect Street, and built the new Public Safety Training Institute, bringing the total acreage to 167-acres.
In the early 2000s, Luzerne County Community College began a more concentrated effort to expand offerings to underserved areas as per its mission. The College expanded its coverage area with off-campus sites at area high schools and new dedicated sites throughout northeastern Pennsylvania. New dedicated centers opened in Hazleton, Berwick, Shamokin, Kulpmont, and downtown Wilkes-Barre. As the Internet world developed, LCCC dropped its Telecollege video courses in favor of distance learning classes offered online.
The Schulman Gallery, the College's first named facility, opened in the Campus Center in 2006. The new gallery premiered with the Old Masters student art exhibit. The Public Safety Training Institute opened on April 25, 2008 with a dedication ceremony and parade.
In 2010, LCCC expanded its Main Campus into downtown Nanticoke with the opening of the new Culinary facility named the Joseph A. Paglianite Culinary Institute. The following year the College opened the Francis S. and Mary Gill Carrozza, R.N. Health Sciences Center. Classes in the building began in the fall 2011 semester.
Although high school students taking college classes had been around for some time, LCCC's Early College program generated a larger scope reaching more than 36 surrounding schools of students taking LCCC classes while still in high school.
In August of 2016, LCCC opened it newest off-site facility with the Scranton Center located in The Marketplace at Steamtown.
Today, the college boasts more than 32,000 degree-bearing alumni. LCCC currently offers 82 occupational programs (includes degree, certificate, and diploma programs), 24 liberal arts/transfer programs and 10 credit-free career training programs as well as hundreds of conferences, seminars, workshops, and business/industry customized training.
Luzerne County Community College is the largest college in northeastern Pennsylvania and continues to expand and adapt to the educational needs of the residents and business and industry in the Wyoming Valley. The staff and faculty of LCCC will always continue their dedication to the students and alumni of northeastern Pennsylvania as we have over the past 50 years.