To paraphrase an adage, to know where you’re going, you have to remember where you’ve been. As Lorain County Community College celebrates its 50th anniversary, the institution looks to its roots.
In 1947, the Truman Commission called for the establishment of community-based colleges, to meet the needs of returning military, who left an agricultural economy and returned home to an industrial economy.
By the early 1960’s, urban development began to spring up in rural Lorain county. Along with two other landowners, Olive and Howard Moon agreed to sell their farmland, helping to establish LCCC.
“My grandmother was a teacher,” says Hope Moon, “so she was a huge advocate for education. She instilled the value of education in all her grandchildren, so it’s appropriate that a college was built on the family’s homestead.” Now part of the 250 acres on which LCCC sits, Moon views the college as a lasting monument to the family values that run generations deep.
Moon herself didn’t stray far from the farm. She now works for LCCC as the interim dean for Allied Health and Nursing. President Dr. Roy A. Church knows the college has done right by Moon’s grandmother. “I always tell him that my grandmother is smiling down on him,” she said. “The philosophy here is to serve the community. We’ve gone from a small community college to this – we’re the size of a university.” And among that community is a growing veterans population.
REMEMBERING THOSE WHO SERVE
With 20 years of military service under her belt, Meletha Glover both attends and works for Lorain County Community College, giving her a unique perspective. Having retired from the U.S. Navy in 2002, she waited eight years before enrolling, under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Passed by Congress in 2008, the bill called for an expansion of benefits for military veterans serving since September 11, 2001.
“LCCC was exactly what I was looking for,” said Glover. As a resident of Lorain county, she liked the dynamics of remaining local, as well as the partnerships the college had within the community. With associate degrees in Applied Business in HR Management and Business Administration, she’ll be taking advantage of LCCC’s educational partnerships with Ohio’s four-year institutions, as she earns her Bachelors degree in Business Management from Kent State University.
The youngest of eleven children, she’s the first in her family to earn a college degree. And the sense of accomplishment shows. “My brothers and sisters look to me for guidance,” Glover said.
Working in the college’s Office for Special Needs, Glover’s family members aren’t the only ones benefiting from her experience and wisdom. “For returning vets, the college atmosphere is different from what they are accustom to – it’s a big adjustment,” said Glover. “Lorain College is very user friendly for veterans. The facility, staff and students really try to reach out and embrace them.”
As a new student in 2010, Glover first felt that embrace during LCCC’s Family Fest. “President Church thanked all the vets for their service, awarding each with a certificate. I felt welcomed and honored that day as they saluted us veterans,” said Glover.
Eight years ago, LCCC psychology instructor, Kelly Gruscinski, made a commitment tohonor the sacrifices of those still in active duty by creating a letter writing campaign of support. As a volunteer for the United Service Organizations, which forwards letters to those not receiving mail from home, Gruscinski saw an opportunity to engage her students.
“It’s an act that may seem small, but it can have a big effect. Just receiving a letter can let them know there are people back home who care and appreciate what they are doing,” said Gruscinski. “I’ve been told they save those letters – one vet made a scrapbook of his letters.”
And then there’s the ripple effect. One student involved in the letter writing project eventually shipped out to Kuwait. Some of her current students have since written to him directly. “It’s the circle completing itself,” Gruscinski said.
As a learning specialist in the Office for Special Needs, Gruscinski also works with LCCC’s veteran students. “Vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or social anxiety, are not the same people they were when they enlisted,” said Gruscinski.
Being in a large class can be intimidating. Slamming doors can be unnerving. Some students require a separate and quiet room to complete tests. Some students may not be able to face a class of 30 students, so they ease back into learning through internet based classes.
Given the self-reflective nature of psychology, Gruscinski acknowledges the potential impact her courses can have on military and non-military students alike. “With students sharing personal stories or viewing a film in class – you never know what might trigger an emotional reaction among the vet students.”
While vet students may hesitate to open up in class, students who have not served are finding they can help draw out their military counterparts by engaging them one on one. Some of Gruscinski’s military students have embraced the writing letter project, but for others, it’s just too hard. With writing, comes memories. And for some vets, calling up memories puts them back on the frontlines.
A COMMON THREAD
Drawing on such memories has proven therapeutic for creative writing Distinguished Professor Bruce Weigl. As a Vietnam vet, he used writing to cope with his own pains of loss, returning home and starting over. “As a third of my writing is about war, that’s how I’m defined as a poet. I consider it to be an accident of history and timing – the fact I was in that war has made it part of my life experience,” Weigl said.
Following his Army tour of duty, Weigl attended LCCC, before transferring to Oberlin College. With a PhD in American and British literature from the University of Utah, Weigl is an accomplished poet and author, having garnered the Lannan Literary Foundation Award for Poetry and two Pushcart Prizes. His poetry, essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Harpers and The Harvard Review, among others.
In 1998, when the opportunity arose to return to his alma mater, Weigl saw it as a way to give back. “I grew up among working class people. These are ordinary people in extraordinary situations, in that there’s a kind of heroism about people who have to get up and go to work in steel mills and factories,” said Weigl.
And among them, are today’s returning vets. In his Writing the War workshop, Weigl offers a series of non-fiction, fiction and poetry exercises, which allow students creative freedom. “I tell them if I can do it, you can do it,” Weigl said. “It can be difficult for them to find the voice for an experience they’re still dealing with, as they come to terms with how this has changed their lives. Writing is a way to clarify those issues.”
Weigl’s writings and those of his students share a common thread. “They’re willing to write about the political world. I encourage them to write about issues shaping the world and changing the way we live,” said Weigl, who practices what he preaches.
Having returned from two months in Hanoi, Weigl is working with contemporary composer, Vu Nhat Pan, combining Pan’s music with one of his poems, which explores the relationship between Vietnam and the U.S., then and now. His recent work, which started out as an opera, is now a choral piece for orchestra.
Weigl said he is optimistic about the future – of both the world at large and the college he has once again made his home. “LCCC has the infrastructure to reach out to vets. It’s difficult to get them to join anything – for some, a side effect of joining the service – but I’m looking forward to being involved in setting up the Veterans Center. Vets are given leadership responsibilities at a very young age. They could and should be leaders on our campus as well. I’m looking forward to bring them to the forefront of our student population.”