Dedication ceremony by early 2004
As a leader in education in Storm Lake for over 30 years, Mel Samuelson saw issues come and crises go.
"His famous words are, 'You know, there will be school tomorrow.' When we would be trying to maneuver through some difficult issue, that was his way of telling us that tomorrow was always a new day, and the doors would open, and the students would be there waiting, and we had better be ready for them," said Dr. Bob Paxton, president of Iowa Central Community College.
The ICCC leader said it was one of the best moments of his tenure when he picked up the phone in the middle of an Iowa Central Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday night and placed a call to Samuelson's home in Storm Lake.
This news couldn't wait. The board had just enthusiastically voted to name the Storm Lake campus of ICCC in honor of Samuelson. As a former Storm Lake Superintendent of Schools and later a trustee and chairman of the board for Iowa Central, the longtime education leader was a driving force behind the formation of the League of Schools program and in establishing the Storm Lake Center.
A facility that will soon be known as "The Samuelson Center."
Samuelson said he was stunned by the announcement.
"I had no idea this was in the works - to say the least, I was very surprised," he told the Pilot-Tribune. "I had run into Dr. Paxton at a Kiwanis meeting a day earlier, and he said he was going to call me tomorrow. When he did, it was right from the meeting of the board, which was still in session. He said, 'I have some news for you...'"
While greatly honored, Samuelson was quick to deflect credit. "I really wonder whether I've done enough to deserve an honor like this one... and there were lots of people who were involved in setting up the League of Schools and working with Iowa Central here."
"The board has actually been discussing some way to recognize Mel over the past couple of months. The members felt that with all he has done for Iowa Central, the Storm Lake community, and students at all levels over the years, it would be very appropriate to name the Storm Lake facility as the ICCC Samuelson Center," Paxton said.
A sign will be erected on the original Iowa Central building adjacent to the high school, and a dedication ceremony is in the works, perhaps to he scheduled in January. A gold plaque with Samuelson's likeness will also be created to go inside one of the buildings.
"Mel played a huge role in establishing one of the premier education centers, and the League of School where different rural high schools can come together for the common good of their students. Nothing in this state has ever really replicated what he achieved in the Storm Lake area," Paxton said. "Somehow, he overcame all the turf issues to build a program that remains a model for the whole midwest if not the nation in innovative college services for rural schools."
On a personal note, Paxton said that Samuelson had proven a great mentor for many education administration leaders over the years, himself included. "When things got tough, he understood the politics of education as well as anyone, and he was the one you wanted with you to maneuver through it," Paxton said. "And he was right, no matter what came at us, there always was school tomorrow."
Samuelson started his career as a classroom teacher in Alta. He moved to Linn Grove to accept his first administration position as superintendent of that district, then later returned to his roots as Alta's superintendent. When an opportunity opened in Storm Lake, he became assistant superintendent for the district, and soon, was named superintendent. He logged 19 years in the school administration building before retiring in 1986 as one of the best-remembered education leaders in the community's history.
Just months later, he became involved with Iowa Central Community College, and was elected to the Board of Trustees within a year of his school retirement, when asked to fill a vacant seat. He served approximately 13 years on the board, including five years as chairman, before stepping down three years ago.
"I found my experience with Iowa Central to be very interesting and very worthwhile," he reflected. "I had been interested in the community college concept since my time in the Storm Lake district, first because of the possibilities that appeared to be there for such a college to work directly with the students at the high school level. I think we were one of the first in the state to use a community college in the public schools, and that became the League of Schools in around 1975-76."
After joining the board, Samuelson came to appreciate the educators and administrators who make community college education possible in Iowa. "My impression was that it was a very well run institution, and that it did a good job of taking care of the needs of people who weren't in a position to go to a four-year college at the time. The college has really evolved, and it is now instrumental in providing college credit classes within the high school which students can transfer to other colleges and universities in the state, and in so many aspects of community adult and vocational education.
"Iowa Central is a very big resource for us to have, both in Storm Lake and through the main campus in Fort Dodge," Samuelson said.
In his retirement, Samuelson stays active, working with the Lutheran Brotherhood (now Trivent) in many good community causes, serving with the local chapter of the American Red Cross, serving on the Methodist Manor Care Review Committee, church efforts, Kiwanis Club and other community programs.
Since his early days as an educator, both the face of education and the young people it serves have changed, he notes. "I started out teaching things like typing and shorthand,and those courses don't even exist anymore as we've adapted to the computer age. And the students back then didn't run into a lot of the things that they have to deal with today."
Samuelson is excited and humbled by the honor represented by the naming of the Samuelson Center, but ICCC administration is just as thrilled, Paxton said.
"Everyone who knows the man appreciates that chuckle and grin he shares so readily. What strikes me most is that in education, his community, his church and his civic involvements, he is one of the most caring people I've ever encountered," Paxton said. "The decision to name Iowa Central Community College after him in his home community is a fitting tribute."
You know, there will be school tomorrow, and all the tomorrows after that. And in one will be a golden plaque honoring a man who reminded us to keep it in perspective.