In the past six years, Colorado Northwestern Community College has seen big changes.
The school has experienced growth, launched new programs and weathered lean financial times.
Behind much of the change and growth is Dean Hollenbeck, vice president of the college in Craig.
But after six years, Hollenbeck is leaving Craig to accept a new position and to be near his elderly mother and family. He'll take over as president of Flint Hills Technical College in Emporia, Kan.
Officially, his last day is Dec. 31, but Hollenbeck will take his annual leave Dec. 9.
"We really hate to leave Craig," said Hollenbeck, who lives here with his wife, Brenda. "It was a good fit."
Moving to Kansas will put Hollenbeck, 52, closer to his family and closer to where he grew up in northeast Oklahoma.
Although Hollenbeck is leaving Colo--rado Northwestern, he isn't leaving the world of community colleges.
Community colleges serve an important role in job training and workforce development, Hollenbeck said.
"We can react fast to requests from business and industry," he said. "We've got to ensure we have strong community colleges."
The past few years have been tough financially on the state's community colleges, but Hollenbeck said he expects things will turn around.
"Everything has had to get lean and mean," he said. "And that's not always easy."
With the passage of two state budget measures in November, the funding picture is expected to improve for state colleges and universities.
But exactly what the financial future will be in light of the election still isn't clear.
"In the end, it'll be all right," he said.
Catalyst for change
During his tenure at the Craig campus, Hollenbeck has seen the school add nursing, cosmetology, networking and paralegal programs.
The school also is developing a power-plant technician program to train workers to take entry-level jobs.
Hollenbeck said he expects the program to be under way by spring.
"Unfortunately for me, I'm going to be gone when that thing matures," he said.
Hollenbeck's coworkers credit him with starting many of the school's new programs.
"He's the reason there was so much growth here in Craig," said Robin Brumback, Hollenbeck's administrative assistant.
When people had ideas for how to improve the school, Hollenbeck was quick to take action, she said.
He would pick up the phone and start turning ideas into reality right away, she said.
"It's going to be a big loss to this campus," she said.
Hollenbeck's new home in Emporia will put him closer to his mother and his son-in-law, who was injured while fighting in Iraq.
Hollenbeck also has a son in the Army Special Forces who is still in Iraq. That son also suffered injuries in the war.
"You worry about him, but that's his job," Hollenbeck said.
He said he is looking forward to being just a few hours' drive from his family.
But just because he's moving away doesn't mean Hollenbeck is leaving Craig for good.
He said he hopes to return to visit the friends he's made here.
"This is too good of country just walk away and leave," Hollenbeck said.