Through thick and thin

During the good times and bad, Craig campus dean has remained loyal to CNCC

In 1994, incoming Colorado North--western Community College official Gene Bilodeau made a commitment to remain in Craig at least until his two sons graduated from high school.

Thirteen years later, with one son in college and the other nearing the

end of his high school days, Bilodeau has no intentions of breaking his word, or leaving the area.

"I don't have any desire to relocate," Bilodeau said. "I plan on being here for a long time. This is a good community with good people. That's part of why I like it so much. And it's a great group of people I work with. They're dedicated.

"It's special when you can live and work in an environment like that."

Bilodeau, 51, has been the dean of the Colorado Northwestern Community College Craig campus since Jan. 2006 and has helped guide the small college through some bleak times.

Those times included a reduction in state funding, layoffs and other staff cutbacks, diminishing enrollment and scuttled plans for new facilities.

But, that's the college's history, not it's future.

2006 was a year of victories for CNCC. In March, the school hired new president John Boyd. Months later, school officials announced new programs at the Craig campus that have since drawn local and national acclaim. In November, voters approved reauthorizing a tax measure that would sustain Craig campus operations.

And last week, the ball kept rolling.

Boyd and Bilodeau talked about an ambitious agenda for 2007 that included additional new programs and proposed construction of a new 75,000 square foot facility and a new residence hall building.

Where once the public perceived the school's future as uncertain, people hopefully now have a "renewed faith in what CNCC is doing and what it's about," Bilodeau said. He points to the mill levy vote in November, which voters overwhelmingly approved, as evidence.

"This is a fiscally conservative community," Bilodeau said. "If they didn't believe in (CNCC), they wouldn't have voted for it the way they did."

The exciting prospects CNCC now faces have been a long-time coming for Bilodeau, who originally joined the school's faculty to be on the ground floor of a budding university.

Bilodeau, an Anaconda, Mont., native, became the school's associate dean of student services in 1994. School officials told him that within a few years, the CNCC Craig campus would splinter off into its own university; the school also has a Rangely campus.

"That was all very exciting and that was what initially got me here," he said.

However, budgetary constraints and politics didn't allow the school to become its own entity as some envisioned, but Bilodeau, remembering the commitment he'd made to his family, stayed on at CNCC and served the school in various capacities.

He has worked as associate dean of academics and student services, career development counselor and registrar. He was named dean of the Craig campus in January 2006.

A funny thing happened during the lean times, Bilodeau said. Instead of looking for greener pastures somewhere else, a strong sense of loyalty to the school kicked in.

He hasn't looked back since.

"Through a lot of the thick and thin, that's what kept me here -- the commitment we made to finish high school (in Craig)," Bilodeau said. "There were doors open, there were lots of jobs out there. But, I always liked my job here and the people I worked with. ... CNCC has been a very positive place and has been very good to me. And I feel I have (positive contributions) I bring to CNCC."

Bilodeau credits part of the college's resurgence to the work of president John Boyd. He said Boyd is committed to bolstering operations at the Craig campus.

"Certainly, John is the first president who has really taken a keen interest in growth of the Craig campus," Bilodeau said. "He wants to see (the Craig campus) built before he retires."

Bilodeau sees the college's improvement -- the school also is projecting more enrollment this spring -- as vital to sustaining area growth. The college, he said, can play a pivotal role.

"Craig is going to continue to grow and a big part of that will be the ability to deliver educational services," he said.

Bilodeau graduated from the University of Montana with a bachelor's of sociology, and from Montana State with a master's in mental health counseling.

He has been active at both CNCC and in the community, and has served on the board of 13 organizations in the past 13 years. He is currently the president of the Craig Chamber of Commerce board of directors and a member of the Rotary Club and the Northwest Colorado Regional Workforce board.

He has two children: eldest son, Jacob, is a freshmen at Colorado State University, and youngest son, Tucker, is a junior at Moffat County High School.

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