Saturday, Beth Tedrow, a longtime former Garden City Community College instructor, counselor and dean, rode through the college’s campus ringing the school’s iconic 118-year-old victory bell that had reverberated through the college’s halls since before Tedrow was a student.
GCCC, one of the oldest community colleges in Kansas, celebrated its 100th birthday ahead of its homecoming game, inviting students, staff and community members to come together for a packed day of parades, food and entertainment on campus.
But before that, the campus, and the other spaces the college has called home over the decades, thousands of students coursed through its halls, learned from its teachers and held onto each other as they shared their first glimpses of adulthood.
When Tedrow came to the school, convinced to enroll by a high school dean, it still shared space with the then-new Garden City High School, or Horace Good Middle today. The college, which had about twice as many students a class than the high school, was on the second floor of the building.
In a lot of ways, the two schools were the same. Both college and high school shared space and teachers and a lot of Tedrow’s classmates had come from the high school, she said.
But other students came from all over, Tedrow said. The class was small enough that everyone knew each other. They talked in class or in the high school cafeteria between classes or on the town in their spare time. The college was at the high school, but it wasn’t the high school, she said, and college students walked around with that swagger of seniority now reserved for 12th graders. It felt like their own world, she said.
Not long after Tedrow left GCCC, the junior college moved to its second campus, a pink stucco building located where Buffalo Jones Elementary School is today. The rosy walls earned the spot its unofficial nickname: Little Pink University, or LPU. In 1963, the school moved again to Sabine and Calkins halls. And in 1967, ground broke on the campus students know today.
That was the campus Rex Oyler found when he came to the college as a freshman in 1979. GCCC had purchased 75 acres that year, expanding its space to the east, and the John Collins Technical Building was barely five years old. Facilities to the east had just been completed the year before in 1978. Sixty years since its inception, the college was still growing.
The community college was “like high school on steroids,” Oyler said. It was the next step up. His classmates were people he had known or known of in high school — fellow GCHS alumni or students from schools he had competed against in high school. Some of them are still his close friends today.
“Mainly we were all there just to support each other because going to college was new, whether it’s a small college like that or a four-year. It was a good bonding time,” Oyler said. “And you’re all there for one reason: to further your education. Everyone has a purpose for being there.”
About a decade after Oyler graduated, Angie Halfich came to the College Drive campus in 1988. The space was a good springboard to her stint at Wichita State University, and a good transition out of high school, she said.
She worked hard, going to class then working at Dairy Queen then back home to do homework, she said. She and her friends would cruise on Main Street, hang out in parking lots, run out to the river. And throughout it all, she started to feel a little more like an adult.
Both Oyler and Haflich would return to the campus years later, Oyler in the 1990s and Haflich in 2011. It felt both similar and different — Oyler remembers returning to the building where he had earned his associate’s degree, the old welding room replaced by small models for hydraulics and pneumatics.
More buildings had been erected — the Penka Building of Practical Arts and Sciences and the baseball stadium, apartments and a student center named after Tedrow.
Tedrow’s, Oyler’s and Haflich’s time at the college feels far away, they said, but some things come back. Dancing at a student hotspot downtown in Tedrow’s era, football games and an honest-to-God toga party and nights out at Tom’s Tavern on Fulton Street in Oyler’s. Nothing was fancy at Tom’s, Oyler said. Students piling into the place could get a beer for 85 cents and “nachos” — cheese melted over Doritos on a paper plate — for $1.25.
All three alumni enjoyed their time at the college and, with hindsight, appreciate it.
Oyler’s degree in auto mechanics set him up for a long career in the business — 39 years and counting. The technical programs, affordability and convenience of the college all mattered to Halfich when she was at school, she said. Even today, it provides a great opportunity for local students, she said.
And the college makes an impact on the community itself, Tedrow said. Of the people that came to the college, a lot of them stayed in Garden City, she said, or they came back and started their lives in western Kansas.
“I think the beauty of the college is, what it says, is the community. It serves the community,” she said.
Contact Amber Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org.