After 39.36 years [NOTE: This number was calculated and verified by the SWCC accounting department] as an employee of Southwestern Community College, Dr. Barb Crittenden will make her last trip to campus as college president on July 30, 2021.

Why 39.36 years you ask? Wouldn’t that round up to 40? No, that is not Crittenden’s style.

First of all, Crittenden would not want to take credit for the .64 years she was not working at Southwestern. And second, that would not be an exact calculation, and Crittenden is known for her ethics, intelligence, and exceptional efforts to complete tasks thoroughly and with unequivocal precision.

Where it all began

Dr. Barb Crittenden (front row, second from right) poses with Southwestern Community College faculty and staff on August 20, 1999, during All-Staff In-Service.
Dr. Barb Crittenden (front row, second from right) poses with Southwestern Community College faculty and staff on August 20, 1999, during All-Staff In-Service. - Archive Photo

Crittenden, a lifetime resident of Creston, began her career at Southwestern on March 20, 1981, as an adjunct nursing instructor, becoming a full-time instructor for the nursing department in 1982. Crittenden served as vice president for instruction from November 1988 to April 1997. During this time, she was responsible for all college credit programs in the arts and sciences and vocational-technical (now referred to as career and technical education) divisions.

On Nov. 4, 1996, following the resignation of Dr. Richard Byerly (see Southwestern Community College Presidential History, below), the Southwestern board immediately appointed Crittenden as acting president.

It was April 8, 1997, when Crittenden was voted in as Byerly’s permanent replacement for president. On this day, Southwestern made history naming Crittenden as the first female community college president in the state of Iowa.

Larry Mark, Southwestern board of trustees president at the time, was quoted in The Southwestern spring 1997 newsletter as saying, "Usually you don’t get a chance to review the performance of the CEO before offering a contract … Certainly our expectations have been met and exceeded."

Becoming president may not have been Crittenden’s initial goal at Southwestern, but she said it was definitely a natural progression.

"I started here as an instructor and then moved into administration where I was overseeing all of instruction," said Crittenden; "so becoming president was the next step and it gave me the opportunity to have a broader impact across all facets of the organization."

Crittenden as president

SWCC leaders pulled together following the April 14, 2012, tornado to survey the damage and begin clean-up.
SWCC leaders pulled together following the April 14, 2012, tornado to survey the damage and begin clean-up. - Archive photo

Finding her legacy in education, Crittenden quickly became a leader, a colleague, an educator, a friend, and a mentor to many at Southwestern and throughout the state of Iowa. Crittenden has always thoroughly enjoyed the rewards offered in the field of education.

"We have an opportunity each and every day to make a difference in the lives of students and the community members we serve," Crittenden explained. "There’s no greater reward than knowing you have been a part of something that has impacted so many people in positive, life-changing ways."

In addition to her work locally, Crittenden has served on a number of state committees and task forces, speaking to the state legislature on a number of occasions regarding community college issues. One of the issues near and dear to her heart, nursing education, took her to Washington, DC, to be part of a convening on the topic.

College and community officials broke ground in July 1999 to mark the beginning of a major expansion at the Osceola Center.
College and community officials broke ground in July 1999 to mark the beginning of a major expansion at the Osceola Center. - Archive photo

During the Crittenden presidency, the Creston campus and the Osceola and Red Oak Centers began growing and changing at a noticeable pace.

Tom Lesan, vice president of economic development, and lifetime colleague of Crittenden, feels putting quality into the facilities was by far the most notable accomplishment during the Crittenden era.

"People look at the campus and the centers now and are impressed because the buildings are really nice," stated Lesan. "We quit playing the role of the small rural community college and began competing like everyone else and it completely changed our image."

According to Crittenden, some of these major achievements included the construction of the Allied Health & Science Center with the health simulation lab; the addition of apartment-style residence halls; and most recently the $1.8 million renovation of the Agricultural Sciences Center (see the complete listing of "New construction/facility improvements during the Crittenden presidency").

A celebration was held on campus following the men's basketball team winning the 2017 NJCAA Division II National Championship.
A celebration was held on campus following the men's basketball team winning the 2017 NJCAA Division II National Championship. - Photo by Terri Higgins

However, even with that overflowing list of facility improvements, when asked the greatest achievement during her time at Southwestern, in Crittenden’s mind student success is at the top of the list.

"It’s hard to say one [achievement], but student success is first and foremost … whether it is having students named as New Century Scholars, national champions in Skills USA competitions, certifications, or high pass rates on nursing state boards, academic honors for students are the most rewarding."

Crittenden is also extremely proud to have played a role in the founding of the Iowa Community College Online Consortium (ICCOC). The ICCOC was formed in 1999 to offer online courses to community college students. Since that time, online education has grown substantially at Southwestern and has become an integral component of higher education. This impact of online learning has never been more evident than it has been during the pandemic.

"We were fortunate to have moved into the arena of online education when we did," said Crittenden. "When COVID hit, we were ahead of the game there and for that I am extremely thankful."

So how did Crittenden accomplish all she did during her time in the presidency. She attributes her success to commitment of time, hard work, and a team of talented and hardworking people.

Dr. Barb Crittenden (center) posed with her administrative cabinet for the Winter 2008 issue of the Southwestern Magazine. Cabinet members included (L to R) Tom Lesan, Bill Taylor, Teresa Krejci, and Matt Thompson.
Dr. Barb Crittenden (center) posed with her administrative cabinet for the Winter 2008 issue of the Southwestern Magazine. Cabinet members included (L to R) Tom Lesan, Bill Taylor, Teresa Krejci, and Matt Thompson. - Photo by Joel Wires

According to Lesan, a lot of it was due to the relationships she formed and the ability to work as a team.

"I feel like it was definitely a partnership, and she allowed it to be that way," said Lesan. "I have a very good and strong relationship with the board and she allowed that to happen. There are a lot of other people who would not have encouraged it, but she never worried."

During the Crittenden presidency, little of campus has remained untouched. In this photo, areas of facility construction, renovation, or expansion are indicated in red. - Photo by Joel Wires

The people

Crittenden said above all, the memories that will stay with her the most are the experiences she had with the people who keep Southwestern running each and every day.

"I have had excellent people to work with … faculty, staff, board members, students, and community members," stated Crittenden. "Whether it was the tornado or the national basketball run, people just rallied. Being a part of a community college in particular, truly is life changing for many people."

Crittenden has always been proud of SWCC student achievements. Phi Theta Kappa's All-Iowa Academic Team Recognition is an annual highlight.
Crittenden has always been proud of SWCC student achievements. Phi Theta Kappa's All-Iowa Academic Team Recognition is an annual highlight. - Submitted photo

These momentous and sometimes tumultuous events, caused excitement and stress, but in the end, Crittenden’s team grew tighter because of them.

Crittenden remembers stepping outside the Administration Center at first light after the Creston tornado hit campus in April 2012 feeling overwhelmed about what was ahead that day. To her surprise, there were people already on campus to assist with cleanup efforts. She also spent time reflecting on the men’s basketball team’s national tournament run and the excitement of finishing the 2016-17 season as national champions.

"It was always so fun to see the community come together to support our students," Crittenden beamed.

Turning the page

Crittenden made the announcement she would be stepping down as president in March 2021. She will retire as the longest-serving president in Southwestern history.

"I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of Southwestern for nearly 40 years, including the past 24 years as president," said Crittenden at the time of the announcement. "During that time, faces and names have changed, but the college has consistently had a strong core of faculty, staff, and board members who believe in the mission of community colleges and work hard every day to provide opportunities for the students and communities we serve."

Dr. Tony Cass, Southwestern board president, expressed gratitude from the Southwestern board of trustees.

"It has been a privilege working with someone so dedicated to students and staff," stated Cass. "On behalf of all the board members I would like to extend a sincere thank you to Dr. Crittenden for her service and leadership to Southwestern and wish her the best in her retirement."

Crittenden poses with Jimmy Graham of Murray following the career and technical education graduation ceremony on April 30, 2021. Graham graduated with his Associate of Applied Science degree in electrical technology.
Crittenden poses with Jimmy Graham of Murray following the career and technical education graduation ceremony on April 30, 2021. Graham graduated with his Associate of Applied Science degree in electrical technology. - Photo by Scott Vicker

Crittenden continues to point to the people as the key to the new president continuing to advance Southwestern and its mission.

"We have a great team in place and working with them you will find many opportunities to move the college forward to meet the needs of students and community members," said Crittenden.

Crittenden was happy with the board of trustees’ May 20, 2021, decision to appoint Dr. Marjorie McGuire-Welch as the college’s next president (see related article, "Southwestern names new president"). Crittenden and McGuire-Welch worked together at Southwestern from 1995-2006.

"Marge has a strong academic background and great work experience within higher education," explained Crittenden. "I am excited about what the future holds for Southwestern."

In the meantime, Crittenden will be enjoying time with friends and family during her retirement. She said she also hopes to travel and has many locations in the United States she would like to visit.

The impact of her presidency will be felt at Southwestern for years to come. She retires from her position as a modest, soft-spoken, trustworthy, dynamic leader who led Southwestern from the days of touting typewriters and telecourses to a time of ever-changing technology, impressive student housing, and multiple formats for class-offerings. She did it all with grace and class and for that, those closest to her will forever be grateful.

"Barb as a leader – a person with strong character and morals. She is fair and seeks input from others in her decision making. She always considers the big picture."

Mary Jo Skarda, Former SWCC Executive Assistant to the CEO and Board Secretary

"Barb is a resilient leader who displays honesty and integrity in everything she does. She is great at seeing the big picture, but is a detail-oriented thinker, making her extremely productive and efficient."

Carmalee Woods, Assistant to the President and Coordinator of Special Projects/Board Secretary

"Barb is the type of leader who thoroughly thinks things through and then follows through. She demonstrates a quality very rare today. She is very intelligent, but backs that up with a lot of common sense."

Tom Lesan, Vice President of Economic Development

"A great leader possessing a clear vision with integrity, honesty, and humility. Barb has been an exemplary example of a great leader at SWCC!"

Lana Bartmess, Director of Human Resources and Equity/Title IX Coordinator

"Dr. Crittenden’s work during the past 24 years as president has been nothing short of legendary. Her mark is apparent on the physical campus, but what’s not as visible to the eye is the work she has done representing not just Southwestern, but all Iowa community colleges on a statewide level. If an issue needs a voice, she steps forward and makes things happen. The manner in which she researches an issue and then presents on the topic flawlessly is so impressive."

Lindsay Stoaks, Vice President of Instruction

"As a faculty member it isn’t often that you can address a community college president by her first name, but I think that Barb’s background of working up from faculty to administration allowed that with comfort and respect. She always did a great job of balancing CTE and the arts and sciences here at SWCC. Students were always first and foremost to her. Her leadership was proven and definitely time tested with the challenges and opportunities SWCC has faced."

Jeff Magneson, Auto Collision Repair/Refinish Instructor

"Dr. Crittenden is a compassionate servant leader. She consistently models the values of integrity, discipline, and a strong work ethic and will do whatever she can to enhance the experience at Southwestern for both students and employees. It has been an honor to learn from her and work side-by-side with her for the past two years."

Kim Bishop, Dean of Student Services

Southwestern Community College Presidential History

Dr. W. R. Pierce, Jr.

Dr. W. R. Pierce, Jr.

July 1966 – July 1971

Dr. John A. Smith

Dr. John A. Smith

July 1971 – June 1984

Dr. Richard L. Byerly

Dr. Richard L. Byerly

September 1984 – November 1996

Dr. Barbara J. Crittenden

Dr. Barbara J. Crittenden

November 1996 – April 1997 - Acting President

Dr. Barbara J. Crittenden

Dr. Barbara J. Crittenden

April 1997 - Present

New construction/facility improvements during Crittenden presidency

 Student Center expansion (3,320 square feet added to house the college bookstore)

1998

Student Center expansion (3,320 square feet added to house the college bookstore)

 Osceola Center expanded

1999

Osceola Center expanded

 Agricultural Site facility constructed

2001

Agricultural Site facility constructed

 Maintenance Building constructed

2003

Maintenance Building constructed

 Technical Center II built

2004

Technical Center II built

 Allied Health and Science Center constructed

2006

Allied Health and Science Center constructed

 Spartan Suites, SWCC's first apartment-style residence hall, constructed

2006

Spartan Suites, SWCC's first apartment-style residence hall, constructed

 Red Oak Center renovated

2008

Red Oak Center renovated

 Technical Center expansion (including an addition of 1,890 square feet to the building)

2009

Technical Center expansion (including an addition of 1,890 square feet to the building)

 Spartan Hall apartment-style residence hall built

2010

Spartan Hall apartment-style residence hall built

 Student Center reconstruction (transforming the cafeteria into a food-court style area and remodeling the seating area and the restrooms)

2010

Student Center reconstruction (transforming the cafeteria into a food-court style area and remodeling the seating area and the restrooms)

 Instructional Center remodel (100-bay and classrooms renovated)

2013

Instructional Center remodel (100-bay and classrooms renovated)

 Spartan Court apartment-style residence hall built

2014

Spartan Court apartment-style residence hall built

 Instructional Center remodel (200-bay and classrooms renovated)

2015

Instructional Center remodel (200-bay and classrooms renovated)

 Instructional Center remodel (science labs reconstructed)

2020

Instructional Center remodel (science labs reconstructed)

 Ag facility was expanded and named Agricultural Sciences Center

2020

Ag facility was expanded and named Agricultural Sciences Center

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