Reynolds, Burnett retire from LBCC

Scott Swanson

Thursday, Dec. 31, will be the final day of school for Mary Sue Reynolds and Alice Burnett.

They’re retiring from Linn-Benton Community College, where they’ve been the institution’s face in Sweet Home for decades – Burnett since 1995 and Reynolds since 1982.

It’s been a good run, they both said as they now prepare to focus on grandchildren, projects and community activities they’ve missed out on while working.

Both said working for LBCC in Sweet Home was a good fit.

“I remember when I first got this job, I would proclaim to people, ‘This is the perfect job,’” said Reynolds, 57, who has served as the center coordinator since taking over for Mona Waibel.

“Through the years, I’ve had babies, raised kids, passed through challenges and been involved in the community. I’ve been able to be involved in kids and sports and schools and church. It’s been a good balance between work and family and community.”

Burnett, 61, who retires as manager of the Sweet Home office, said her job has also been “great.”

“It’s always been part-time, which was good when my kids were young, so I could take them to sporting events, Scouting, piano lessons.”

In addition, she said, she just likes “helping students.”

“That’s really been nice.”

Both came to LBCC after growing up in Sweet Home. Burnett (then Inselman) is a 1972 graduate of Sweet Home High School and Reynolds (then Scott) graduated in 1976.

Both attended the college themselves, Reynolds earning an associate’s degree and, later, a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Linfield College.

“I’ve always joked that we really haven’t gone too far in life,” Reynolds said. “It’s still home to us.”

“In 47 years I haven’t left the building,” Burnett added.

Burnett began attending LBCC, in modulars on its main campus, when it opened in 1972. Classes were held in Sweet Home in 1974 in the old Epps Building, largely as the result of efforts by Ludmilla Monson, whose husband was a local medical doctor.

The next year classes were moved to what is now the Full Gospel Church on Long Street, which formerly had housed a car dealership, and had become headquarters for the Chamber of Commerce.

Waibel served as both director of the chamber and the LBCC Sweet Home Center director during most of Reynolds’ early years. Under Waibel’s leadership, the chamber and college shared an office.

During those early years, the GED program, taught by Charlene Bakkensen, was a big draw, as were art classes (Arlene Albright, Greta Morley, Clarence Hubert and Julie Carpenter), woodworking (Norman Moore), business technology such as computer programs, typing and bookkeeping (Don Arndt Sr., Paul Rowton Sr. and Chuck Thompson), and English as a Second Language – for Cambodian refugees who were bused in for classes. Microwave cooking classes were also a hot sell.

By the time Reynolds joined the Sweet Home Center as a secretary, in 1982, there were four classrooms and there was so much demand for some courses, particularly dance aerobics, that there were waiting lines on registration day.

“People would bring their lawn chairs and sit outside, waiting to get in,” she recalled. “It was the Jane Fonda craze – the headbands, that whole thing.”

There were other signs of the times.

“Some of the chamber people smoked, so we had to keep the door shut,” Reynolds recalled.

Owner Merv Hanscam remodeled the building to accommodate the needs of the college.

“She kind of invented her position,” Reynolds said of Waibel. “Mona kept acquiring classroom and Merv Hanscam kept remodeling the building. She was very instrumental in making this place grow.”

Computers were popular too, but it was 1989 before the Sweet Home Center got its first computer classes, which were held in a lab with six terminals.

“We had two or three people sitting at each computer,” Reynolds said. “I think they were Apple 2e’s. We got them through Lottery funds.”

Eventually, the chamber moved to its current location, opening up more space for the college. But with the increased emphasis and interest in technology education, it was apparent that a new facility would be needed.

That opportunity came in 2004 when Sweet Home High School was remodeled and that project included a four-classroom LBCC facility built right into the high school complex. LBCC contributed $500,000 to the project in exchange for a 30-year lease.

“Times were good,” Reynolds said. “This center was designed and built with technology as its center. “That’s kind of what drove us to develop the new center.”

With the rise of the Internet and the ability to Google just about any information one would desire, she said, LBCC’s offerings have changed in Sweet Home, in part as a response to student needs and requests. The college is also focusing on courses that draw enough students to be financially sustainable.

“The state has reduced its support in the last couple of years,” Reynolds said. “We have had to go to self-support. We need to be sustainable.”

Also in flux is the Accessing College Today program, which allows Sweet Home High School graduated seniors to continue their education for free at LBCC, paid for by the school district, which receives funding from the state aimed at benefiting disadvantaged populations. Protests from urban school districts have put the brakes on the ACT program, as the state re-evaluates it.

Meanwhile, Reynolds said, the college is looking to continue, and even beef up, its core class offerings in math (taught by Paul Rowton Jr. and Jeff Holmes), writing (taught by Jodi Howell) and the GED program (taught by Meredith Whitmore) in Sweet Home. Another very popular offering, she said, is the aquatic fitness program taught by April Durst.

Now it’s time to refocus, the two said.

Burnett has two daughters, Shaina Burnett and McKenna Olsen, who live nearby, and a 15-month-old grandson and a 6-month-old granddaughter.

“I’m expecting to do some babysitting,” she said.

Her husband Rick has been retired for 13 years, and they plan to spend some time traveling. She also enjoys researching family history, she said.

“I’ve got tons of projects. I might even start cooking again.”

Burnett has five children and 11 grandchildren.

“I’ll be über busy,” she said, noting that she plans get more involved in the community, to “exercise and get healthy.” She’s got connections in the Rotary Club, PEO, the Sweet Home Alumni Foundation and the Sportsman’s Holiday Court.

She’ll also be free of “hundreds of e-mails every day.

“I have an auto-reply on my e-mail saying, ‘I’m retired,’” she said.

Both said they’ve appreciated being able to help local students negotiate college life through the Sweet Home Center.

“I think we’re a little bit user-friendly,” Reynolds said. “We can help them through the process.”

“The centers do a little bit of everything,” said Burnett. “It’s really been nice helping students.”