News of Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming, from the Ranger's award winning journalists.
Dec 13, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck
Her from-the-ground-up success story at CWC probably will stand forever
Here is a confident prediction: Public education in Wyoming will never see another person quite like Jo Anne McFarland.
President of Central Wyoming College for 25 years -- longer by a mile than any other community college chief in Wyoming and longer than the other five presidents of CWC combined -- McFarland on Thursday told her faculty and staff that she was retiring. It takes effect in six months.
She has worked at the college since 1970 in some capacity, and her from-the-ground-up career path sets her apart -- and likely will separate her forever from all who follow her.
In 1970, she stepped into a classroom as an adjunct faculty member. This is the term used to describe a non-educator who agrees to teach a class because there is no one else to teach it. The editorial writer speaks from personal experience in noting that an adjunct faculty member is about as far from the presidency of the college as it is possible to get while still serving some educational purpose on campus. It's the equivalent of the mailroom in the old movies about "working your way up from the basement to the penthouse." That's how Jo Anne McFarland got started at Central Wyoming College. At the bottom -- but with an eye on the top.
She has been unique as well in staying at the same institution for her entire career, not always angling to take the next perceived step "up" to a bigger city or a bigger campus.
Instead, she stayed true to her roots, soaked up experience, honed her skills, took the opportunities as they came, and created more opportunities of her own, all in a place and setting where that was possible.
McFarland loves talking -- and talking -- about Central Wyoming College. She is teased often about her occasionally long-winded enthusiasm about her school, but isn't that just the way it ought to be? Shouldn't the president of the local community college love the place? She did. She does.
As a lifelong resident of Riverton, she remembers what the community was like before CWC. She recalls its early days in the middle of the sagebrush, its struggles to find qualified faculty willing to leap to small-town Wyoming on faith.
As she told the staff Thursday, she also remembers the setbacks, the outright failures, the heartbreaks that are mixed inevitably with the highlights of any job, of any institution, of any life.
Try serving as the leader of any public institution for 25 years without ruffling a feather, giving offense, or making an enemy. It cannot be done, and Jo Anne McFarland would never claim to have done it. She had foes, and she fought battles. It's part of the job. Trouble comes to everyone. But it is the response to trouble that sets one person apart from another. And not one of CWC's troubles ever defeated Jo Anne McFarland. Central Wyoming College is Riverton, Wyoming's crown jewel. Jo Anne McFarland has polished and worn it for four-fifths of its existence. When required, she was its toughest decision maker, as hard-nosed as she needed to be, dodging bullets when she could, but taking them when she had to. She was its staunchest defender and its most passionate advocate. She was, and is, its biggest fan.
And so, today, 25 years after first switching on the lights in the president's office, it is the triumphs that come to mind, the successes that define her career, the accomplishments that are remembered. There are many.
She will be on the job for six more months, with lots of life to follow, many avenues open, much opportunity still at hand. Meanwhile, the college's trustees must spend those six months finding someone who will be qualified, ready and willing to try to fill two of the biggest shoes ever to leave tracks in Fremont County.
Those tracks were made by Jo Anne McFarland, Madame President, the local girl who started at the bottom and emerged at the top, who by necessity started on other people's terms but is leaving on her own, all at her beloved Central Wyoming College.
She stayed put, but she never stood still.
MAIL SUBSCRIBERS: Thursday's edition of The Ranger was delivered to the Riverton post office by 3:30 p.m., in time to meet the postal deadline for next-day mail delivery.