For many, Mineral Area College was a first foray into higher education. Local students filtered through before starting a new career or going on to a traditional university. The institution has become an icon in the community.
But how many people remember its humble beginnings, before it was known as MAC, before there was a field house, or theater? Most don’t remember it being anything else than what it is, a community college.
Beginning with his first day of class in 1967, Jim Hrouda began a 50-year courtship with the college that still continues today. Hired to teach science and technology to the local student body, Hrouda has witnessed a great deal of history with the local school.
“I started teaching at Mineral Area College in 1967,” Hrouda said. “Originally I was hired for the technology department, so I taught civil technology and surveying. I did that until I retired, but I have also taught Earth Science for 30 or 40 years as well.”
Although officially retired, Hrouda still is an active professor who is helping students attain their dream. He has just been doing it longer than most others.
For those who believe in destiny, it could be very easily said that Hrouda was destined to be a fixture at MAC. During a time in his life when he was needing to do something different, he responded to an ad in one of his academic journals about a small rural college needing a technology professor, and although it was a far cry from Chicago, he applied.
“So I answered the ad and came down here,” Hrouda said. “I really don’t know why. If you think about it, there wasn’t much here at the time. Highway 67 was just pieces of four lanes. Where the campus is now was just a field and the towns were not very big at all.”
Hrouda, who had been working for US Steel as an architectural engineer, decided to give teaching a try.
“After seeing the college, I thought I would give it a try,” Hrouda said. “So, I took a leave of absence from US Steel. If it didn’t work out, I could always go back to Chicago and US Steel.”
When Hrouda first came to the Parkland, Mineral Area College had no campus or buildings.
“The college was scattered all over Flat River,” Hrouda said. “I was in the YMCA building right by the railroad tracks. We had one whole floor, and my room was actually right above the pool.”
When Hrouda talks about starting his teaching career at MAC, he mentions how he has seen the college grow from its early days to a modern community college. But for Hrouda, the last 50 years has been about more than just seeing the college grow. It has been about his students, his colleagues and how education, through technology, has advanced.
“We have trained a lot of different people who have went to work after their two years in most of the cities down here,” Hrouda said. “We have students who are employees in the water treatment plants that we have trained. Most of the surveyors in the area have gone through our program, and most of the municipal workers and many highway department employees were trained here. You can really see the effect we have had all around us.”
One of Hrouda’s first experiences with MAC students occurred shortly after being hired, and the incident may have been culture shock for both the man from Chicago and his students from the Parkland.
“One of my first experiences with my students occurred shortly after I got hired,” Hrouda said. “I took a group of students to St. Louis, and we stayed overnight in a hotel. I hadn’t heard from them for a couple of hours, so I went to look for them. I discovered they had been riding the escalator up and down because they had never rode one before.”
Over the last 50 years, Hrouda has also witnessed a cultural change in regard to the faculty environment. With the advent of adjunct professors, some of the camaraderie from years past has been lost.
“We use to have a faculty lounge where we would meet almost every day for lunch or a little snack,” Hrouda said. “So we always got together. We had picnics and float trips every year. We knew each other’s families. There was always a lot of activity to keep people together.”
Although Hrouda retired as a full-time professor in 1998, he has never really left as he still teaches most semesters. When he is not teaching, the retired department chairperson travels.
“The last two or three years, I teach half the time and travel the other half,” Hrouda said. “I have done a lot of world traveling, but I haven’t been through the United States all that well. During the summer we are taking different quadrants. We started in Southeast in Florida, Georgia and Alabama. One year we went east to Washington DC and the surrounding area and this summer were are going to the northeast to Maine and that area.”
Although he has been an educator for 50 years, Hrouda said, if he could, he would do it all over again.
“I would still go into teaching today,” Hrouda said. “It would be different, but I would still do it.”