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VanHerck dies at age of 82

Dr. Don VanHerck, Mineral Area College’s longest-serving trustee, died Monday afternoon at the age of 82.

In his 43 years on the board, he was known for providing a steady hand of leadership to the Park Hills-based community college. VanHerck’s fellow trustees recently presented the retired educator with a plaque, noting that they had voted to name their boardroom after him.

The conference room connected to both the theater lobby and President Dr. Steve Kurtz’s office is now known as the VanHerck Board Room. At last month’s meeting, Dr. VanHerck presented former trustee Sally Parker-Nash with a plaque honoring her years of service to the college.

In response to the long-time trustee’s death, Kurtz, described VanHerck’s passing as “a surprise.”

“We knew his health had been increasingly frail, but he continued to rally during the last couple of years,” He said. “Dr. VanHerck was almost a force of nature.”

The Subdistrict 5 trustee was first elected to the board in 1974. He brought with him a wealth of vocational and technical education knowledge, having been UniTec Career Center’s director from 1973 to 1997.

According to fellow trustee, Harvey Faircloth, VanHerck offered insights into the college that no one else could provide.

“Dr. VanHerck was a unique guy,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t know that he had a great sense of humor, but I think the thing that I’ll always remember about him is the knowledge of the college that he had stored in his memory.

“It was so valuable to be able to go to him and ask, ‘Hey, how did this happen?’ or ‘Why did this come about?.’ He would look into the past and be able to explain why some of the decisions made at the school were made. I’ll miss him because of that.”

Although VanHerck — a Bismarck native — hadn’t given education much thought for the future, his mother approached him with $60 in her hand, along with a request that he enroll in Flat River Junior College, Mineral Area College’s precursor.

A reluctant student at first, Dr. VanHerck soon became friends with some of his junior college instructors who, he felt, gave him the impression that they believed he could do great things.

“I didn’t set the world on fire in my classes,” he said. “But they gave me confidence and seemed to think they saw something in me that could succeed.”

Following his graduation in 1956, VanHerck worked for the Missouri Division of Employment Security for a couple of years, but realized that if he wanted to have a family and earn enough to support them, he would need to continue his education. At Murray State University, he learned the joys of academic competition, earning an A average in his studies to secure a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and was invited to pursue his master’s degree studies while teaching classes for Murray State.

VanHerck began working toward his doctorate, eschewing a full scholarship to Texas A&M to work for and attend a favorite Murray professor’s alma mater, the University of Missouri-Columbia. There, he met up with an old friend from his hometown of Bismarck, Dixie A. Kohn, who was also pursuing his studies while working for the university.

Both men eventually entered careers in education, which led to them working together once again when Dr. Kohn was hired as MAC’s president. VanHerck was just closing out his first decade on the college’s board of trustees at that time.

Over almost 40 years, VanHerck served in every officer capacity on the board of trustees, since the offices rotate regularly. Some of the highlights of his tenure included pioneering the addition of the Central Methodist University 2+2 plan, the construction of several additional buildings on campus and the expansion of outreach centers in Perryville, Winona, Fredericktown and Potosi.

Several years ago, VanHerck received the Missouri Community College Association Award of Distinction for his lifetime achievement in vocational and higher education.

According to Kurtz, VanHerck’s absence will be felt deeply at the college.

“I’ve been here for 18 years now and he’s always been reliable for sound discussion and putting things in context of the college’s history,” he said. “We’ve all gotten to know his friend, Judy, and his son, Major General Glen VanHerck, over the years and we’ve delighted in their company. The MAC family has lost an important member today.”

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Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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