Although many have attended Mineral Area College, how many can remember when there was no modern campus? When there was no Cozean Library or when classes were held at the high school because of a fire?
Over the last 50 years, one man has witnessed Mineral Area College grow from a simple institution that had to share space with a high school to the modern facility of today.
For Jim Hrouda, a science and technology professor at the local college, the school’s history is part of his history. For the last 50 years, he has called MAC home.
“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 is still is an active professor who is helping students attain their dreams. 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 advertisement 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.”
During the mid-70s, Hrouda had another moment. He witnessed the first woman to graduate with from MAC with a degree in Science and Technology. Later the same woman would secure a top position with Monsanto.
In addition to teaching gifted students over the years, Hrouda has watched as technology has also changed the learning experience.
“The advancement of equipment over the years has been the biggest change in education,” Hrouda said. “When I first came we had typewriters. Then came the IBM selector. That was big. Calculators came, but they were not cheap. Obviously, the computer came, and we have worked through all of the generations of those. Many of the things I used when I was getting started are now obsolete.”
Over the last 50 years, Hrouda has also witnessed a cultural change in regard to the faculty environment. With the advent of the adjunct professor, 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 chair 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 D.C. 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.”