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2007-05-02 Interview with Bill Chandler, May 2, 2007 CC001:2008OH137 CC 59 00:35:58 History of Kentucky's Community Colleges Oral History Project Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries Owensboro Community College Henderson Community College Bill Chandler; interviewee Adina O'Hara; interviewer 2008OH137_CC59_Chandler 1:|12(8)|22(13)|32(8)|40(8)|50(6)|59(10)|74(12)|87(3)|99(5)|108(12)|119(12)|141(4)|151(11)|169(11)|186(7)|197(7)|209(6)|221(5)|232(3)|244(5)|255(5)|274(4)|290(9)|306(6)|318(4)|329(2)|365(10)|391(10)|412(7)|435(5)|446(5)|460(7)|477(1)|502(8)|518(8) audiotrans CommuColl interview O'HARA: This is an interview with Bill Chandler at his home in Philpot, Kentucky on May 2, 2007, conducted by Adina O'Hara for the Community College Oral History Project. Mr. Chandler, in March 1984, resolutions passed the Kentucky General Assembly calling for the state to provide community college services in Owensboro for the 1984, 1985 academic years. What was your role in the creation of Owensboro Community College? CHANDLER: (laughs) That was----------(??)--uh, I was one of, uh, of seven members of, of a group that came together because of the lack of low-cost higher education in Owensboro. We were the third largest city, and I assume that we still are, uh, yet we did not have any, any public higher education here, especially at the, at the baccalaureate or at, at the, uh, two-year level; at the community college level. The first, uh, discussion we had about a community college, John Hager and I were at a meeting, uh, honoring Jack Fisher who was a former mayor, and we were seated at the same table. And, uh, and he said, "Bill, we're just going to have to do something about not having low-cost higher education here in Owensboro." And I said, "John, what we really need is a community college." And he said, "Well, we need to explore and find that, and determine if that's best for us." So we started there and then there was a meeting at the Executive Inn of some state officials--and I, I don't recall, I don't recall who that was--but anyway, during that meeting, uh, the person who was in charge of the meeting said, "You people in Owensboro need to decide what you want, and, uh, you need to, uh, create, uh, a citizens' committee or get your act together so that you can tell the legislature what you want." So at that time, Roger McCormick and, uh, John Hager were appointed, I guess--I don't, I don't think they volunteered, but I think they were appointed--as co-chairs at a Citizens' Committee on Higher Education. From that point then, John, uh, recruited some people--uh, Mike Fiorella, uh, Tom Alvey, um, Malcolm Bryant, Richard Edwards--uh, to join him on, on this committee. Also very instrumental in the workings of this committee was David Boeyink who was, uh, was with the newspaper, and he--I'm not sure what his role was--but very bright, very intelligent man; good writer, put a lot of time into the, into this process. Um, this committee met many, many, many times--uh, sometimes as many as three times a week--and, uh, as time went on we gathered some, some other members, but these, these seven individuals--Bob Darrell was also one of those, uh, of the people who, who initiated it. And, and John was, was a really good leader, and we, uh, Mike Fiorella had a lot to do with it; Malcolm Bryant, you know, they--all of them really had a lot of input on what we did and a lot of ideas. They were--it was a very cohesive group. Uh, we had one goal, and, and we didn't let any, anything interfere with that. We went to Council on Higher Education to talk about the need for a community college in, in Owensboro and got a very cold reception. The only person who, who voted, uh, to do a study was Morton Holbrook, and Morton is a, was a highly respected attorney here in Owensboro and involved in many, many civic endeavors. Um, there are so many things that, that I can recall in terms of what, what occurred. One of the things that could have been the most detrimental thing that could have occurred was the downtown section was in, in really bad condition. Um, the stores, many of the stores, practically all of the stores had moved out and moved to a mall outside of town, so it didn't present a very, uh, very attractive feature as you come into our community. There were, uh, there were some people who, uh, decided and--and their motivation, uh, some of them owned property downtown, uh, some of them were afraid that, that the community college was going to damage the two local colleges. I'm just being very frank with you. Um, so they decided that they would hire somebody to do a study, and-- [Pause in recording.] CHANDLER: Uh, I think we were talking about downtown, and, and they decided they wanted to do a survey in, in, uh, the possibility of putting a community college downtown. It would have killed the community college. You had Second Street going one way and Third Street going both ways, and you had Fourth Street--one was going, uh, uh, west and one was going--(laughs)--um, east. And it just, you know, it made absolutely no sense, and the other thing was that they, they, uh, the plan was to obtain the property in three different stages. Now you can imagine when you, if you bought the first part and I owned that piece of property, by the time it got to you and you're the second part, yours went up a little bit or maybe a whole lot. By the time you got to the third part, the, the plan absolutely was not doable. You know, you had a church in there and nobody asked the church people what they wanted to do. The police department was in that. There were all kinds of businesses in that, that like, optometrists and, and, uh, you know, insurance agencies and those kinds of things, and, and we, we voted--the Citizens' Committee voted three times on the site where the community college is located now. Um, the county government, uh, got their act together, and they put up their, their portion of the seven hundred and ninety-five thousand dollars that it took to buy it; about a hundred, 103,105 acres. And then the city was a, was a little bit--I don't know--reluctant. I think they had some concerns about what it would do to the two local colleges. O'HARA: Um-hm. CHANDLER: Uh, but it came down to-- by this time the Citizens' Committee had grown to about twenty-five members, so, uh, some of them were instrumental and some of them were there because they worked for a given corporation or whatever. But it, it occurred--the, the city commission has kind of delayed doing anything with it, and the mayor asked the Citizens' Committee to come to a, a commission meeting and, and give our recommendation. However, when we went to that meeting that day there were, I guess, at that meeting about twenty-three, and we voted. And the vote was twenty to three to put the community college where it is now. You know, we didn't buy, you know, and one of the people who were, who was most supportive of it being downtown and I had a conversation. And I told him, I said, "This is not an urban renewal project. This is for an institution for education, and, uh, I will never vote for that and I don't think the rest of the committee will either." Um, there was, uh, some heated discussion in terms of where it ought to go. We had one individual who felt it ought to go in the west end of town, and, uh, we had people who appeared before the Citizens' Committee and, and made presentations as, as to where they thought it ought to go. And I'd say without exception that there was, those people who wanted to go in these different areas had some kind of private interest in it or they had, you know, they had a, a piece of property they wanted to sell to the college that was dilapidated and practically worthless but could be worth some money. So we, we passed that hurdle. That was the biggest threat to the community college in Owensboro because it, indeed, would have destroyed it. It would never have been successful. It--we never could have raised the money to buy all that property. Out here you're talking about farm land. Down there you're talking about buildings that are, you know, some of them are decent, some of them were, you know, would cost you more to tear them down than they were worth, but, uh, that was a, that was an absolute threat. Um, but, but we got past that, and, uh, I think you said you were out there yesterday. You can see what's out there. O'HARA: Yes. It's a beautiful campus, and, and I think you discussed this on the phone with me as well. There's some unique things about Owensboro's campus. Um, I believe you mentioned it was approximately twenty-five years since the last community college had been there-- CHANDLER: It was twenty-three years. O'HARA: Twenty-three years? CHANDLER: Um-hm. O'HARA: That's a long time. CHANDLER: Um-hm. And they said you couldn't do it, you know; that, that we already had, uh, people down in Henderson. Uh, there was a senator from there, uh, uh, state senator, Henry Lackey who kept saying that, you know, we have more education than we can pay for now. We don't need, we don't need another one. You, you folks can use Henderson Community College. Well, you know, that's thirty miles away, and, and, uh, this town is large enough that it, we knew we could support a community college. Um, I, I guess my role in this was that I just was one of seven people who had a commitment to make this happen, and it didn't, it didn't matter how much time it took. Uh, but the real key to it was Donnie Blandford. Don Blandford and Delbert Murphy and, uh, Louis Johnson were in, in the, uh--Louis was in the House. Donnie was Speaker of the House, and Delbert, for a while, was, uh, he was assistant to, to the Speaker in, in the Senate. He was, um, in the position David Williams has now. I can't remember the term, but he was, he was second in command there at one time; not at the time we got the college, but he still had a lot of influence. And Louis worked hard on it, and, uh, and, uh, and Blandford is the one who, uh, did it. He's the one that anybody you talk with, if you--did you go in the board-room? O'HARA: No. I have not been in the board-room. CHANDLER: Okay. O'HARA: Unh-uh. CHANDLER: If you went in the board-room, we had a--there's a big portrait of Don in the, in the back hand painted and, uh, and then, also of Roger and, uh, and John Hager. So Donnie Blandford did, did a lot for this town in addition to just the community college. O'HARA: What were--when the very first--going back to the very first discussion about creating a Citizens' Committee, do you recall what year that was? CHANDLER: It would be, uh, it would be an estimate. I'd say it was about '82. See, we, we, we worked on this for a number of years, and I'm, I'm guessing it was somewhere between '80 and '82. Uh, what I hope to do is to get someone to research the, uh, the background information. We have some, uh, some information at the college, but there aren't dates on it. You know, it'll say, you know, they, it came out of, uh, somebody copied it from a newspaper, but they didn't copy the date of the newspaper. O'HARA: Which is very important. CHANDLER: (laughs) Yes, it is. So, uh, I'd like--and there are a lot of things that are missing. Uh, there was one individual one night I, I visited the, uh, the city commission meeting, and, uh, he said there'd been no publicity and there--of course, he had been in Florida for three months. (laughs) So he, he said--and I was in the back. I was just watching, and the mayor asked me if I would speak to that. (clears throat) He wanted to, he wanted to know if we'd done any core drillings on the field farm, and, uh--(clears throat)--of course at that time we had an option on it. And--(clears throat)--and he said, uh, "Have you done any core drillings?" And I said, "No, but it seems rather strange you would be concerned about that when you wanted it downtown and downtown sits on quicksand." And--(clears throat)--and he said, uh, "Well, there hasn't been much publicity." And I said, "Sir, where have you been for the last year?" And he said, "Well, I haven't seen anything." And at that time, I said, "There were twenty-three articles and twelve public meetings. It's odd that you haven't been to or read any of these." And, uh, he--(laughs)--and as I was leaving the meeting he was downstairs, and he said--(clears throat)--he said, "I didn't, I didn't mean to upset you." And I said, "You didn't upset me." I said, "You know, I'd," I said, "I'll debate this issue with you anytime, anyplace before anybody," and that's the last we heard of him, but-- O'HARA: Interesting. It sounds like, um, the, the seven individuals who were selected to be in charge appear to me to be men that know how to handle obstacles and overcome them and to move on and pursue the next level. Um, it's impressive. One other obstacle, uh, you briefly, um, talked about was, um, some of the other higher educational institutions in Owen-, that existed in Owensboro; Kentucky Wesleyan and Brescia. How did you get those or citizens that were worried about a threat to those colleges, how did you get them on board with the Owensboro Community College idea? CHANDLER: Uh, I'm not sure we ever got very many of them on board. (clears throat) Uh, uh, I'll share an incident with you. Roger McCormick who was co-chair of the Citizens' Committee on Higher Education, I was an assistant superintendent at that time, and he called my, my secretary and said, you know, "Can Bill be at the penthouse on" whatever afternoon it was "at, at 3:30." And, and we did that all the time. We didn't go to the penthouse, but we'd go to a school or we'd go to the, our central office or we'd go someplace. So I, jus-, you know, I told her to tell him yes, I'd be there. He said, "Tell him I'll meet him in the lobby." I don't remember the time, but that's irrelevant, but I met him in a lobby. We get on the elevator and we go up, and I'm looking for five people and there are about twenty-five or thirty in there. I said, "Roger, what are we doing?" He said--well, Roger talked with a drawl, and he said, "Well, Bill," he said, "Uh, these are the, uh, are the trustees of Brescia and Wesleyan, and you're going to explain to them why we need a community college." (laughs) And I said-- O'HARA: Talk about being put on the spot. (laughs) CHANDLER: Thanks, Roger. But, you know, all of us had done our homework in terms of the impact that, that a public institution had on, on an existing private institution. We'd all done our homework and, and we, we'd found some really positive instances, but to make a long story short, we were there about three hours. And, um, you know, it's, it was one of those things. To be very honest about it, you know, I enjoyed the opportunity because, because these guys who were on Brescia's board and Wesleyan's board were the most influential people in this town. There wasn't any other college board to be on, so when you recruit people to be on a college board, guess who you recruit? (laughs) You know, you recruit the people that, that GE's and the Texas Gas's and the, you know, the people that, that have power and money, and so it was an interesting three hours. Uh, and we could--and I could relate a lot of the conversation, but one of the things I said to them, I said, "You, you have to understand that not everybody at that time"--Wesleyan was a $115 dollars an hour. Brescia was $103 dollars an hour, and--I said, "You have to understand everybody can't afford that." And, uh, and you know, I didn't know at that time what it would be, what our tuition would be, but it was twenty-two. So you're talking about twenty-two versus $103 and $112, $115. O'HARA: That's a big difference, major. CHANDLER: Uh, big difference, and I said, "You know, our people are place-bound," and one of them said, "Well, they can just go down to Western." And I said, "Well, if you have a, if you have a job and you have two children, that's a little tough." O'HARA: Um-hm. CHANDLER: You know, you might get the father to stay with them and, you know, you can run out to community college and take a course. And then one of them said, "Well, how would you feel about locating the community college on, on Wesleyan's campus?" I said, "I don't think you want that." I said, "You know, how are you going to explain to a student who's in beginning English why she's paying, you know, $103 dollars an hour and the one across the hall from her is paying, you know," I, I said, I think I said, "Twenty-five or thirty dollars an hour." I said, "I, I don't think, I don't think you want that," and they talked about it and decided they didn't want that. (both laugh) But anyway--(clears throat)--after, after three hours, one of the gentlemen who had formerly been, uh, president of their board, of Brescia's Board of Regents stood up and he said, "Gentlemen, this is like being opposed to motherhood." And I said, "Thank you. Thank you." O'HARA: Wow. What a statement. CHANDLER: Yeah. O'HARA: Because that's what the community college brought. It brought hope to the thousands of people who didn't have any other opportunities. CHANDLER: It's just, it's just been amazing to watch--(clears throat)-- and be a part of the development of that college. Um, I just can't--you know, it's been, uh, well, aside from the Owensboro Public School System where I spent thirty-six and a half years, the two of them were where I, where my emphasis was; where my heart was. O'HARA: And now you're working with, uh, um, with a hospital? CHANDLER: Hospital. Um-hm. O'HARA: You've always been very active in all elements of community-- CHANDLER: Well--(clears throat)--you know, that's a two-way street. Um, this town has really been good to me and my family, and, and, uh, I, I love this town. I don't ever want to live anyplace else, and, uh, we were--my wife is from Bowling Green, and we lived there for a couple years while I was in school. And, of course, we, we both thought we, you know, wanted to live there all the time and then had a chance to come here in a, in a school system, and there's no community--and I'm very biased--but there's no, there's no community like this community and the, and the kind of people who are in it and the people who are willing to, to get involved and, and make things happen. And I-- (clears throat)--I have, uh, been very blessed to have made a choice to come here rather than to go to two or three other places that I could have gone. And I had a great superintendent, and uh, he was the one that always wanted me to get my doctorate and then when he went to Western, uh, he gave me a job and then I went to University of Kentucky and got my doctorate. And, you know, I've had people like that who have been mentors and have been great friends, and, and it's just--I get emotional when I talk about it, you know. It's just, it's just been a wonderful place for me. It's been a wonderful place for our family, and, um, community college, I, I still spend a lot of time there. Hopefully I don't get in the way. But it's, uh, the, I chaired the committee that, uh--(clears throat)--just, just recommended to Dr. McCall, a new president, and he accepted the recommendation. Again, a really great group of people to work with. The first time around-- (clears throat)--we had four candidates, but we jus-, we didn't make a recommendation on any of them because we just didn't think they'd fit the college. So then we had to go back in January and start over. So we have, we, we have a lady that we're very pleased with, and we think she'll do a great job for the college. O'HARA: And she just started, I understand? CHANDLER: Yeah. O'HARA: In the last-- CHANDLER: Started on the twenty-third. O'HARA: Twenty-third. I haven't had the privilege of meeting her, yet, but I would-- CHANDLER: Nice lady. You'll like her. O'HARA: Understand she's a native of Henderson? CHANDLER: Yes. She went to Henderson Community College. O'HARA: Kentucky roots. CHANDLER: Yep. Yep. And her mother and her sister still live there. O'HARA: Really? CHANDLER: Yeah. Yeah. O'HARA: That's neat. Neat. Well, that's an exciting new chapter in the history of Owensboro Community College. CHANDLER: We're looking forward to it. She's, uh, I think she's going to do a really good job. O'HARA: Um, you mentioned on the phone with me yesterday how, um, uh, a little bit more about how people tried to manipulate, um, to get the campus downtown. I think you mentioned a name. Uh, there's a consultant who recommended building it in three stages. CHANDLER: Um-hm. O'HARA: Um, do you remember the consultant's name? CHANDLER: Zucchelli. (??) O'HARA: Zucchelli? CHANDLER: Um-hm. O'HARA: And who, who paid for that whole endeavor to hire a consultant. Was that the city of Owensboro or-- CHANDLER: Well, I think there was some individuals involved in that, and, uh, it seemed to me like it was the city--and I don't know if the county was involved, the fiscal court was involved in it or not, but it, it would stand to reason that the city with a downtown section like that, and I'm almost, uh--I don't know, though, because I'm not, I think the mayor--(clears throat)--I don't think, I think the mayor was in favor of, of the field site where it is now. So I don't, I don't know who put that together. O'HARA: That's interesting because I know Tom Alvey said yesterday that Don Blandford was responsible for getting the $1.3 million for the feasibility study and that without the $1.3 that Don so graciously, um, made sure that Owensboro got, um, there wouldn't have been the money to, to do the studies and handle it. So those must have been two, two totally separate groups doing studies there. CHANDLER: Um-hm. Absolutely. O'HARA: Completely. CHANDLER: Absolutely. O'HARA: That's interesting. CHANDLER: They're--(clears throat)--that, that was a great concern to us because we knew--and quite honestly there were some people we knew who were supporting it with the idea of killing it, and it would have. You know, they were exactly right. It would have. He never, he never would have gotten through out of those three phases. There's no way and, and, you know, you can't, you can't build a campus in, in the middle of town, and you can't go take somebody's church and, you know--the police department eventually moved, but it's several years after that. O'HARA: Yeah. CHANDLER: You know, so--and there were a number of other businesses there, and it, it just, it didn't make any sense. And I couldn't believe, uh, some of the people who supported that. O'HARA: And the culture of the campus, trying to build--every campus has a culture--and, and with it buildings being separated and, and all these things, the, it would har-, it would be difficult for a leader of the college to gel the culture and to kind of pull everybody together when--(laughs)--people were half, you know, seven blocks away over-- CHANDLER: Well, and, and they're negotiating two streets, you know, to get there. Two--one, well, two of them were one-way, and one of them is two-way. O'HARA: I was down there this, this afternoon for, for lunch and--great downtown--but yes, I had to, I had to go in, you know, in circles to figure out how to get around. (laughs) CHANDLER: Well, downtown now looks a lot different now than it did in the early eighties, I can tell you. The, the economy was really bad here, and, and, um, the other thing--one of our other concerns was that our on-to-college rate was not acceptable, and which, and, and I talked with, uh, the trustees about that. You know, you looked at Owensboro, and we were like, I don't, it was probably 37 percent. And Bowling Green was 51 and 52 percent. Now what's the difference? You know, reasonable (??) university. Now if they can, you know, if the-, if they can meet the needs--I'm talking about the private colleges--if they can meet the needs then why is our on-to-college rate? Because the elementary and secondary schools in this county are very good and then, and,and so is the, the parochial school. You know, they have a, they have a, a pretty large enrollment, and, and all of them are good school systems. Now where's the variable that, that's not meshing? You know, you don't have low-cost higher education. Can't afford to go. O'HARA: So you're going to make a strong case based on those statistics and pulling that information together. CHANDLER: Yeah. Well, we used those many times, and it was--(clears throat)--of course, I-65 doesn't hurt Bowling Green either and the other, other interstates that intersect I-65 and then, you know, the, the, the, uh, intrastate that comes from Bowling Green to Owensboro. So there's a lot of, you know, there, there's some other things they had, but, but, by and large the difference was what that community, what that, that college or university brings to that community. So it's, uh, there's a lot of, uh--you can't begin, I can't begin to summarize all the things that occurred in that, in that from about 1980 to '86,'88. There's, there's no way to talk about it. There are so many things if they hadn't been in place, we wouldn't have made it; the $1.3 million dollars you talked about. And, as I told you, we started it in, in two rooms of an elementary school, and I happened to be in the right place to make that happen. O'HARA: Great. CHANDLER: And, and then this man, when we grew--that's Malcolm Bryant-- O'HARA: Um-hm. CHANDLER: When Malcolm, uh, when we got so big, we couldn't handle it at Longfellow, he had a, a building at Ninth and Frederica or approximately Ninth and Frederica. It's up, it's a little bit south of that, and we moved to his building. O'HARA: Oh, I didn't know about this. CHANDLER: Yeah. It was called Midtown, Midtown Building, and that, and the college was there for a period of time. O'HARA: Really? CHANDLER: When it was at Longfellow, uh, we used some of the library facilities. The library's right next door to Longfellow. It's-- O'HARA: The county library? CHANDLER: It's--yeah. The Owensboro Daviess County Library. O'HARA: They had a nice collection-- CHANDLER: Oh, did they? O'HARA: On the community college. Yeah. CHANDLER: Yeah, good. Uh, but--(clears throat)--you know, we pieced a lot of things together to make this work, and I say we. You know, a lot of people did it, uh, but, you know, if, if the cause is right and you're, uh, tenacious enough and, and you're hopefully savvy enough to go about it in the right way, you can make it happen. O'HARA: And there's a lot of evidence of that now. It would be really neat to see a complete history of Owensboro Community and Technical College done. Um-- CHANDLER: It really would. I--(clears throat)--I'd like to go back. I'd like to have somebody go back and recover the articles from the Messenger-Inquirer. That would be a, a really great, uh, source, and you can build a chronology with that. The problem, as I shared with you earlier, you can't, you know--you have the article, but you don't want, what, what date, what the date, you can't place them chronologically, and, and that's really important. You know, so if we had, if we had somebody who could research that and pull, just pull out the articles--and you'll find those articles as I told this gentleman about at city hall. You know, they're there and, and the public meetings that we had, and the good thing about that--everybody in this group, we used his building for, for meetings. O'HARA: And what was his name? CHANDLER: Richard Edwards. O'HARA: Richard Edwards. CHANDLER: Um-hm. Uh--(clears throat)--and he did, you know, he did a lot of, a lot of support kind of things for us, and, and everybody--I can name something that from every-- [Pause in recording.] CHANDLER: --idea person. He had a great, he has a, he has a good mind. Nobody, as you said, nobody had an agenda, and nobody--and I'll tell you some things off the record that--(laughs)--that you may want to put in, you may not. But-- [End of interview.] Oral history with Bill Chandler regarding the formation of Owensboro Community College in the early 1984. Chandler discusses the acquisition of land and campus construction. Interview highlights the work of the Citizens Committee for Higher Education in soliciting funds from the state Legislature for a community college in Owensboro. Chandler discusses the role of Don Blandford in the acquisition of funding for the college. Concludes with a discussion on the impact of the college on the community as well as its impact on other area college and universities. insert here