He planned to stay just two years after Southeast Community College hired him as coordinator of community services in September 1975.
Now 39 years later, Dr. Jack Huck is retiring.
Just the third president in the 41-year history of the College, Huck has held the top position for the last 20 years as interim chancellor, chancellor, and president. He considers his nearly four-decade career at SCC as a "privilege."
"What I had the privilege of doing was affiliate with a group of people on behalf of the College," Huck said. "I had the opportunity to work with a team to help students over the years, recognizing that without quality staff in place, it would be difficult to make that a reality. It's like having the privilege to conduct an orchestra. I can't play the clarinet, oboe or violin. But I had the privilege to work with a whole bunch of clarinetists, oboists and violinists to make a really great orchestra."
SCC has recorded a number of milestones under Huck's watch. Here are a few:
- The number of students who graduated nearly tripled, from 627 in 1995-96 to 1,770 in 2012-13.
- Ninety-three percent of SCC graduates found work or continued their education during the last 20 years.
- The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program has listed SCC in the top 10 percent of all community colleges in the U.S. three consecutive years.
- The physical footprint of the College increased at every location, including the Beatrice, Lincoln and Milford campuses, and additional property was acquired in Lincoln, downtown and near 68th and O streets.
He has overseen two successful accreditation processes, played a key role in the groundbreaking Learn to Dream Scholarship program with Union Bank & Trust and Nelnet, and has been a driving force toward a successful partnership with Lincoln Public Schools and The Career Academy, which will open in August 2015.
The early years
Huck graduated from Lincoln High School and became a first-generation college student and graduate, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in education in 1969 from Nebraska Wesleyan University.
Huck completed his student-teaching at Lincoln Southeast High School. With endorsements in math and social sciences at the junior high and high school levels, he appeared to be on track for a career in K-12 education.
Huck earned his Master of Education degree in educational administration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1971, all the while teaching seventh-grade math and social sciences in York. Later that year he landed his first administrative position as principal at Bradshaw High School. In 1973 Huck earned a specialist degree from UNL that would allow him to become a superintendent.
He was principal at Bradshaw from 1971-73. Huck served Educational Service Unit No. 6 in Milford as a consultant for curriculum and instruction from 1973-75. He also worked on his doctorate in administration, curriculum and instruction, which he earned from UNL in August 1975.
Career begins at SCC
In 1975, Huck weighed three offers before accepting the new position of coordinator of community services at Southeast.
"One was to head back to K-12 administration, since I had prepared myself to become a superintendent," he said. "I also had the option of teaching at Kearney State College as a professor in the education division. Or I could come to SCC."
With young son Ben in tow, Huck and wife Lynelle headed west in their new Chevrolet Monza for a job interview at KSC.
"Kearney State offered me the job, and I looked at the opportunity there," he said, "but I decided to take the SCC offer. I believed at the time that (SCC) was the new frontier of education in the state of Nebraska. I thought it would be exciting to be part of that new frontier."
Equipped with his experience at ESU 6, Huck's main responsibility was to use the College's existing school districts as delivery points for SCC's educational offerings.
"I already knew a number of superintendents throughout the district," Huck said.
Huck helped take SCC services to citizens throughout the 15-county service area.
"EMT programs were the big forerunner to today's paramedic," he said. "That was an example of a set of courses that was important to rural communities trying to establish ambulance squads, etc. The way we got that accomplished in the 1970s was through our partnership with the Lincoln Medical Education Foundation. The LMEF produced the initial advanced trauma life support system, which became the standard of rescue squads across the nation.
"Those partnerships were just as important in 1975 as they are today," Huck said.
"I thought I'd stay (at SCC) two years, then see what was next," Huck said.
What was next would be a series of positions that eventually would groom him to become president of SCC.
From 1977-79, Huck directed the adult education and public information offices, and from 1979-81 he was dean of instruction on the Lincoln Campus and assistant campus director.
Huck was promoted to director of the Lincoln Campus in 1981. He stayed in that capacity 12 years, breaking the string of two-year employment stints.
Lessons from Dr. Robert Eicher
The leadership at SCC changed in the early 1990s. Dr. Robert Eicher, the first president of SCC and the man who hired Huck, retired in 1992. The Board of Governors hired Dr. J. Neil Admire as the next chancellor.
In late 1993 Admire departed the College, and the Board approached Huck to serve as interim chancellor. After more than 10 years as director of the Lincoln Campus, Huck decided that he was ready to take over the leadership of the College. In January 1994 he began serving SCC as interim chancellor.
In April 1995 Huck was named chancellor on a permanent basis. As part of the College's reorganization plan, Huck's title was changed to president in July 1997.
Eicher's influence on Huck was profound, even after his death in May 2012.
"I learned things like professionalism, patience and the wisdom and ability to hopefully hire excellent people for the College and then to be able to stand back and allow them to do their job to the best of their ability," Huck said.
"Other than my own father, Bob Eicher was the most influential male in my life. In my work life and during college studies, I had the pleasure of being involved with many forward-looking, thoughtful, intelligent folks. Of all those folks, Bob was the one who saw the background I had accumulated, and he gave me the opportunity to build on that foundation. Beyond that, to have had him as a mentor and someone that you could look up to and aspire to be like was likewise very helpful."
Huck said his exposure to both top-down and collaborative styles of leadership helped frame his style as president.
"I've been trained in and lived in at least two, if not multiple, worlds of leadership," he said. "When I went through my initial college experience, the management systems in place around the world were pretty much command and control. The model was top-down. Today, our Engaged Learning Experience initiative is not a command and control phenomenon."
As the 1970s turned into the 80s, the management style philosophy changed to one of employee involvement and empowerment.
"I've always felt like I experienced both worlds," Huck said. "When I came to work for the College, the world was changing its management philosophy. What resulted was hopefully my ability to change. There are still command and control people out there today. Having experienced both styles helped shape my leadership style."
Huck elaborated on his leadership style.
"I say to new employees, during orientation, that no matter what position they're coming to us, I truly believe that for any organization, one of the most important things you do is hire people who are the very best you can hire," he said. "The next most important attribute you can display is to create an atmosphere where they can grow and be challenged and contribute to the organization in a way that makes them feel involved and positive about the outcomes."
Memories for a lifetime
Huck cherishes a multitude of memories from his time at SCC. He's kissed a pig for a fundraiser, been "arrested" and handcuffed for another charitable cause, and had his share of fun with employees.
But on a more serious note, Huck said it was the people he's encountered at SCC he'll remember the most.
"The most memorable in many ways is the quality and dedication of all of the people over the years who have made SCC what it is," he said. "The other one I'd cite is the importance of partnerships and the opportunities that spring from partnerships that helped make the College successful. Our newest partnership with LPS (Lincoln Public Schools) and the Career Academy will be a life-changing event for many students and families in our district."
Huck said his proudest accomplishments directly relate to students.
"It has to be the students for whom we have made higher education available," Huck said. "The number of graduates, the number placed in training-related jobs and placement in general over the years, that's not so much due to me personally. But I think we've done an excellent job of giving people a chance to change the trajectory of their lives via education."
Honors and awards
Throughout his tenure as president, Huck has received numerous awards, including:
- The Chief Executive Officer's Award by the Nebraska Community College Association in 1997.
- Being named a 90th Anniversary Notable Alumnus by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Teachers College in 1998.
- Receiving an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Nebraska Wesleyan University in 2003.
- Being honored with the Building Community Exemplary Leader Award from the International Chair Academy for Community College Leaders in 2005.
- Receiving the Entrepreneurial Presidents Award during the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship's 9th Annual Conference in 2011.
- Having a building named in his honor. On May 20 the SCC Board of Governors approved renaming the College's Continuing Education Center to the Jack J. Huck Continuing Education Center.
Leaving a legacy
As he retires as president of SCC, Huck said he "hopes to leave an organization that is founded on the principles of caring and quality."
"I say that because one of the things I'm sure of is that in order for this nation to survive in the future, we're going to have to figure out how to effectively replace that baby boomer workforce that has made us one of the pre-eminent leaders in the world," Huck said. "And I think community colleges are at the center of helping meet those demands and shaping the skillset of that workforce of the future. My biggest fear, quite frankly, is that if we don't get that figured out, then the economy in my retirement years isn't going to be much fun. We've got to continue to maintain our economic achievements that we've accomplished. Community colleges will play a key role in that. They are recognized on a wide basis, and they must improve upon and maintain that quality level for the future in terms of the graduates we produce."
June 30 may be Huck's last day as president, but it won't be his last day at SCC. Beginning July 1, Huck and Jeanette Volker, recently retired vice president for student services/Lincoln Campus director, each will work part-time directing the SCC Educational Foundation. Huck has other retirement goals.
"I want to play more golf, go fishing more often and spoil kids and grandkids," he said. "We'll also do some fun trips. We're taking all of the kids and grandkids to Disney World in Orlando. That's the kind of things we'll be doing."
Huck's wife of 40 years, Lynelle, retired three years ago. At that time she told her husband that she needed at least one year to be home alone before he decided to retire.
"Now she's had three, and she's wondering if my retiring is a good idea," Huck said with a laugh.
The Hucks have two children, Ben (wife Teri) and Jaci Klein (husband Jason) and three grandchildren: Samuel Huck and Harrison Klein, both 6, and Lindsey Klein, 4. Huck said the time is right to retire.
"I feel good about my decision," he said. "There was a time in my life when I thought my goal was to retire at 55. Despite the finances, that's been an interesting shift in philosophy for at least my portion of the baby boomers. It's not as much about finances as it is about the purposes and of the outcomes of the years you spend in your working life and career. Career orientation in some ways has overtaken the aura of retiring early."
Huck will be 67 years old in October.