Gannon talks about beginnings
Editor in Chief
The year was 1957. Elvis was tearing up the Billboard charts. Russia had just launched Sputnik into space. The first Frisbee was produced. And a 34-year-old man named Philip Gannon was starting a community college in Lansing. Mich.
Now 93, Gannon plans to return to the college he helped establish during a 60-year commencement speech. The event will be Wednesday, May 11 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. inside The Gannon Commons on LCC’s main campus.
Gannon recently reminisced with The Lookout about the events that led to the creation of Lansing Community College in 1957.
“I was working on my doctor dissertation at MSU, I was employed there as a research assistant at Kellogg Center,” Gannon said. “Lansing General Motors and the Civil Service Highway Department wanted technical programs developed … they wanted to set up a committee at MSU and (MSU) didn’t want to do it … so they asked Lansing Public Schools if they would be interested.”
Gannon said the superintendent of Lansing Public Schools, Dwight Rich, and the director of the Kellogg Center, Dr. Harden, were two individuals who were influential in LCC’s beginnings.
“They called me up from downstairs and gave me an interview and said, ‘Would I like to make a study for a new college in Lansing?’” he said. “I accepted the job and they gave me the title special assistant to the superintendent … to which they said, ‘No one knows what that means but it will look good on your resume.’”
Gannon proceeded with his three-month study and the Board of Education approved his offer, allowing Lansing Community College to open its doors to the public in the fall of 1957.
Gannon spoke about some of the early struggles he had starting the college.
“One of the first questions we faced was, ‘We have a major college with Michigan State and Lansing Business College … why do we need another university?” Gannon said. “I wanted to set up a technical institute instead of a community college … the idea of a community college was just starting to blossom anyways.”
Gannon said he was out to prove doubters wrong. He said he tirelessly campaigned his dream of starting a college by sending out flyers to grocery stores, advertising on the radio and mailing every high school graduate in the metropolitan area.
When classes finally started in fall of 1957, there were 77 full-time students and only three classes available: mechanical technology, civil technology and electrical technology.
Gannon spoke about the atmosphere of the college during its inaugural year.
“We had two secretaries, seven full-time faculty members and myself as dean, registrar, counselor, admissions director, accountant and everything else,” Gannon said. “We were family, we knew all the faculty and I knew all the students by name.
“I knew all their educational problems and sometimes their personal problems. I would say from my personal standpoint that was the most enjoyable time of all my years at the college.”
As LCC began to grow, the time came to adopt leaders for the college. In December of 1964, LCC’s first board of trustees was announced and Gannon was named LCC’s first president. It was a position he held until retiring in 1989.
Gannon spoke about the initiative of the college’s first board.
“They came in with only one thought in mind: ‘What can we do to build a college here that would fit the community and fit the needs of students,’” Gannon said. “Politics was not a part of the agenda at that time.”
LCC continued to flourish, and Gannon and the board started to establish unit colleges. Thus, the Arts & Sciences, Technical and Business divisions were adopted in 1968. Lansing Public Schools also donated its Old Central building as a sign of goodwill to the college.
“As a faculty we agreed we were going to be a student-centered college,” Gannon said. “That means our budget, our time and efforts were going to be centered on students and learning.”
Gannon talked about which improvements he found most important during his presidency.
“I think buildings are somewhat important,” Gannon said. “You can have old bricks or new bricks, but what goes on in relation to learning is the key factor.”
Gannon said he is proud LCC had one of the first college libraries to have access to the Library of Congress. He also said he praised developing a relationship with the black colleges in Atlanta, a program started by The LCC Foundation.
“The creativity, the intellectual drive, commitment and dedication of the faculty that set up these programs are things that I treasure,” Gannon said.
After stepping down as LCC’s president in 1989, the forefather of LCC moved out of Lansing and lives with his wife, Lois, of 65 years. They split their time living in a cabin in Long Lake, Mich., and a home in Fort Myers, Fla.
Former LCC English Professor and Vice President Emeritus Dale Herder, who worked with Gannon for many years at LCC, spoke about their relationship.
“Dr. Gannon and I remain in fairly close contact yet today,” Herder said. “I am honored to still consider him a respected colleague and friend. I am impressed by his energy level, crisp intellect an unchanged ‘can do’ demeanor.’”
For more info on Gannon’s upcoming speech at LCC, go to www.lcc.edu/about/gannon_event/