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3 presidents guided HCC

September 10, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

HAGERSTOWN - Convinced Hagerstown's community college should have its own campus and determined it would, Atlee Kepler was not above a bit of political maneuvering in the 1960s.

Without apology, Kepler - the community college's first president in name and one of three presidents in the school's 60-year history - recently recounted the lengths to which he went to make his goal of a separate campus a reality.

Kepler said he did his best to make sure "his man" ran for a County Commission seat. He planted people in the audiences of candidate forums to ask questions about a new campus. He enticed other people to run for the office, believing they would lose.

And they did, in fact, fail, but Kepler did not and his candidate - Evan Crossley - won.

"When I went to discuss our new campus, everything was considerably more favorable since my man had been voted in," Kepler said.

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When the time came to vote on whether to support a new campus, it was initially a 2-2 tie.

Crossley's was the swing vote.

He voted yes.

Now the college that started out small and serving World War II veterans and others in a former Hagerstown high school is celebrating its 60th anniversary. It serves more students and offers more programs than ever before.

Not too shabby for a school that, not long after it opened, was on the verge of shutting down.

Presenting President Kepler


Kepler is careful to stress that the moniker sometimes assigned to him - HCC's first president - is not entirely accurate.

When the college was formed in 1946, Alvey Isanogle was named the first administrative head. He was called a dean, not a president, and served in that role for two years. James Mileham succeeded him, serving as the dean from 1948 to 1952.

Kepler took over as dean in January 1953, replacing an interim dean.

Eight years later the Maryland legislature passed bills relating to community colleges, one of which allowed the heads of such colleges to be called presidents.

"I was the fourth administrative head but technically speaking I was the first one they called president," said Kepler, 85.

Hagerstown Community College - known for decades as Hagerstown Junior College, or HJC - got its start after a state superintendent of schools said that any county that wanted to start a community college could receive $10,000 - a fair amount of money at the time, Kepler said.

Benjamin Willis, Washington County's schools superintendent, thought it was a good idea and The Daily Mail announced on Friday, Aug. 9, 1946: "Junior College To Open In City In September."

According to that front-page story - the first article to definitively announce a college would open - at least 100 students would be required to enroll for the plans to proceed.

The article said that "the college is being set up primarily to take care of high school graduates anxious to advance their education but who are unable to enter any of the state or out-of-state colleges due to crowded conditions."

It also mentioned that "several score of veterans are anxious to enroll."

Classes were to be conducted from 4 to 10 p.m. daily and on Saturdays. Tuition cost $300.

"The college will be open to both sexes," the article stated.

Before the college opened a decision had to be made on whether the college would be considered an independent place of higher education, or whether it would be an extension of the county's secondary schools, Kepler said.

The latter was decided upon and, from 1946 to either 1971 or 1972, the college operated under the county's board of education, Kepler said.

"Finally the board of education realized that the college was becoming too much of an issue and they went on record as requesting the state to appoint a new board," Kepler said.

A board of trustees was created and still oversees the college.

At one time an idea was discussed to have all higher education operate under the auspices of the University of Maryland.

Meaning, Kepler said, little local control would have been possible.

"My goal was to develop the very best two-year college for this area because I felt there were many students who would not need to or want to complete a four-year program, but they should have the opportunity to have the best possible two-year program," Kepler said.

Lights out at 9:30 p.m.


For its first 10 years, the college operated from the former Hagerstown High School on North Potomac Street, across from the building that now houses Richards World Travel.

As South Hagerstown High School was being built in 1956, a separate building for the college was constructed.

That building had four classrooms, two conference areas, two offices and a student lounge. Perfectly square, some called it "the cracker box," although Kepler said he liked to call it a "Japanese tea house," referencing a play that was popular at the time, "The Teahouse of the August Moon."

It wasn't perfect.

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