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Atlee Kepler's vision, sacrifice made things happen

April 28, 2011|By CHARLES STARLIPER

One year ago, we lost one of the great men of our community and region. Dr. Atlee C. Kepler died April 28, 2010. At a time when much is debated about the place of national support and standards for education, as there should be, it is worth remembering and honoring the personal path of Kepler that led to a new level of education in our midst. He was not a lone ranger. Other leaders and educators were part of the story. Moreover, Kepler worked during a time in our history when the junior college was a new educational phenomenon, a great idea whose time had come and was flourishing.

But, make no mistake, it was Kepler who took on the challenge for us, and it was his own vision, sacrifice and dogged determination that made it happen here. He richly deserves the enormous credit he has been accorded for winning the effort to acquire the land and build the Hagerstown Community College campus in the mid-1960s, a real catapult shot into the future. Yet, by that time he had, mostly without bricks and mortar, built a solid foundation of Hagerstown Junior College on which to advance.  

One point of this letter is to recognize Kepler’s terribly difficult struggle to get “the college,” as he called it, going in the first place. He did it one faculty member, one student, one class, one borrowed facility and one budget battle at a time. It would have been great enough if he had been the architect while colleagues saw to the college’s ongoing operations. But, of course, he did both in a spectacular success. Can participants of the college in the mid-1960s and beyond appreciate what it was like during the previous decade?

The funny thing is that he gave students like me in the 1950s the feeling and reality of security in our first college experience without letting us see the struggle required to make it happen. He knew every one of us. Dr. Guy Altieri, our current college president, said that Kepler was the rarest of men.   A half-century later, I marvel more than ever at his patience, wisdom and leadership of his students and his staff. For us, he built a bridge to higher education that probably in most cases could not have been reached in any other way. No price can be put on the value of what he did for us. Surely, there can be few in any field who equaled his greatness in our region in the last century. On top of it all was his kindness, gentlemanly demeanor, infectious humor and his ability to lead decisively while rarely, if ever, raising his voice.

During his last weeks, when asked what made him happiest in his career, he said, “Helping people realize that their potential was greater than they thought it was.”


Charles Starliper of Hagerstown is a member of the Hagerstown Junior College class of 1957.

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