Kibbie to continue promoting agriculture and community colleges in retirement
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 06/25/2012 1:56 PM
EMMETSBURG, Iowa —Senate President Jack Kibbie is retiring, but don't expect him to disappear.
"I'll still promote the community college system and ag interests," Kibbie said in a recent interview at his home on the shore of Five Island Lake in Emmetsburg.
Kibbie is considered the father of Iowa's community college system and helped develop agricultural legislation during more than 30 years in the Iowa House and Senate.
Kibbie, a Democrat, was elected to his first term in the House in 1960 when John F. Kennedy was elected president. After two House terms, he was elected to the Senate in 1964.
"That year we had the largest Democratic landslide in the nation's history with a big majority of Democrats in the House and Senate," Kibbie said.
Gov. Harold Hughes campaigned on having four state-owned vocational technical schools in 1964. Kibbie, as a new senator, was asked to chair the Senate Education Committee.
"That was a surprise to me," Kibbie said. "While I'd worked on trying to save the junior colleges (he had two in his district in Emmetsburg and Estherville), I had never had any education beyond high school and people rolled their eyes at that."
In the 1965 session, he worked to broaden the tax base for junior colleges, which at that time were run by kindergarten to 12 schools. Junior colleges got extra state aid, about $1.25 per day for each student. At that time, 16 junior colleges served 9,000 students.
Kibbie's committee met for six weeks crafting SF 550, which created merged area schools under the Department of Public Instruction, now the Department of Education. Hughes agreed to support the proposal if the schools provided primarily vocational technical education. The bill passed out of committee on a bipartisan vote and was debated on the Senate floor for three days.
Iowa ended up with 15 merged area schools. In Kibbie's area junior colleges in Emmetsburg and Estherville became Iowa Lakes Community College. Sheldon, Sioux City, Waterloo and Calmar, which had no community colleges, started vocational programs and later added liberal arts and sciences.
Kibbie was defeated in 1968.
"It was the biggest favor ever done for me," he said. "I had a young family, and I was farming."
In 1971, he began serving on the Iowa Lakes Community College board, a post he held until 1988 when he was re-elected to the Senate. Today, his son, Pat, sits on the board.
Kibbie said the most important part of SF 550 is that it "married liberal arts and vocational education."
"That is what really made the Iowa community college system stick out above all others in the nation," Kibbie said.
The law called for a small amount of property tax for operating and bricks and mortar with the state general fund as the main method of financing.
"That is where the state has failed to keep up with enrollment," Kibbie said. "Enrollment is now 110,000 full-time students."
Tuition is the only flexible funding source so to keep up, community college boards have hiked tuition.
"We're at the point where tuition is getting so high that people are not going to be able to go to school," Kibbie said. "The state needs to step up to the plate."
Community colleges did pretty well during this year's session, but Kibbie said more support is needed.
He is happy for the role he played in creating Iowa's community college system.
"I got a lot of credit, but no one person can do anything," Kibbie said. "It takes everyone working together to accomplish anything."