HAZLETON — A bluegreen “L” hanging at an angle next to “LUZERNE COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE” lettering over storefronts at 100 W. Broad St. marks a portal.
In the past 20 years, approximately 8,000 students have passed through.
Some arrived directly after graduating from high school. Others worked and raised families before entering.
They sought two-year diplomas while aiming at higher degrees from other colleges or pursued certificates in various trades.
Many sandwiched classes between full-time work, while seeking better jobs or more training for jobs that they already held.
A few took courses remotely, even before the pandemic.
Some learned English as their second language while others took Spanish.
As the college observes the 20th anniversary of its center in Hazleton, students and faculty from past and present recalled the role that LCCC played in their lives and what it added to the community.
When the center opened its doors in Hazleton on Sept. 26, 2000, Terry Moran Bauder was there as the first director, registering new students and giving pep talks as they continued their studies.
“It was the most fulfilling, satisfying job I could have ever had,” said Bauder, a radio news director and chief executive of Leadership Hazleton before she worked for the college.
Bauder said LCCC offered courses for traditional students seeking degrees. But the college also designed programs to teach skills that employers wanted their workers to learn. Restaurant workers studied food safety to meet a state requirement. Teachers completed professional development classes to update their certifications. Teenagers earned college credits while still in high school.
“For me, it was a thrill to be able to offer a high quality education in their own backyard. We would have students who would work their jobs in the day and come to classes in the evening,” Bauder said.
Students and instructors patronized local businesses on their way to and from classes. The center also became an impromptu site where civic groups met or held training sessions. Ed Rendell stopped by in 2004 while he was governor to announce a grant for a new bus station. All of that added vitality to the community, Bauder said.
She directed the center for 19 of its 20 years before retiring last year. During her tenure, two of her sons earned degrees at LCCC, and two other sons took classes there.
Bauder’s longevity made Kim Whalen feel comfortable about succeeding her a year ago.
“I knew it’s a great place. That was a great sign for me,” Whalen said.
In Hazleton, Whalen said students can take basic classes and finish some programs entirely or move to the main campus in Nanticoke to finish studies in scores of other majors that LCCC offers.
Whalen has one student who took care of younger siblings after their mother died, who worked full time and who still took courses.
“It strikes me that even our young students, lots of them, work full time and come to school as well … That is a feat that I’m always amazed by,” she said. “The students who can balance, they’re so hardworking, committed when they decided to do the schooling. They’re really dedicated because they have so much on their plates.”
Mark Mlynek is a volunteer firefighter and scuba diver with the West End Fire and Rescue Co. in Mahanoy City. He works full time at a distribution center, but since graduating from Marian Catholic High School he also has attended LCCC part-time to further his career ambition.
Mlynek has applied to become a Pennsylvania State Trooper and is now three courses shy of completing an associate’s degree, which the state requires of police cadets.
He can go to classes at the Hazleton center before or after work, so the college fits his schedule, and his budget. Tuition at LCCC is $2,010 per semester.
“I look at a lot of people going to school. I know they’re going to be $20, $30,000 in debt. I don’t have any debt. I have a brand new vehicle,” Mlynek said.
For Jordany and Victoria Krawinkel, a brother and sister from Hazleton, LCCC provided a place where they could start college.
Jordany graduated in the spring, although the pandemic shifted his commencement exercises online and his unit of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard into action.
“Right when I graduated, I had to go to Philly,” where his unit helped keep order.
Now he is taking classes remotely from Kutztown University, where he is studying toward a bachelor’s degree in computer science and aiming at a career designing video games.
At LCCC, he spent the first year in Hazleton and did work study at the Hazleton One Community Center, where he continues to volunteer. In his second year, Jordany attended the main campus, where he took part in drama and computer clubs.
Also, he got to know his professors.
“It was really good for me,” he said. “Especially what I loved the most at LCCC was they gave me that perspective, one to one.”
His sister, Victoria, is still at LCCC, where she is studying health sciences and plans to become a surgeon. Like her brother, she is in the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and does work study at the Hazleton One Center. Also she has become a tutor for other students.
“LCCC has helped me become a more independent person, more confident about myself to not be scared to speak up when you have to,” Victoria said in an email. “I am a Latina, and throughout all of my classes I have learned a lot of things that proved everything is possible, if you make it possible.”
For families that moved to Hazleton from other countries, like the Krawinkels who came from the Dominican Republic, the center offered classes in English as a second language for free through a continuing education program. Students in degree programs also can take English as a second language to prepare for other classes.
English as a second language now is a separate entity at the Hazleton center, where 68% of students were Hispanic when Bauder retired.
“We filled a niche for affordable, high-quality education for our new neighbors and friends,” she said.
During her tenure, 400 to 450 students a year attended the Hazleton center.
The pandemic reduced enrollment to 240 students at the center this year, when more students are studying virtually. LCCC’s distance learning program attracted 2,939 students, up from 1,544 last year.
Distance learning began pre-pandemic.
Bauder told students that they could take courses in their pajamas.
“it really helped because we had shift workers, moms with children. They took advantage of distance learning,” she said.
LCCC sought to make education convenient for people in Hazleton even before the center opened.
Prior to then, students could take night classes, which the college offered inside rooms of Hazleton public schools.
After LCCC opened a center in downtown Wilkes-Barre that drew well, the college sought to replicate that model in Hazleton.
After searching for a home for its Hazleton center, the college chose a four-story complex that previously held Deisroth’s and J.J. Newberry department stores and had been remodeled into the Downtown Business Exchange.
Across the Hazleton area, students responded to the chance to get an education without driving to the college’s main campus in Nanticoke.
Bauder and co-workers put in hours of overtime signing up new students on registration night.
“It was just amazing. We ran out of applications,” she recalled.
LCCC projected that the Hazleton Center would lose $110,000 its first year. Instead it turned a profit of $160,000, a result that validated the decision to open.
“I loved it. It was such a great blend of traditional and non-traditional students, all of whom chose to be there to make their lives better,” said Sheryl DiSabella, who taught computer science shortly after the center opened. “I am so grateful to have been such a small piece of a much bigger puzzle solving problems and making our community better.”
The Hazleton center recently took more space on the first floor of the Downtown Business Exchange, which the building’s manager said added to the campus atmosphere.
“They are constantly improving and expanding and have authorized some recent renovations that have added beautifully to the setting for the students,” Mark Sobeck, whose firm manages the building, which is owned by Luzerne County, said in an email.
Daniel Guydish had been retired from a career with the Hazleton Area Public Schools for five years when he began to miss the classroom. At LCCC, he resumed teaching history and political science for a decade before closing his books again in 2012.
While with LCCC, he taught at the main campus and in Berwick, one of seven centers the college has now, but he liked convening classes in Hazleton.
“I found it to be a terrific facility atmosphere, very friendly students,” Guydish said. “That conception of it’s 13th grade — by no means did that apply. It truly was an academic facility that really met the needs of the students.”
Pat Trosky said although she was an instructor, she learned, too, while at LCCC.
Having spent much of her career as a newspaper reporter at The Citizens’ Voice, a Times-Shamrock newspaper, Trosky was well qualified to teach an introductory writing course.
But she had jitters.
“I never taught before. I was deathly afraid to talk in public,” she said.
While she overcame her fear, Trosky found it ironic a few years later when she was asked to teach public speaking.
Because she had trembled about her first lectures, she related to students who had stage fright, including one man, who had been in prison.
Before giving his first speech, he started sweating.
“He said I’ve had guns held to my head, and I’m more scared now than I was then,” Trosky recalled.
She had other students who were autistic, stuttered, were blind.
“I tell them when they come up, ‘Just breathe.’ It’s almost like a respite for them,” Trosky said. “They know it is a safe place.”
One of her students, Raul Santana, chose LCCC partly because he didn’t drive and the center was close to his home in Hazleton.
To work his way through LCCC, he put in 36 hours at local distribution centers on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays after attending classes Mondays through Thursdays.
Also he served in the National Guard.
Finishing his course work took a lot of late-night studying and required understanding from his instructors. “They knew I was in a special situation,” he said.
Santana not only completed two years at LCCC, but he went on to Bloomsburg University where he earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in educational leadership.
His academic and Army experience led him to Marywood University, where he now works as director of military and veteran services.
“LCCC not only opened those doors for me, but allowed me to go through them and allowed me to get to the point where I am today. I’m able to set an example not only for the Hispanic community but my little brother,” Santana said. “That campus really helped me, and I’m hoping it helped so many other people.”