Colby Community College announced that long-time champions and friends of the college, Charles and Debbie Schwanke, will be awarded the 2017 honorary associate degree.
Recipients of the honorary degree are selected by a committee of college and community members. The degree will be conferred during commencement on Friday, May 12, at 6 p.m. in the Colby Community Building.
Graduates of Scott Community High School, Charles and Debbie both attended Fort Hays State University where he received his business administration degree. She later attended the University of Kansas where she majored in business administration.
Debbie held a career in broadcasting and then served 19 years as the CCC director of public information until her retirement in 2015. Charles was co-owner of the Colby Bowl and Fun Center for 43 years.
Prior to accepting the job at the college, Debbie worked at KXXX/KQLS radio for nine years, KLBY-TV for nine years and KBSH TV in Hays for one year.
“I taught in the radio and television department for two years while working at KLBY,” she said. “KLBY contracted with the college to provide classroom instructors. My main contribution was working with students on their news gathering, writing and on-air presentation skills.”
While public information director, she also took on responsibilities as journalism instructor and advisor for the weekly student newspaper, the Trojan Express.
“During my years at the college, I was responsible for all publications and promotion of the academic successes, student and faculty-staff achievements, athletic and organizational activities at the college.”
“It was my goal to provide information that increased enrollments and awareness of the benefits offered by CCC. It was an interesting job because I learned something new each day while telling others about the remarkable accomplishments at the college.”
After being hired by Dr. Mikel Ary in 1996, Debbie worked for four other presidents, Dr. Lynn Kreider, Dr. Stephen Vacik, and interim presidents Skip Sharp and Dr. Max Heim.
She said one of the biggest challenges was keeping pace with ever-changing venues such as social mediabecause they seemed to shift on a daily basis.
“College instructors and staff members were instrumental in providing assistance and support to make the school competitive in these areas,” she said.
While Debbie promoted the college publicly, Charles came to know students across the street from campus at the Colby Bowl.
“The college offered bowling classes to fulfill physical education requirements,” he said. “More than 4,000 students were taught to bowl, providing a lifetime skill at our facility. Numerous CCC students are involved in our adult leagues which allows them to socialize with Colby citizens of all ages and backgrounds. Our adult bowlers really enjoy having the students participate and perhaps the students learn valuable social skills from them. Many past students who live and work in Colby participate in bowling leagues today.”
With his brother and co-owner of the bowling alley, Vernon, Charles emphasized the importance of education.
“Vernon and I always encouraged them to meet their educational goals. It is extremely gratifying to have former students stop into the Colby Bowl to share their successes which started at Colby Community College.”
The bowling alley also presented opportunities to work.
“Many of our employees over the past four decades have been CCC students,” Charles said. During a normal school year, we typically employed five to seven students. We took great pride in our student employees and believe their experiences at the Colby Bowl enhanced their personal growth.”
“CCC students have enhanced our lives and obviously provided a benefit to our business,” Charles added. “It is a relationship that I believe exists not only with the bowling lanes, but with many other businesses in Colby. The college has been, and continues to be, one of the biggest assets to the community.”
In August, Charles and Debbie will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. They have two adult sons who live in Wichita, Michael and Justin. Michael is an anchor and investigative reporter at KWCH-TV and his wife Tenille is a physician assistant at Midwest Orthopedics. They have two daughters, Jorja, 10, and Jayda, 8. Justin is an IT manager at Cargill, Inc. and his wife Mary Beth is a Finance Manager for Koch Industries. They are the parents of two sons and a daughter, Grayson, 6, Westin, 4, and Morgan, 21 months.