If I Could Only Be Jim Tangeman
My life has been like most, built of one influence at a time. Jim Tangeman is one of those HUGE influences that began 41 years ago when he hired me as Dean of Students at Colby Community College at 21 years of age. He had just been appointed President of the six-year-old College at 39.
He joins a few others who had confidence in me at a young age. I was probably the youngest senior student affairs officer in the country when he ultimately appointed me Vice President of the College. Colby was a community college with about 1,000 students. It sits on 160 acres of ground near the interstate in south Colby with seven buildings. Three of them were my responsibility: two “Living Centers” commonly known as Residence Halls; and a Student Union that had the food service, bookstore, recreation/meeting facilities and a student health clinic. In addition, I was responsible for Financial Aid, Counseling, Discipline, Student Activities, Student Leadership, Student Health Center, Career Counseling and the like. Sorry to go off on this, but if you don’t know about student affairs, this gives you a sense of the opportunity he gave to a 21-year-old. The budget was probably $1+ million—a lot of money in 1972—and a staff of ultimately 25.
You probably think Jim was a fool to entrust this kid with this responsibility, and you could be correct. What he knew was how to take rough stone and smooth it out. He had been a successful high school basketball coach, star Kansas State University basketball player, finished his doctorate at Wyoming, and had served as Dean of Instruction at Colby for several years before becoming President. So you begin to see why he is so important to my development.
He was, as I have learned, a master of the leadership art of asking questions, and most of them were why or why not. I was never an athlete, so some aspects of teamwork were not in my DNA. They probably still aren’t, but Jim made me an important part of a team. He invested in my professional development, and I was soon the darling of the Student Affairs profession in Kansas because I got involved and learned a lot. He paid for me to go to national meetings and management seminars, and he counseled with me on subjects well beyond my expertise.
But most important, he stood behind me in times of trial. The first rape in 16 years in Thomas County happened at the Women’s Living Center my first year. A drug bust at the Men’s Living Center just before graduation. A threat on my life by a student with a knife. Personnel management issues with counselor and community mental health professionals. Professionalism for the Student Union personnel and activities. The addition to the Student Union that doubled it in size and my refusal to use the building in any way for non-student union staff offices—it was the students’ building and they were paying for it. I am not the easiest guy to manage. But Jim did it and he did it in stride. Or at least it looked that way.
OK, now you know the foundation of our relationship. Jim and his wonderful wife, Sandy and their talented son, David stayed at Colby for many years and then took an opportunity to become President of Garden City Community College. It was a bigger school and bigger town with more opportunity to serve. I don’t know a lot about those years; we kept in touch, but as friends do. I did attend his retirement celebration. He recognized the 30 men and women who he had mentored in the crowd that had become college or university presidents. Then to my surprise, he said, “I have only one failure who I thought would be a college president: Bob Hartsook.” Then he shared my business success and asked me to come up and join this distinguished crowd. I get a tear just thinking about that day.
In his retirement, they moved to Wichita; David had passed away at a young age. It was kind of home, I guess. But in retirement we began to communicate more. These two have always loved to travel and love to drive, an attribute that we don’t share, but I live in interesting places so they came to my home in NC. We had a great time. I ultimately sank my fourth boat, but not before we had an adventure. Every evening after school, Jim and my son, Austin would go down to the local school ground and shoot hoops. Sandy and I would talk about her trips and their lives.
Well, in 2005, I sold the company to the employees and I was required to create a Board of Directors of three, including me. Merwyn Hayes, who has been my business mentor for nearly thirty years, joined the Board. Then I thought about Jim and all that he had brought to me, and how now that he had some time what he could bring to my business. That was it. Jim became the third board member and has been elected as Secretary of the Board by acclamation ever since, always a close vote.
We have been friends for a long time. We are very close friends now, which it wonderful. Life is interesting.
So on Saturday, February 16 there is a surprise 80th birthday party for Jim in Wichita and I am going to be there. I waited to tell you that until now because I didn’t want you to think this is a birthday tribute. It isn’t. It is a long overdue thanks to a great leader, a motivator, and now a close friend.
If I could be Jim Tangeman, this would be my birthday.
Happy Birthday, Jim!
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