Flathead Valley Community College promotes excellence in lifelong learning, focused on student success and community needs.
It all began with a kitchen table, a typewriter, a few folding chairs and three dreamers who knew they could make a difference. Forty years ago, Flathead Valley Community College was born in a donated room in the Kalispell School District 5 building with those simple items and the college’s first three employees—President Larry Blake, Dean of Students William “Bill” McClaren and Business Manager Leo Shepherd.
The dream of bringing higher learning to the Flathead Valley began a few years earlier when Owen Sowerwine, chairman of School District 5 Board at that time, developed a concern for the lack of higher education and employable skilled young workers. His concern was affirmed when he teamed up with McClaren, high school counselor and chairman of the guidance department at Flathead High School. McClaren had conducted a study of Flathead High School graduates from 1952 to 1962 and found less than 20 percent had applied for any type of higher education, and less than seven percent of those had completed their course work. Comparing the findings to those of graduates in Missoula County in which over half the students went on to college and 40 percent graduated, the contrast was too significant to be ignored.
McClaren and Sowerwine united with three other dreamers—Norm Beyer, director of the local state employment agency; Thelma Hetland of the Federated Women’s Club and Les Sterling, one of the owners of KOFI Radio. All felt the impact of the absence of a college in Northwest Montana and all believed there needed to be a change. In the fall of 1965, the five, who shared the same vision of helping and expanding educational opportunities for the young citizens of the Flathead Valley, convened and decided a community college was what the Valley needed.
A successful election passed by Flathead County voters established a community college on April 1, 1967, and elected a Board of Trustees. On September 25, 1967, with 611 students, FVCC held its first classes.
The college has seen constant growth and change over its lifetime. With the first year of classes being held during the evening hours at Flathead High School, the college acquired its own facilities in 1968, and the class schedule was broadened to offer classes in the daytime. The facilities consisted of the old Elks Building, which no longer stands, and the old train depot building, now the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce. The college also relied on church basements scattered throughout the downtown Kalispell area, an abandoned garage and the VFW bar to hold morning classes while vacant before its noon opening.
Over the next years, FVCC continued to grow. It acquired usage of three abandoned car dealerships all within the downtown Kalispell area as well as the building now known as the Central School Museum. The college library was located inside Flathead County Library on 1st Ave. East. Enrollment grew. Faculty grew. Programs of study grew. Opportunities for students grew. The college’s philosophy that anyone who wanted to come to college can afford to get an education was implemented. Every attainable federal grant was applied for, and scholarship assistance became available to students.
Today, FVCC’s award-winning campus sits on 216 acres on Highway 93 in Kalispell. The college continues to rely on partnerships with area businesses and organizations throughout the community. Its outreach has expanded beyond Flathead County to Lincoln County through its satellite campus in Libby and distance learning opportunities through interactive television and online classes.
The college’s mission, however, has not changed. FVCC continues to promote excellence in lifelong learning, focused on student success and community needs. The college prides itself on its high quality faculty, affordability and small class sizes that provide students with individualized attention. Under the leadership of Dr. Jane Karas and a seven-member Board of Trustees, the college continues to stay closely connected with the community and focused on its students with the goal of helping every student succeed.