Tom Gorman was “Mr. Mid-Plains.” It was a fitting title for a man who dedicated the majority of his life to his community and to the promotion of higher education. Gorman died Sunday at the age of 76. Although his physical presence may be gone from North Platte, his memory will live on through the many people he empowered and the lives he touched during his tenure at Mid-Plains Community College.
“Tom earned the nickname ‘Mr. Mid-Plains’ because ever since he first came on board as a business teacher, and through all the different positions and titles he held, he served the students, clients and the college,” said Marilyn McGahan, former college vice president. “I can’t recall a single incident when he said, ‘No, I can’t help with that.’ If he determined there was a need, he found a way to provide for that need.”
One of the college’s early pioneers
McGahan began working with Gorman shortly after he was hired in 1970. At that time, the college was housed in North Platte’s old 1913 Post Office building, currently the Prairie Arts Center, and it was known as the North Platte Junior College.
McGahan was an adjunct instructor who taught one typing class, while Gorman was hired to teach typing, accounting and other business courses. He also replaced Jim Ihrig as director of the fledgling non-credit adult education classes – targeting a new market of students that community colleges were just beginning to tap into.
“I honestly didn’t know what adult education was, but I told people in the town that I was leaving [Minden] that I would probably find out what it was,” Gorman said to a reporter years later. “Little did I know that I would become involved with an exciting, somewhat new type of education and that it would become my passion.”
Through Gorman’s leadership, the continuing education offerings expanded into a dynamic, thriving program. From 1969 to 1978, they grew from 10 classes with an enrollment of 189 students to 180 classes with an enrollment of more than 2,600 students.
As Gorman watched enrollments increase year after year, he began to realize that he was riding a wave that showed no signs of cresting.
“I remember thinking that when our total number of students who had taken classes reached 500 that we’d pretty much educated the whole town on anything they could ever be interested it, but it just kept snowballing,” he would recall later. “In the early 1970s, I made the comment that it would be great if everyone was required to have continuing education. At that time, there were very few careers that required it, but today nearly every type of job requires some type of annual continuing education.”
Dedicated to serving others
Gorman was promoted to dean of continuing education in 1975, and eventually, his department was offering classes seven days a week – a hectic schedule that often kept him working around the clock.
“He made time to do what needed to be done whenever it needed to be done – night after night, weekend after weekend, Saturday or Sunday – it didn’t matter,” said McGahan. “If that was when a certain activity was needed, then he made sure he covered it.”
Crystal Welch, Business and Community Education coordinator, was present for that experience.
“Tom gave every ounce of himself to the college and forever changed the department I’ve been a part of for 15-plus years,” Welch said. “When I had the privilege of being his assistant, we served about 10,000 students a year through our program. There was not one seminar, workshop or class he did not have a part of.”
Gorman didn’t let the stress get the best of him, however. Calling him “one of the most influential people” in her life, Welch said Gorman saw the good in every person and situation.
“He provided the best customer service with a positive attitude all the time,” said Welch.
Bill Eakins, area dean of career services, remembered Gorman’s optimistic outlook as being contagious. He partnered with Gorman on numerous events and committees that impacted both his and Gorman’s departments.
“I worked with Tom for over 25 years and considered him to be, not only a great friend of the college, but also a personal friend,” Eakins said. “He had a wonderful outlook on life and never seemed to have a bad day. He was respected by all who knew him.”