Central Lakes College roots run deep in Brainerd, where the community's first college classes convened 70 years ago.
Charles Earl "Charlie" Stevens remembers the top-floor domain at then-Washington Senior High School. It's where higher education awaited 25 eager high school graduates in 1938. Nineteen became the first graduates, Stevens among them.
The 90-year-old proudly relishes not only what he learned in class, but also his experience as business manager for the college newspaper, manager of the bookstore, and playing trumpet in the first musical ensemble.
The Brainerd Collegian, published monthly, went to print mainly due to Stevens' initiative and salesmanship. He sold and designed the advertisements that sold for as little as 60 cents. A copy of the paper cost 3 cents in 1939.
Charlie Stevens, 90, is proud to be one of the 19 students who were the first to graduate from college in Brainerd.
CLC President Larry Lundblad thanked Stevens for sharing memorabilia and supporting the scholarship mission of the CLC Foundation through provisions in Stevens' estate plan. Such forethought is second nature for the gracious and grateful benefactor.
In the 70 years since college, Stevens' seen and done a lot based on the solid educational foundation obtained in his hometown. And it helps to have a desire to learn.
"He is known to most college students as a most ambitious boy, and ardent worker," the Collegian said in a feature article about its hustling ad man.
He made the most of his $125 college tuition before graduating in 1940, earning "A" grades for projects such as the term paper explaining the ingredients for a good print advertisement. His general business studies channeled Stevens' instincts for sales backed by service.
For 30 years he was an agent for New York Life, living in California.
After a stint in the home guard and hitch-hiking to the West Coast in 1941, Stevens enlisted in the military.
During his 3-1/2 years in the service, he was afloat in the air branch of the U.S. Navy, keeping aircraft on the USS Yorktown ready to dive bomb enemy targets. Ascending the ranks to chief technician, Stevens was among the first to have access to the latest weaponry: Radar.
Serving as a soldier might have been difficult had Stevens not been able to change his status as an alien. Before his birth his father had moved the family to Manitoba. "I was born there, so technically after we moved here I was a Canadian," he recalled.
Once Americanized with support from college administration, including Dean Emil Heintz, Stevens' tuition worries lessened. He could afford to attend events such as the basketball games, where a ticket cost 10 cents.
Had he not answered the call to serve and defend, Stevens might have worked to buy a new home ($3,850), or a new Ford ($680), while aspiring to earn the average income: $2,163.
Had the voters in Brainerd not approved the college by a 2,738-656 vote, the path Stevens and fellow graduates in the Class of 1940 took may have led to less fortunate destinations.
"People tell me I'm living right," he said as he received a CLC sweatshirt from Foundation Director Diane Scearcy.
Going to college in 1938 was a privilege, he said, just as it is today for those capable of managing the responsibility and the freedom.
Today, with campuses in Brainerd and Staples, Central Lakes College offers liberal arts transfer degrees and career education programs. About 4,000 students per year take classes.
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