STAPLES -- Central Lakes College will pay posthumous tribute to its first Staples campus director, Michael J. Matanich, with the placement of a plaque featuring his likeness on Dec. 19.
The 2 p.m. recognition ceremony in the Staples campus lobby will honor the machinist educator under whose leadership the Staples Area Vocational Technical Institute opened its doors where the present-day campus of CLC stands. He served the longest tenure of any campus administrator -- 22 years -- from 1959 to 1981.
Staples was the smallest of the first nine communities in the state to receive AVTI designation. When it opened its doors in the fall of 1959, the school offered machine shop, tool and die design, production agriculture, and farm mechanics.
The Staples campus grew to include 15 programs before Matanich retired in 1981.
Matanich, a native of Virginia, Minn., received his machinist training from S.K. Wick, who later became the state director of vocational technical education. After spending time in industry, Matanich taught machine shop for the Air Force.
He started his education career at Staples in 1952, inheriting a machine shop program at the high school. It had been created during World War II to train adults to work as machinists in defense plants. He envisioned carrying such a program beyond high school to serve graduates from the entire region.
Through his Air Force experience, Matanich was aware of thousands of war surplus machine tools stored at various locations throughout the country. He and his school superintendent, Duane Lund, persuaded then-Minnesota Sen. Edward Thye to sponsor federal legislation to make surplus machine tools available to schools.
The National Industrial Equipment Reserve program authorized Staples to become the first school to receive machine tools on permanent loan from the federal government.
Matanich honed the program into the second-largest machine trades program in the country. Hundreds of graduates found work in machine shops across the country.
Mike Matanich (left) showed Gov. Wendell Anderson around the construction site of the Staples campus. The man who oversaw its creation will be posthumously honored Dec. 19. (Photos courtesy of Pat Miller and Ione Mertens)
He directed the creation of the Heavy Equipment Operation and Maintenance program as one of only two such programs in the nation. The U.S. Office of Education named the program "Outstanding Vocational Technical Program" in 1971.
This program, still one of the college's foremost career education venues, started when the federal government passed the Manpower Development and Training Act supported by the Kennedy administration in 1962. It funded equipment without which the innovative training couldn't have been delivered.
Heavy equipment has helped build Staples. Students in the program gained experience by excavating for the airport when it was created, and they prepared sites for a community center, elementary school, a lakeside park, industrial park, golf course expansion and a wildlife refuge.
Matanich was committed to education beyond Staples. He cooperated with northern Minnesota Indian reservations to serve their training needs.
During his tenure, the Staples campus implemented irrigation agriculture and water well drilling, as well as programs to train low-income farmers in management. When irrigation agriculture started at Staples, the school identified three farmers in a 50-mile radius using irrigation in their operation. When Matanich retired, there were hundreds.
Some knew him as "Cast Iron Mike."
"Mike was well-known for his ability to solicit equipment, supplies and even buildings for the school at no cost," said Ray Gildow, CLC vice president of operations. He said Matanich led efforts to obtain 80 acres of land for a new north campus and encouraged a retiring farmer and railroad engineer to sell nearly 300 acres of land to the school for the heavy equipment program.
Surplus iron and equipment obtained from the government through Matanich's resourceful connections may have earned him the nickname. It also may allude to the determination and dedication shown by this administrator, who also loved to fish and developed a reputation for creating wood carvings of wildlife and people.
"He was a very straight shooter," said Charlotte Daniels, CLC director of admissions. "He treated all staff the same and always did what was best for the student."
"He made it clear when something wasn't being done correctly," said Rick Otteson, CLC director of buildings and grounds. "He earned a lot of respect. He also was a very good fisherman and knew where to find the walleyes on the Crow Wing River."
Matanich was instrumental in obtaining 320 acres of land for what has become a demonstration research farm for irrigation agriculture. Through this acquisition, CLC today works in partnership with the University of Minnesota to provide invaluable assistance to farmers in Central Minnesota.
"Mike's leadership had a tremendous impact on the Staples community," said Duane Lund, adding that because of vocational and technical training programs, the region became home to more than a dozen machine shops, including 3M.
"Mike was a unique and charismatic individual," said Stan Edin, who was an assistant to Matanich before assuming the college presidency when Matanich retired. "He dedicated his entire life to his school and his community."
The short, public program at 2 p.m. Dec. 19 will include a welcome by CLC President Joe Birmingham, a tribute by Lund, recollection and memories from Edin, and the unveiling of a metallic etching of Matanich framed for display in a prominent location. Refreshments and holiday treats will be provided.
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