Longtime College Physical Plant Chief Retiring After 48 Years
Ron Axtell Bids Farewell to NPCC
COLUMBUS, Neb. — It’s been a lifetime of plans and projects, challenges and successes, but Ron Axtell wouldn’t have it any other way.
North Platte Community College’s director of physical resources retired Feb. 2 — leaving behind 48 years of hard work, dedication and vision that will mark NPCC’s campuses for years to come.
“It’s going to be bittersweet,” Axtell said. “I’ll miss the people. I’ll miss seeing projects through to completion and watching how well they are received. I’ll miss giving students and faculty updated places to teach.”
Axtell’s tenure at NPCC began when he was just 19- years-old. Raised on a farm between Lebanon and Danbury, he graduated from Beaver Valley High School in 1969, spent a semester at Western Nebraska Community College in Sidney then transferred to Mid-Plains Vocational Technical College (now NPCC) in January of 1970.
“I enrolled in the building construction program,” said Axtell. “I had taken shop classes in high school and really enjoyed the woodworking aspect. I liked building something with my hands and having an end result I could be proud of.”
He hired on part-time with the college’s maintenance department in March of 1970 — the same month he married his high school sweetheart, Deb Eckhardt, of Culbertson. Axtell graduated with an associate of applied science degree in 1971 then joined the U.S. Army Reserve as part of the 1013th Quartermaster Company.
“I had it in my head that in six years, I would look at some place more enticing — a bigger town,” said Axtell. “My mom wanted me to continue college, maybe go to Kearney and get a higher degree then perhaps teach. But, things worked out for me to stay in North Platte.”
When Axtell returned to North Platte after his initial six months of training in the Reserves, there was a job waiting for him. Ken Aten, the college’s vice president at the time, offered Axtell a full-time position doing carpentry-type maintenance.
“I was in that position until my supervisor, Joe Loomis, retired in ‘77,” said Axtell. “I was bumped up to maintenance and custodial superintendent, and then in 1985 became the physical plant director. My title was changed to director of physical resources in 1990.”
Axtell’s time at the college has allowed him to have a hand in many aspects of its progression. The construction of dorms and an activities center on NPCC’s South Campus, the building of a bus barn and indoor softball practice facility on NPCC’s North Campus and the creation of four new community campuses in Broken Bow, Imperial, Ogallala and Valentine are among the many projects Axtell has worked on.
“In the earlier years, I loved pouring and finishing concrete and doing anything related to finish carpentry,” Axtell said. “I got immediate gratification from those things, but really, I’ve enjoyed everything about my job — from the construction process to moving into a new facility to watching it come to life.”
As the college grew, so did the need for expansions and renovations.
“More emphasis was put on improving facilities starting in about the early ‘90s,” said Axtell. “Over the last 15 years, we’ve remodeled almost all of the main buildings on the North Platte campuses.”
The project he enjoyed the most was the construction of the college’s Health and Science Center, which opened on the NPCC South Campus in 2012.
“I was the owner’s representative on that one, so worked real close with the architects, contractors and college staff,” said Axtell. “I enjoyed seeing the end result – a beautiful building that was much needed.”
He maintains that he couldn’t have done any of the projects without a dedicated staff. Four members: Darwin Ehlers, supervisor of Maintenance Services (40 years at NPCC); Jerry Thompson, vehicle maintenance technician (39 years at NPCC); Tom Delahunty, grounds and maintenance technician (30 years at NPCC) and Dee Maxwell, supervisor of Custodial Services (22 years at NPCC), have worked for Axtell for a combined total of 131 years.
“It’s their dedication to their jobs that has made all the difference,” said Axtell.
Axtell also found support in his supervisors.
“I have to give credit to Ken Aten,” Axtell said. “I worked for Ken from 1970 to 1999. He was a great, no-nonsense boss, mentor and father figure to me. He gave me a good foundation for where I’m at right now, and for that, I’ll be forever grateful. As for the current administration — they have the college going in the right direction. I have no doubt NPCC will be here for the long haul and will continue to be an asset to the service area.”
Although hard to say goodbye, Axtell finds consolation in knowing his department will be in good hands. He’s turning it over to Shawn Aten, Ken’s grandson.
“It is nice to have someone take over whom I know, and who I’m confident can do the job,” Axtell said.
With that concern off his chest, he’s now looking forward to retirement and all that comes along with it.
“My wife has a ‘honey do’ list for me,” said Axtell. “We also want to travel and see more of the grandkids. Between the military and the college, family kind of took a backseat. It’s time to change that.”
Axtell received the Nebraska Community College Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1992. In 2010, he was honored with an Above and Beyond Award from Mid-Plains Community College, and in 2014, he was MPCC’s nominee for the NCCA’s Administrator Member of the Year Award.