Meeks Applauded for Achievements at EGCC

BOARDMAN, Ohio – Laura Meeks, who retires next month after 16 years as president of Eastern Gateway Community College, is leaving at the top of her game.

Her many accomplishments and achievements, which include overseeing the expansion and transformation of Jefferson County Community College as it entered Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties and doubled its enrollment in the process, were recognized Tuesday at The Embassy. There colleagues, students, faculty, officeholders and business and community leaders heaped accolade upon accolade on her.

“We can’t thank you enough,” Dale Foerster, vice president of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, stated. Foerster is also vice president of Starr Manufacturing Inc. in Vienna. Eastern Gateway has worked closely with the manufacturers coalition to prepare its students for jobs in heavy industry, she said.

“You took what we really needed [a community college in the Mahoning Valley] and developed it,” said Patricia Brozik, retired president of the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley.

When it was her turn to speak, Meeks could not hold back her tears as she responded, expressing her gratitude to, and affection for, all in a choked voice.

The luncheon seemed to begin on the wrong note as the emcee, Warren Mayor Doug Franklin, explained Meeks was absent because her flight from Nashville Monday night had been canceled following a severe thunderstorm.

He had just sat down when Meeks walked through the door. Those in the room rose and applauded. As she later remarked, “I’m late a lot but I’m always there.”

In praising Meeks and her record of accomplishment, the 10 speakers explained why she is a leader, related her involvement the many communities she serves, told how she has encouraged both her faculty and students to strive for excellence, been a mentor to women, and struck a pose of refusing to be daunted by any obstacle thrown in her path.

She has been a tireless advocate for those who thought a college education was outside their reach or ability, they said.

In the five years Sister Patricia McNicholas, vice chairwoman of the Eastern Gateway board of trustees, has known Meeks, she said, the president “has stood out because she’s been everywhere doing everything. … We can only stand in awestruck silence.”

That Meeks is not returning to Kansas, where her children live, but remaining in Steubenville and nvolved there, drew praise as well. “She’s staying in our community after retirement,” the president of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber, Tom Humphries, announced.

Her personal qualities, her ability to relate to all who meet her, were the theme of other remarks.

“She illuminates a room,” said Rosie Thompson-Taylor, president of Action. “She has touched so many lives,” providing hope and inspiring those who thought college was beyond their reach financially, academically or both. “Many joyfully follow her.” .

A mathematics instructor at Eastern Gateway, Robert Raupach, told of how he would invite Meeks to visit his classes – she often did – to talk with his students. “They forgot she was the president,” Raupach recalled, “because of the way she encouraged them. … I’ve seen her give students [who thought they couldn’t perform the work] high-fives.”

What has made Meeks so successful as president of Eastern Gateway, John Pogue said, is “She has the qualities of a great teacher” and has always been open to what others say. Pogue, an attorney, spoke as chairman of the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center in Warren.

“You’ve blessed every community that you’ve touched,” Franklin told Meeks.

In her response, Meeks told of how she grew up in poverty and saw the tears had run down her father’s face after fire destroyed the feed store he owned in 1960.

A neighbor, Mrs. Zimmerman, gave her faith and work. Since then her faith has deepened and she’s never lost her willingness to tackle any challenge and work hard, as she became an English teacher and later a college administrator.

The Rev. Lewis Macklin, who offered the closing prayer, described the Latin origins of “benediction,” looked at Meeks and said, “You are the benediction.”

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.