Tom Gorman was known as “Mr. Mid-Plains,” a fitting title.
Gorman dedicated most of his life to his community and to the promotion of higher education. He died Sunday at age 76. Although his physical presence may be gone from North Platte, his work will live on through the 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,” former college vice president Marilyn McGahan said. “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.”
McGahan began working with Gorman shortly after he was hired in 1970. At the time, the college was located in North Platte’s old 1913 Post Office building, currently the Prairie Arts Center, and known as the North Platte Junior College.
McGahan was an adjunct instructor who taught a typing class. Gorman was teaching typing, accounting and other business courses. He also replaced Jim Ihrig as director of the fledgling adult education classes – targeting a new market of students.
“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, continuing education classes expanded into a dynamic, thriving program. From 1969-78, the program grew from 10 classes with 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 he was riding a wave that showed no signs of cresting.
“I remember thinking that when the 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 recalled later. “In the early 70s, 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.”
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 a certain activity was needed, then he made sure he covered it.”
Crystal Welch, Business and Community Education coordinator, said Tom gave every ounce of himself to the college and forever changed the department she’s been a part of for 15-plus years.
“When I had the privilege of being his assistant, we served about 10,000 students a year through our program,” she said. “There was not one seminar, workshop or class he did not have a part of.”
Gorman didn’t let 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,” Welch said.
Bill Eakins, area dean of career services, said Gorman’s optimistic outlook was contagious. He partnered with Gorman on numerous events and committees that impacted both his and Gorman’s departments.
“I worked with Tom for more than 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.”
Gorman received numerous accolades for leadership and commitment to higher education. The most recent, the Golden Senior Award, was presented to him last summer during the opening ceremonies of the Nebraskaland Days Golden Games.
Gorman was named Educator of the Year by the North Platte Chamber of Commerce, Administrator of the Year by the Nebraska Community College System, Outstanding Adult Educator for Nebraska by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Advocate of the Year Award by the Small Business Administration and the Connecting Nebraska Award from the Nebraska Development Network.
He also received the History Maker Award from the Learning Resources Network and the title of Admiral in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska. In 2012, the North Platte City Council honored him with a Cody Scout Award, the highest award the city can bestow.
Additionally, Gorman represented the college on various professional organizations at both the state and local levels.
Nationally, he served on the Learning Resources Network board of directors and presented customer service seminars at 20 national conferences. LERN recognized him as one of the top 25 leaders in adult and continuing education in 2003.
By the time Gorman finished his career at MPCC, he was the area dean of economic development and training.
He retired from MPCC in 2011 after 41 years of service, but he never really left. He remained a constant source of positivity and inspiration at college events, including ribbon cuttings, board meetings, fundraisers, golf tournaments and scholarship receptions.
He also served as chairman of the North Platte Community College Foundation, an organization near and dear to his heart.
Always willing to lend a helping hand wherever needed, Gorman was active at Holy Spirit Church for more than 40 years and served on the advisory council for the North Platte Area Ready to Serve Volunteer Program since its formation in 1973.
His absence will be felt by everyone he left behind.
“He was innovative and creative — a good friend and colleague,” McGahan said. “Those of us who had the privilege of working with Tom for so many years are better people because of the influence he had on us. I will miss him.”
A mass of Christian burial is scheduled for Gorman at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Holy Spirit Catholic Church with burial to follow at the North Platte Cemetery. Online condolences may be shared at www.carpentermemorial.com.
Memorials are suggested to the Tom and Lynda Gorman Scholarship Fund through the North Platte Community College Foundation.