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DL provost to retire from MSCTC after 33-year career in education

Though he's done most of his work quietly, behind the scenes, Bill Leff has played an integral role in the administration of Minnesota State Community & Technical College-Detroit Lakes since its days as a vocational-technical school.

A Waubun native, Leff earned a degree in social studies from Bemidji State University, and worked for a few years as a secondary level teacher before going on to earn a master's degree in educational administration from the Tri-College University -- a cooperative effort of Minnesota State University Moorhead, North Dakota State University and Concordia College.

In 1977, Leff applied and was accepted for an administrative position at the technical college in Detroit Lakes.

"I worked in student services," he said of his early years at the tech school. "After about 11-12 years, I took a job as a high school principal in Fosston, Minn."

But after five years in Fosston, Leff was lured back to the tech school, then known as Northwest Technical College.

"An administrative position opened up here in 1997," Leff said. "I became the dean of student services and campus operations."

Gradually, that position evolved until Leff became the vice president of the Detroit Lakes campus of NTC in 1999.

He continued in that position until 2003, when the merger of the Wadena, Moorhead and Detroit Lakes campuses of Northwest Tech with Fergus Falls Community College was completed.

Leff became the DL campus provost for what is now known as Minnesota State Community and Technical College in 2003.

He has continued to serve in that capacity to the present day -- but on this Friday, June 30, Leff will be leaving behind a 33-year career in education to head off into retirement.

"I'm going to really miss the people," he said in a Thursday interview. "I've had the good fortune to work with some wonderful administrators, faculty and staff during my time here."

What he's not going to miss, however, is "the intensity that comes with the position (of provost)... the sheer volume of work and the issues you deal with constantly."

When Leff first realized that he had qualified for the "rule of 90" -- a Minnesota law that allows educators to retire once their years of service and age, combined together, add up to 90 -- he wasn't sure he was ready.

"But once you qualify (for retirement), you start to think more and more about it, and it becomes more attractive," he said.

"I just want to slow down some," Leff added. With that in mind, he said he doesn't plan to make any decisions about his post-retirement from education for at least a little while.

"Mary (his wife) and I are going to do some traveling," he said. "We're going out west in October, and in January, we'll be going to the East Coast."

Future plans also may include a trip to Normandy, France, but that is still at least a year away, Leff added.

"Mary's father was injured in military action there (in Normandy)," he said. "There's a monument there that talks about the battle... we wanted to see that."

After that, they hope to tour Europe a little before heading back home.

In addition to traveling, Leff will undoubtedly want to spend some time visiting family, which includes their 35-year-old twin sons, Matthew and Mitchell, and daughter Chelsea, 18.

Mitchell and his wife, Gail, have a son named Henry; Bill affectionately refers to his grandson as "a very special little guy."

"We don't get to see enough of them," he added.

Mitchell is the vice president of operations with a commercial construction management firm in Minneapolis; his twin brother Matthew, also married, is an intellectual properties attorney with Merck Pharmaceuticals.

Chelsea, who just graduated from Detroit Lakes High School, will be attending the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks this fall, pursuing a degree in nutrition and dietetics.

In addition to his family and career, Leff has also been very involved in the Detroit Lakes community, serving in Rotary and on committees with the Chamber of Commerce, City of Detroit Lakes and St. Mary's Regional Health Center.

In reflecting back on his career, Leff said one of the greatest achievements for MSCTC's Detroit Lakes campus, as a whole, has been a significant increase in enrollment -- from about 500 students when he came back to the college in 1997, to its current enrollment of more than 700.

"That's not just my achievement, it's everyone's," he added. "One of the key areas (in determining success) is to maintain and grow enrollment."

Leff said he was also quite elated to learn earlier this year that the Detroit Lakes school had received approval for a $500,000 capital bonding project from the Minnesota State Legislature.

Under this appropriation, MSCTC-Detroit Lakes will be constructing an addition that will allow the campus to expand its bookstore, add a student commons area and build new classrooms and offices for a Rural Enterprise Center.

"That remodel is in the planning stages," he said. "We anticipate construction will start in late fall or early spring."

Though Leff will be retiring at the end of June, the search for his replacement will most likely not start until the fall. In the interim, MSCTC President Dr. Ann Valentine will be spending more time at the Detroit Lakes campus, directly overseeing operations there.

Also following Leff out the door into retirement will be Craig Kinsella, dean of academic affairs. Helene Hedlund will serve as the interim dean for the 2006-07 school year.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

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