ST. MARYS - The Community Education Council of Elk and Cameron Counties (CEC), an organization dedicated to providing postsecondary educational opportunities and professional and workforce development in the region, is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
CEC past and present employees, board members and stakeholders attended a luncheon sponsored by the Stackpole Hall Foundation on Tuesday at the Diamond View Restaurant in St. Marys to mark the occasion. CEC Executive Director Kris Kronenwetter welcomed attendees to the event.
Current CEC Governing Board Chairperson Betsy Roberts, who has served on either the advisory or governing boards since the organization was established, acknowledged past and present board members, community members and others involved in the establishment and continued growth of the CEC.
"Many people have contributed to both the establishment and the growth of the CEC over the 20 years," Roberts said. "Certainly, many, many people have been involved in what we're celebrating today. And together we've worked well to achieve our mission. And I look forward to working with you collaboratively over the next decade to do even bigger and better things.
"I truly do believe in this concept. I think we need to work really hard to make education accessible north of I-80. Especially in rural Pennsylvania, we have very limited resources available for people who want to advance themselves, and I think a group like this can have immense influence on getting that change."
The CEC was established in 1991 and opened for classes in 1992. Dr. Bill Conrad, a member of the organization's first advisory board and a member of the current board, gave an overview of how the CEC was created. He credited former state Sen. John Peterson with conceptualizing the idea for the CEC and providing the initial support. Conrad and other local citizens worked with Peterson to bring the idea of a place that would provide postsecondary, workforce development and other professional training to the two rural counties.
Following the establishment of a steering committee, which Conrad chaired, the organization reached out to form partnerships with The Pennsylvania State University and the University of Pittsburgh to offer college-level training and courses to the area's residents.
John Yates, who served as a member of the first CEC governing board and is on the current governing board, praised the efforts of former CEC Executive Director Deborah Pontzer, the organization's first director. Yates said she was instrumental in keeping the CEC going, whether through helping to bring Pitt and Penn State on board or working to secure adequate funding through the early years.
"I can't tell you enough what she did. And the milestones," Yate said. "In her personal dictionary, she does not have the word 'failure.' So what she touched became a success."
"It's just amazing. Twenty years later and going strong," said Pontzer of the CEC's longevity and success. "There are so many people that were hungry for education in this community and in many ways, felt there were too many obstacles to education. "And I think that if nothing else, the education council planted in this community opportunity and access. Kris (Kronenwetter) has done an amazing job. She and her staff have carried that legacy moving forward."
Kronenwetter then addressed attendees, acknowledging them for their hard work and service over the years in making the CEC a success.
"I'm really proud of the fact that I've been part of the CEC for the past 15 years. It's been a great journey, and I really, really have enjoyed it," Kronenwetter said.
Kronenwetter said in addition to Penn State and Pitt, the CEC has expanded its partnerships, working with the Manufacturer’s Association; Clarion, Kettering, Mansfield, Lock Haven and Gannon universities; Northwest Industrial Resource Center; and Butler County Community College.
"We're here to do whatever the community needs," Kronenwetter said. "The greatest part, I think, of the CEC, is that we're flexible and we're always willing to change. With the world changing, education has to change with it.
"The CEC is here to serve Elk and Cameron counties and to the best of our ability. The offering of credit and professional development courses are key to our success. We're here to fill a void and I hope that I can be invited to the 30th, the 40th reunion, as a guest."
Kronenwetter also presented the various CEC employees from over the years, including Charm Hayes, Anita Wendel and Donna Kilhoffer, with certificates of appreciation, as well as several board members. The CEC also received acknowledgement for its 20-year anniversary from state Rep. Matt Gabler; state Sen. President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati; and U.S. Rep. Glenn 'GT' Thompson, as well as the Elk County Commissioners and other local elected officials.