News Archive

HCC Honors William L. Sullivan

By Victoria Grabner
The Gleaner

William L. SullivanTake the shovel from Gov. A.B. Chandler's hands. Wipe that grin off of Dr. Robert English's face. And shine Bill Sullivan's very dusty shoes.

You would have had to do those things to make the iconic 1959 photo depicting the groundbreaking of what is now known as Henderson Community College just plain ordinary.

Yet it's been anything but that. For a college that grew from 256 students in 1960 to its current number of more than 2,200, the campus on The Hill offered a view that many have come to hold ever since: Anyone can go to college.

So when Sullivan officially resigned this week as the president of the College Foundation Board, there were more than several who accepted his decision with a large amount of sadness.

But there was gratitude, too, for the college's last living original "Founding Father."

"He's been a leader and forged a way for this community college for 54-plus years, and that's hard to ignore," said John S. Wilkey, who in July will take the gavel of the Foundation Board, the college's fundraising entity.

That's when Sullivan will officially end his term as president, but not without the title of President Emeritus.
It's "an unusual term but it's a legal term, and (the board rewarded him with) a standing ovation," said Bill Clements, who is the secretary-treasurer of the Foundation Board.
"There's not a nicer, more benevolent friend to the community college ... He's been a stellar person."

While Sullivan has been on the Foundation Board, the college has added the Academic-Technical Building, the Henderson Fine Arts Center and the Sullivan Technology Center.
The college has also acquired an off-campus presence, offering technical courses in its Industrial Engineering Technology building on Pennel Street and the Paul Herron Technology Center in Morganfield.

And program offerings have expanded, including the addition of the agricultural technology, dental hygiene, interdisciplinary early childhood education, industrial maintenance technology, medical assistant, information technology and licensed practical nursing associated degree programs.

But while Sullivan has helped raise money for the college, and has helped it gain its footing, this isn't his birth place.

Sullivan was born in Mercer County in 1921, but he built his law practice in Henderson. This is where he met his wife, Elizabeth "Libba" Dorsey, and had two sons.

"He and my late husband practiced law together the last few years of John Stanley's life," Joan Hoffman said. "(John Stanley) said it was just one of the best experiences of his professional life to spend those years with Bill Sullivan."

Joan Hoffman has served on the Foundation Board for several years, but she first met Sullivan long ago. In fact, one story that still makes her laugh took place at a time when both John Stanley and Sullivan were simultaneously serving in the state legislature.

The two men traveled back and forth between Henderson and Frankfort quite often, and Sullivan, who is a pilot, often chose to fly the distance.

"And at one time he had a ... plane with one seat for the pilot and one seat in the back like a jump seat," Hoffman said.
"And Bill got in with a parachute and (John Stanley noticed that there was only one parachute). And Bill said, 'Don't worry John Stanley, if something happens I'll go for help.'"

Along those lines, Susanne Wilson, the college's chief institutional advancement officer, said Sullivan's adventurous side sometimes found its way into several of their conversations.
"Mr. Sullivan has flown to Alaska solo 17 times," Wilson said. "He loves to fish and hunt and once killed a bear with a bow and arrow. I asked about whether he had a gun as back-up and he giggled and replied, 'Yeah.'"

But Sullivan also has a serious side, and Joan Hoffman found that out first-hand in 1960. She was one of the college's first class of 256 students.

"It was just a Godsend to me that it opened," she said, referring to the creation of The Hill. "I had always been grateful to the people who had the vision and the insight to make that happen."

Kris Williams, the current president of HCC, said Sullivan has left a lasting legacy at the college through his leadership in getting the college started, his continuing presidency on the College Foundation Board, and then the Sullivan Technology Center.

There is also the Sullivan Success Center, which is named for Sullivan's wife. Williams described the structure as a one-stop center for student learning services, which grew substantially under former HCC President Pat Lake.
He was at the helm of the college for 25 years, and like Sullivan, he had his eyes on that prize far away in the distance: Making post-secondary education an affordable option for everyone.

"It's a big loss for the foundation and for the college," Lake said of Sullivan's departure.
"He's done a tremendous job of supporting the college and its mission. He's certainly to be congratulated for his many years of service to the institution and its students."

As for Sullivan himself, he said he was in the State Senate at the time when "a group of us went to Frankfort and convinced Gov. Chandler that we needed a college here. And he agreed and we went forward from there."

Sullivan said HCC has grown so much since then, when it started as a single building then called The University of Kentucky Northwest Center.

"We are proud of the college and the way it has been conducted," he said. "I've enjoyed being with them all those years and very proud of what we have out there."