SIKESTON, Mo. -- Judy Buck has nurtured Southeast Missouri State University's Sikeston campus from the very beginning, and now, after 14 years, the director is preparing to say goodbye.
The longtime educator is retiring, effective June 29.
"This is my baby," Buck said about Southeast-Sikeston. "Someone said to me: ‘You took it from the incubator stage and on up.' And I have."
When Buck began as director of the Sikeston campus in 1998, she worked out of a temporary facility in Sikeston and had a secretary, she said.
"I started out advising students, working with the students and setting up courses," Buck said.
Over time, an adviser and part-time custodian were added to the staff. Later the facility employed a full-time custodian, student workers and staff.
"I'm proud of Sikeston, and their effort to bring higher education to the people in this region, and I am excited still," Buck said. "I think it's going to continue to grow."
Southeast had 20 course sections scheduled during Buck's first fall semester in 1998, and in fall 2012, about 170 sections are scheduled at the Sikeston campus. There are eight degrees that can be completed at the Sikeston campus and one associate degree in dental hygiene through a partnership with Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Mo.
"The goal of a regional campus is to provide all the services a student needs so they wouldn't have to travel to the primary campus, which would be the Cape Girardeau campus," Buck said.
Over the years, Buck has helped determine what courses need to be offered and assisted in the development of dual enrollment program for area high school students.
The facility underwent an expansion and renovation in 2005, which included several classrooms, offices and a child-care center. In 2011, the agribusiness degree program began and converted one of the rooms into an agriculture lab.
But for Buck, she said her greatest moments are working with the students.
"I enjoy listening to students share their stories about the obstacles they overcome to get their education, watching students succeed and hearing students express their appreciation of having the Southeast campus in Sikeston; otherwise, they would not have had the opportunity to earn a degree," Buck said.
A native of Osceola, Ark., Buck received her bachelor's degree from Arkansas State University. She moved to Southeast Missouri to teach and went on to earn her master's in teaching and specialist's in education from Southeast Missouri State University.
Buck taught high school business education courses, spending a total of 27 years of her career at the Sikeston School District, two years at Bloomfield, Mo., and one year at Richland in Essex, Mo.
When she took the job as director of Southeast-Sikeston, Buck was serving as the supervisor of adult community education -- a position she held for nine years.
"I've been working in education for 44 years, and I decided that it was just time," Buck said of her retirement.
Buck said she's excited about her retirement.
"I will have more opportunity to enjoy my three grandchildren and one who is expected to make an appearance on Jan. 22, 2013," Buck said.
She also plans to move to Murray, Ky., where she said she will enjoy boating, reading, traveling and making new friends.
"I am looking forward to sitting on the patio, drinking a cup of coffee or two and not being concerned about rushing off to work," Buck said.
The longtime educator said her hope and dream would be if people in the community and area would continue to support the Sikeston campus and help it grow.
"I'm proud of the opportunity given to me to be able to be a part of this campus. There are many, many people who've contributed to the success locally and through Southeast, and I extend my appreciation to all of those people," Buck said.
"I became acquainted with Judy about 12 years ago and have long admired her work ethic and enthusiasm for her job," said Jan Barkett of Sikeston. "A few years later I was asked to represent the city of Sikeston as an advisory board member to what was then known as SAHEC. I saw the energy and dedication she gave to making this campus grow and excel."
Having also seen how Buck works in other organizations, Barkett said Buck is just a natural leader who is focused and goal-oriented. "She was the students' biggest advocate -- listening, encouraging, and always trying to help them do well."
Barkett gave Buck credit for starting Student Appreciation Day -- treating them to a cookout and chances to win gasoline gift cards. "Students really enjoyed that they were being honored and it has become an annual event each fall,"
Barkett recalled an example of Buck's unflappable spirit. In February 2008, Buck and a group of volunteers were setting up for an event at the armory to honor donors and to present scholarships. It had snowed all morning, and soon near blizzard conditions forced Southeast to call off all classes in the area. The tables were set and a huge beautifully decorated cake had just been carefully carried in.
"We were all so disappointed that the event had been canceled," Barkett said. "But Judy just laughed and began looking at the next available date to reschedule."
The event was conducted a week later. According to Barkett true to unpredictable Southeast Missouri weather, it was unseasonably warm with a torrential downpour and severe storm warnings.
"Not once did I hear her complain." said Barkett.
Don Webb of Sikeston, an advisory council representative for the Scott County Commission, also commended Buck.
"I was in management with IBM 30 years. I would take her on board anytime if I were still in that business. She's that kind of worker," said Webb has served on the council for the last six or so years.
Webb praised Buck's dedication to others.
"She's always been very open in wanting to make sure that everybody is taken care of in the sense of whether it's the advisory council or the students or the people who work for her or the university," Webb said.
While Barkett said she hates to see her go, Buck deserves some time for herself for everything she's done for the community. Barkett said of Buck: "She's worked so well with students, faculty, and administration to promote not only Southeast-Sikeston but other regional campuses. Judy raised awareness of the availability of higher education locally and for many turned the dream of a going to college into a reality. I don't think anyone can deny that she's changed a lot of lives."
Sikeston's superintendent of public schools, Steve Borgsmiller, has been named as the new director of the Sikeston campus. He bill begin in the position around July 1.