COLBY -- The 2023 Colby Community College Hall of Fame class includes former math and science instructor Dr. David Kruse and former registrar Betty Kruse, former art instructors Kenneth and Dr. Vicki Mitchell, volleyball All-American Ana Kokanovic, and supporters Duskin and Missy Siruta.
A reception will be held in their honor beginning at about 5:45 p.m. at the conclusion of the men's basketball game on Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Colby Event Center. A brief ceremony is also scheduled at halftime of the men's game.
The CCC Alumni Hall of Fame was established in 2012. In June each year, a committee selects individuals or couples who have made a substantial contribution to the college through personal time, effort and interest, or have contributed in a significant way to the lives of others after being part of Colby Community College. Previous inductees are listed at www.colbycc.edu/hof.
Dr. David and Betty Kruse
The Kruses were hired at Colby Community College in 1987 after living in Winfield, Kan. David taught at St. John's High School and St. John's College, which closed in 1986. Betty was the administrative assistant at St. John's Alumni Association.
Each of them served at CCC for more than 20 years before retiring. Betty was the registrar until 2009, and David taught physical sciences, math and computer courses and retired in 2012.
A graduate of Oakley High School, Betty earned her associate degree from St. John's College in Winfield before obtaining a bachelor's in education from Concordia Teacher's College (now Concordia University, Nebraska) in Seward, Neb. She got her master's degree in education from Kansas State University. She had teaching positions in Racine, Wi., and Winfield before becoming the registrar at Colby.
David graduated from Concordia Lutheran High School and college in Seward, Neb. He obtained his master's and doctorate in science education from Kansas State.
The couple has three adult children. Wade, a CCC graduate, is the transportation manager for ACCESS in Hays. Daughter Tabitha Green is a homemaker and grandma in Tulsa, Okla., and daughter Wendy Mulder of Diamond, Mo., is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). David and Betty have nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
"Both of us have been active in church activities, including choir and bell choir," said Betty. "I also served on the Kansas District Lutheran Church board of directors for nine years."
Betty stays active in the women's ministry and served a four-year term as district president. She said David was always learning and attended conferences when he had the opportunity. He spent much of his time in retirement studying alternative energy sources.
"Both of us were extremely blessed to have worked at CCC," she said, "And cherish our memories and friendships made here."
Mr. Kenneth and Dr. Vicki Mitchell
In 1969, the Mitchells came to CCC to teach art. When they departed twenty years later, their work left an impression still seen at the college and in the community.
"Colby was our first and most lengthy college home," said Ken.
The Mitchells brought much-needed energy to a college that was in its infancy.
"I loved my students and teaching colleagues at CCC," said Vicki. "In the early days, we all did everything – registering, recruiting, counseling, cleaning the Arts Center prior to the opening…"
CCC was a pioneer in outreach education, and Ken and Vicki were some of the first instructors who brought higher education to area communities.
"I taught afternoon and night classes in Tribune, Atwood, Ness City, Palco, Hill City, Norton, and McCook, Nebraska, and Saturdays in Wray and Yuma, Colorado," Ken said. "I was one of four teachers, with Fred Trowbridge, Roger Hale, and Larry Koon, with full-time campus loads and many additional outreach classes."
Outside the classroom, the Mitchells' influence was visible. Vicki illustrated teaching resources, established a women's studies course, and designed promotional materials used by the college.
The University of Northern Colorado alumna, who started teaching at CCC before she was even 21, later earned a master's degree and a doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Texas.
"I impersonated women artists, with costumes by Mella Mildrexler, for my students. My concept was published with photos by Doyle Saddler in three educational journals. That resulted in my recruitment to UT."
Vicki would later serve as chair for the Fine Arts Division, paint play sets, act in a play, and manage the art gallery.
Ken designed and painted sets for numerous plays and acted in two plays. He painted a series of historic Colby scenes for the Thomas County Centennial and created two murals for businesses in Colby.
Originally from Gering, Neb., Ken attended the University of Northern Colorado on a track scholarship and lettered three years before earning a bachelor's degree in art and history. He taught art at Longmont High School and Aurora Junior High School before his position at Colby.
Together, they took students and community members on several study trips, visiting art museums and galleries in the United States and Europe. They organized an annual high school art competition. With their extended family, they helped establish the first visual arts scholarships and donated their original art for Endowment Foundation auctions.
Upon leaving Colby, the Mitchells moved to Washington State, where they took positions at Yakima Valley Community College. Vicki became the Dean of Arts and Sciences, and Ken taught art and administrated night and weekend college. He also taught art at the Native American "Heritage University" in Toppenish, Wash.
"It was difficult to leave colleagues and friends when we moved to Washington after Vicki obtained her doctorate," Ken said. "I still keep in touch with several former Colby friends and students, and even still dream about my experiences there after 34 years."
Those connections gave the couple reasons to return to Colby occasionally. When CCC's Bedker Memorial Complex was built in the late 90s, they worked with former students and community members to paint the mural on the wall. In May 2022, Ken had a retrospective art show at the Prairie Museum of Art & History.
While at Yakima College, Ken met and drew images of Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, Yolanda Scott King, Billy Mills, and Shirley Chism to sell signed copies for minority scholarships.
Vicki went on to serve in executive positions at Columbia Basin College and Grays Harbor Community College. Later, Ken and Vicki taught art, English and other subjects at an alternative high school, and Vicki was a GED teacher.
Currently, she is a grant writer for non-profits, and her hobby is writing humorous essays.
Many projects allow Ken and Vicki to work together. For the last eight years, they have been Resident Artists at Harpers Ferry National Park in West Virginia, where they have created paintings and drawings for the museums and archives, completed several restorations, and painted a park map-mural.
The Mitchells have a son, K.C. Mitchell, an administrator in the Yakima, Wash., school system. Daughter Kendra Rai heads the costuming program at Virginia Commonwealth University. Ken and Vicki are grandparents to Chloe Mitchell and Eloise Rai.
Looking back, the Mitchells have positive memories of their time in Colby.
"It was a joy to come to work each morning and teach!" Ken said. "Our whole staff was totally dedicated to students' success."
"The college provided me the motivation and drive to break through the proverbial feminine "glass ceiling," Vicki added. "CCC gave me the opportunity to teach art history in historical sites like the Louvre, Notre Dame, St Peter's, and the Colosseum, and introduced me to my life-long mentor and friend Ms. Ruth Lowenthal, the former college librarian."
In 2024, they have no intention of slowing down. The couple will be Artists in Residence at Battlefields Park and the National Civil War Museum in Richmond, Va., to paint historic images and conduct workshops.
The Mitchells will not be in attendance for the Dec. 2 reception but will be represented by their former students, Bruce Bandy and Leon Volk.
All-American volleyball player Ana Kokanovic attended CCC from 2005 to 2007. She still holds school records in nearly every offensive category.
The 5-foot-10 outside hitter from Lazarevac, Serbia, had skills that drew the attention of coaches worldwide, including an offer to play professionally in Turkey.
She chose to come to the United States and get an education.
"Somebody gives you an opportunity, say yes to it. So what if you fail? You won't know if you fail or succeed unless you try."
Her arrival in western Kansas impacted the Trojans immediately. She ended her freshman season with a team-high 110 aces and 5.3 kills per set.
As a sophomore, she was named the Jayhawk Conference Player of the Year and became a first-team All-American, leading the nation with 5.9 kills per set and a hitting percentage of .366.
Currently, she ranks first and second in single-season CCC records for aces (110 and 120) and kills per set (5.972 and 5.321). She also holds the record for hitting percentage (.458) and is second with 745 kills.
In her career with the Trojans, Kokanovic tallied 1,396 kills, 230 aces, a 5.6 kills per set average, and a .409 hitting percentage, all school records still standing.
After graduating from CCC, Kokanovic transferred to Florida Gulf Coast University, where she continued to succeed in the Atlantic Sun Conference. She was the 2007 conference Player of the Year and led FGCU to its first regular season title in the program's inaugural year at the Division I level. Kokanovic was also a two-time first team All-ASUN selection.
She obtained her degree from FGCU and went on to fulfill her dream of playing professionally. After playing for Dinamo Pančevo, a team based in Pancevo, Serbia, Kokanovic returned to southwest Florida.
She has been married for eight years and has three children, Stefan, five years old; Helena, 3; and Mila, 2.
"I live in Naples, Florida, enjoying good weather with my family and friends and playing beach volleyball and kickboxing for fun."
She will be unable to attend the Dec. 2 reception but will be represented by her local friends, Doug and Joan Todd.
Duskin and Missy Siruta
The Sirutas are both natives of northwest Kansas. They have been avid supporters of the college and the athletic programs for more than two decades.
The couple has become well-known across the state for their youth tractor pedal pull competitions, Siruta Pedal Pullers. They started the organization in 2012 in memory of their seven-year-old son, Tater, who passed away in 2009.
"We are busy in the summertime running around putting on tractor pedal pulls at area fairs and festivals, along with the Kansas Pedal Pull Championship at the Kansas State Fair in September," she said. "And then, helping with the National Pedal Pull in Mitchell, South Dakota."
Now, Missy is president of the Kansas Pedal Pullers Association. She is in her first year with the CCC Endowment Foundation, and in Jan. 2024, she begins her new role on the USD 315 School Board. A member of the Sunflower Festival, Missy also volunteers for Colby Public Schools athletic events and serves as a scorekeeper for CCC volleyball and basketball games. She has a particular interest in the recent success of the CCC volleyball team because she was the team's student manager in 1993 and 1994.
Duskin grew up in Winona and is employed by Kingery Township in Thomas County. Missy is from Colby and works at Farmers & Merchants Bank as the Administrative Assistant/CSR after serving at Colby Public Schools for six years.
However, there is still time to attend local activities in their busy lives.
"During the school year, you can find us attending a CCC or a middle or high school event, either helping, cheering, supporting or watching," Missy said.