Doris Howard looks over scores at a Knights
basketball game as she sits next to Sally Thalken. Howard has worked at NPCC
for more than 50 years.
Doris Howard just might know where all the bodies are buried.
She should. As the longest serving employee at North Platte Community College, 51 years, she's seen a thing or two.
"I've enjoyed every minute of it," said Howard. "The college is what keeps me young."
Howard's history with the college dates back to its inception in 1965. At that time, it was the North Platte Junior College and was housed primarily in the old 1913 Post Office – currently the Prairie Arts Center, at Fifth and Jeffers Streets in North Platte.
Because the college was governed by the North Platte Board of Education, many of its early administrators, faculty and staff were selected from those already in the public school system.
Doris Howard hands out a test to PE students at the North Platte Junior College in 1969.
Otto Oakes, for example, served as both the superintendent of the public schools and as the college president. When Oakes needed a physical education teacher for the college, he turned to Howard, whom he had recruited from Kansas in 1959 to teach PE to junior high students.
The PE job at the college was part-time – two mornings a week. Howard taught archery and volleyball at the armory, tennis at Cody Park, bowling at the Cedar Bowl, softball in a vacant lot at the North Platte High School and a fitness class for non-traditional students at the Cody Elementary gymnasium.
"I think the only school we didn't use was St. Pat's," said Howard. "We tried to offer a lot of sports for variety and had maybe 20-25 students on average in a class."
She soon found that teaching college students was quite a bit different from teaching those in junior high. For one thing, much of her class was older than she was.
"Several of us had kids, so classes were scheduled to accommodate that," said Howard. "The biggest difference, though, was that students at the college level were there because they wanted to be – not because they had to be. That made for a lot of fun."
Howard circa 1973
In addition to PE, Howard also taught a Health and Elementary Education class at the college beginning in 1965. She remained an instructor until 1974.
"About that time, a woman named Barb Reifler, who had graduated from North Platte High School, had come back to do student teaching under Linda Carlson," said Howard. "[Barb] and I started a volleyball team at the college, and I paid her out of my paycheck to coach it because with little kids, I didn't have time for that."
Howard did, however, take on the role of scorekeeper for both volleyball and basketball and also managed a concession stand at home games. Her jobs soon became a family affair.
"My kids went to Osgood, so after school they would just walk over to the college and watch the games while I worked," said Howard. "My husband, Jack, was one of the first presidents of the Knights Cage Club [the official booster club of the NPCC men's basketball team], and he also helped me with concessions."
Prior to use of the McDonald-Belton Gymnasium, when basketball was still played at North Platte High School, Doris and Jack would pop popcorn in the basement of the old post office and carry it to the games to sell.
Doris Howard helps Sweet Saloon workers box up cinnamon rolls in 2015.
Doris also made and sold sweet rolls for many years as part of the Sweet Saloon, a fundraiser for the NPCC Lady Knights volleyball team.
The idea for the Sweet Saloon came from Sally Thalken, who coached basketball at NPCC from 1981 until 1991 and volleyball through 2014. Doris worked as a scorekeeper throughout Thalken's tenure, and consequently, the two became good friends.
"I broke my arm in 2010," said Doris. "Sally insisted that flipping that pan of cinnamon rolls at the Sweet Saloon was what got me back into shape. She always had an angle."
Together, the women took a limo full of volleyball girls out to supper at Ole's Big Game Steakhouse in Paxton to celebrate the team's accomplishments.
Doris also went along when Thalken took the Sweet Saloon workers down the Niobrara River in a canoe. It was Doris' first time in a canoe. She was in her late '70s.
"She really is pretty amazing," Thalken said of Doris. "She's kept up. It was kind of like, 'If you want to run with us – you better keep up,' and she has."
Now that she's 80, however, Doris has decided it might be time to slow down. This year marked the first in 42 years that she didn't keep score for games.
"It was just time," said Doris. "I still go to games and watch and support everyone, and if I can health-wise, will do anything the college asks of me. I can't completely give it up. I've had too much fun. It's just been marvelous."