McCook College grad delivers unique tribute to campus

Jon Burkey's scale model of the MCC campus
Tuesday, January 31, 2023

A 1967 graduate of McCook Junior College returned to campus recently to present a unique gift to the place he attended as a student, worked as an employee, and served as a cornerstone of his career.

Jon Burkey, former MCC Physical Resource Director, recently presented MCC Vice President Kelly Rippen a scale model of something that has been of great importance most of his life -- the McCook campus.

The model took him almost as long (eight years) to build as it did for him to get a master’s degree.

“Actually it probably took longer,” Burkey joked.

He built the model largely out of cardboard, glue, rocks, a whole lot of patience and inspiration for the place that shaped his life. Constructed as a topographical model, it also includes histories of each of the buildings. The model measures six feet long by two feet wide and includes 10 campus buildings.

“This was my cold-weather project,” he said. After retiring from MCC in 2009 he moved to Lincoln where one of his first warm-weather projects was restoring a 1956 Chevy.

Burkey attended MCC when there was an abundance of students enrolling in college in part because of the Vietnam war and deferments for full-time students. At that time the McCook College only had McMillen Hall and True Hall for classrooms. To handle all the “extra students” the college opened an annex at the old YMCA.  

Burkey came to McCook from Bartley and after exploring several career options, including mortuary sciences, he recalls the exact moment when his career came into focus.

“I was in a class the college annexed at the YMCA, and my speech teacher, Mrs. Crosby, asked me late in my sophomore year what I was going to do. I said I didn’t know. She said, ‘You need to be a teacher,'" Burkey recalled.

He took her advice and was involved in education for 40 years. He received his bachelor's degree at Kearney State College in Speech, Theater and Social Sciences and also received a master's in Speech Communication.

He spent nine years teaching in Shelton and Holdrege before getting his second master's degree in school administration. He spent four years as principal at Wymore then received his specialist's degree in administration at Kearney and took a job as superintendent at Perkins County in Grant where he spent 16 years. In 1998, he applied for the superintendent position at McCook High School which gave him the opportunity to come back and be closer to family.

In June of 2002 Burkey started his job as MCC Physical Resource Director and continued through October of 2009. He was at the center of major renovations at most every building on campus – including most notably major improvements at McMillen Hall with the establishment of the Hormel Family Technology Center for Business and Industry; construction of the black box theater, new music labs, and dedicated space for EMT programs in Tipton Hall; the addition of a Graphic Design program in Wrightstone, and the expansion of the Center for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) at 112 E. Second, in McCook.

Following original blueprints and photos, he built each of the 10 buildings, one at a time. He said True Hall was the most difficult one to recreate because it had so many odd juts and additions over the years.

Burkey said his fellow classmates, instructors, staff and later his colleagues – and those that came before and after him – have helped form and develop what he believes to be one of the college's greatest assets: tradition.

"It starts with that one-on-one contact, things like people reaching out to make someone feel welcome. It never stops, and it extends throughout the community and not just from people working for the college,” Burkey said when he retired in 2009.  “It's a pride thing, community wide, and it is genuine. This area embraces its proud college tradition and has taken ownership like few community colleges do."

While Burkey surprised the college with the gift Rippen assured him his model is greatly appreciated, and staff will find an appropriate way to prominently display and maintain his love of the college and its history.