ELGIN – Elgin Community College’s former president, who was known by his peers as a visionary, died Dec. 27 at age 78.
Paul Heath served as ECC’s president from 1987 to 1994 – a period in which ECC grew substantially in enrollment, programs and in construction. In the college’s commemorative book, Heath is referred to as “the builder.”
Don Waters, former vice president of corporate development, worked with Heath through his seven-year tenure. He called Heath a “visionary president” who understood what a comprehensive community college was.
“He strongly believed in community involvement with the college and the college’s involvement with the community,” Waters said.
He said Heath felt it was important to reach out to local businesses, industries and to those who didn’t have access to higher education.
John Duffy, who has been an ECC trustee since 1975 and still serves on the board, called Heath “a real class act.” He described Heath as thoughtful, articulate and bright.
“He had a wealth of experience, and he put it to good use,” Duffy said. “He was not just a builder; he was an innovator.”
During Heath’s time at ECC, enrollment increased 69 percent and 13 new occupational programs were implemented. A $48 million expansion of the Spartan Campus Drive also was initiated under his watch. Waters said the college’s Visual and Performing Arts Center, along with its business training center known today as the Fox Valley University and Business Center, were built while Heath was president.
“He was visionary in his forward thinking, not only in the campus design and facilities that were added, but in terms of programs and outreach,” Waters said. “Those two [buildings] sparked interaction between the college and the community. ... I think those two facilities are his biggest legacy to the college.”
Heath served as ECC’s fifth president, and his work earned recognition from the White House, according to a news release.
Before working at ECC, he was the founding president of the John Wood Community College in Quincy in 1974. His career as an administrator began in 1964 when he worked at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich. Heath’s career concluded when he retired from ECC in 1994.
“He was well-respected by everyone in the community and equally respected statewide,” Duffy said.
Waters said Heath always had a smile on his face and was a very enjoyable person with which to work.
“I was very saddened to hear of his passing,” he said. “I thought very highly of him.”