1980's

Oh the 80s.  With big hair, bold and bright colours, our students came to campus with even bigger and brighter dreams.  The campus was a happening place. During the previous year, the RDC Students’ Association (SA) became the first and only college or technical institute in Alberta to erect their own building.

As the SA settled into their permanent home on campus the student body attended classes in newly expanded campus.  1979 saw the completion of four new academic wings (the 1500, 1600, 2500 and 2600 wings).  More than 1,700 full time students attended RDC; the College had grown tenfold since it first opened its doors!

An influx of new students enrolled in nine new apprenticeship programs that launched at the beginning of 1980 as the province prepared for a major expansion in technology and trades training announced by the Minister of Advanced Education and Manpower in that year.

The Apprenticeship and Technology program would commence in full swing the following year in 1981, and, as to this day, would be a big draw for students across the region seeking training in much needed skills for in-demand jobs.

Raise your glass, after class

The 1983 edition of Legacy is emblazoned with headlines that might cause the present day reader to pause and ponder if local news reporters carried around a hidden flask. The following are a few headlines that made the press in that year:

RDC board approves student bar
College lounge seen inevitable
Student battle lines drawn over controversial college lounge
Students: why we want a lounge at the college
Students asked to back lounge
Community has stake in college lounge issue

While most every college campus in the twenty-first century has bars and lounges where alcohol is readily available during campus hours, in the early 80s, in Alberta, colleges didn’t have licensed lounges.  After significant student petitioning and pressure, the Alberta Liquor Control Board ended a year-long, province-wide controversy by granting the SA an Institutional Liquor License.

On Thursday afternoon in 1983, a new 110 seat lounge opened for business with students lining up at the door for the grand opening. A local reporter counted 65 students sitting down for drinks in the first few hours of operation.

For future RDC president Ed Luterbach, the opening of the lounge signaled a new level of maturity for the campus, highlighting the stability and maturity of students and the institution. “To me this symbolizes the college coming of age,” he told the Advocate, which noted he was one of the few college staff members who dropped in to the opening event.

“Most patrons agreed the brightly lit lounge, with potted plants hanging from the ceiling and students’ art on the light green walls was a welcome change from the rowdier pubs that used to be the only college functions where liquor was served.” xlii

Perhaps most notable of that opening night, despite the scepticism of the establishment’s critics, was that  the lounge was “quiet and the drinkers restrained,” a point of vindication for student association president Mike Knopp who, along with other representatives from the College, had assured the Alberta Liquour Control Board would be the case during the organized campaign to win approval for the lounge. xliii

With full service students’ lounges now the norm in the province, perhaps what is most surprising about this chapter in RDC’s history is the price of beverages, as reported in the same news article: beer sold at $1.25 a bottle, liquor $1.75 per glass and the register rang in at $6.75 for a bottle of wine.

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Buildings that set the scene for a living legacy

At RDC we’ve always said that the College is not the facility but the people.  Students, faculty and staff make it such a unique and thriving place.  The people are the heroes of the story that is told by our institution and the ones who leave a lasting and proud legacy.

Any great story needs a setting upon which all the human narratives can take place.  We truly have exceptional facilities that make our story possible.  Ever since we set our roots at our permanent location our buildings have continued to grow with our students to meet their needs and inspire learning.

On a beautiful day in September 1983, we officially opened our Apprenticeship & Technology wings, our brand new Handicap Student Residences and our new Residence Administration Building. By the end of the year our campus had doubled in size through the completion of a Technical Wing, new Student Residence Condos, the expansion of our Cafeteria and a new Conference Room.

The Apprenticeship wing housed eleven new trade programs including Auto Body Mechanics, Carpentry, Electrical, Heavy Duty Mechanics, Motor Mechanics, Plumbing, Sheet Metal Mechanics, Sprinkler Fitting, Tile Setting Water Well Drilling and Welding.  Our timely expansion built our capacity so we could instruct some 1,800 Apprenticeship students each year in a more than 14,000 square foot building with hands on learning spaces. Suddenly RDC housed the second largest trades and technology school in Alberta.

The demand for expanded Residences showed just how much RDC had become a community within a community.  With nineteen self-contained row houses we could now accommodate more than 200 more students who could live on campus, along with eight more families.  Six two-bedroom units allowed more space for disabled students to live on campus.

As we approached our twentieth anniversary in 1984 RDC was approaching a new milestone in enrolments.  We were the learning place of choice for nearly 3,000 students (2,940 to be exact), the most in our history!

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A Series of cultural contributions (pun artfully intended)

The 80s were truly a decade in which the Arts began to flourish at RDC and our cultural contribution to the region was cemented.  It was in 1985 that Series, the annual summer workshops in multiple artistic disciplines became a permanent project of the College.  It was transferred to RDC by Alberta Culture from the facilities of the Hinton Forestry School where it began in 1975.

The residential arts program at RDC welcomed Canadian and internationally renowned artists from all over the world to lead weeklong courses in a variety of mediums from painting to printmaking, drawing and sculpture, glassblowing, bead-making, metalsmithing, ceramics, photography, welding, bronze casting and more.

1985 was also the year that our Permanent Art Collection completed its two-year tour to venues across the country, brining thirty-three unique pieces from the collection to Canadians to mark its 10th Anniversary.

And it was this year that the College established a Writer-in-Residence program in the summer.  The program invited a notable author to present a public lecture, do a public reading of work and gave opportunity for community members to meet one-on-one with the author as a way to develop their own craft.   W.D. Valgardson was invited as the first Writer-in-Residence, the first of many notable writers to nurture local talent. Along with the residency the Writers on Campus program would later be inhabited by John Lent, J. Jill Robinson and Lorna Crozier, among others.

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All the world is a stage

The Arts Centre swung open its beautiful glass doors in 1986 to a public eager to see its impressive design. People from all over central Alberta enjoyed a wide range of performances at a celebratory Opening Gala on October 17, 1986 followed by a nearly month long Opening Festival.  

More than 36,000 tickets were sold for the first season, this at a time when Red Deer’s population leveled out at 54,000.  If there was any doubt that central Alberta would make use of a multi-purpose Arts venue, then the opening season of the Arts Centre put those questions to rest.

However, only a few years earlier, the much needed, ambitious multi-million dollar building project looked like it may never get off the ground. In the spring of 1982, the Department of Education gave the go ahead for construction on the facility, approving a $10 million grant.  Yet a sharp economic downturn in Alberta in the early 1980s caused enormous difficulty for the contractor hired to implement Arthur Erickson’s designs.  

In 1984 construction on the Arts Centre sputtered to a halt while the College worked to protect its investment and navigate through legal issues forced upon them as the contractor struggled in the volatile economy.

As construction recommenced, in December of 1985, Ontario artist Dorothy Caldwell won a $70,000 Fibre Arts commission to produce, at 5 by12 metres, one of the largest fibre sculptures in Canada for the Arts Centre lobby.  

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A monument to creative possibilities

Designed to suggest a locomotive charging forward through the rolling prairies and their golden fields of wheat, the Arts Centre stands as a symbol of beauty and forward motion toward creative possibilities. The building was completed in the fall of 1986, one of the most remarkable and identifiable landmarks gracing  Alberta’s busy main corridor of the Queen Elizabeth Highway.  

The beautiful red bricked building, with its dramatic lobby and intimate Mainstage, truly inspired those first visitors. Caldwell’s gold leaf stitched fibre sculpture Landstat cascaded from the high ceiling to accentuate the building’s grand interior.

As we opened the Arts Centre and welcomed the community we also launched new Performing Arts programs in Music and in Theatre.

Those first audiences enjoyed one of the most exceptional performing arts facilities of any college in Canada.  And it was opened in a memorable way! The National Arts Centre Orchestra, Alberta Ballet, the Chinese Acrobats of the Pagoda and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra were just a few of the groups who performed in the inaugural festival.

Since this grand facility opened its doors in 1986, more than one million people have enjoyed performances that have featured the talents of professional artists, student artists and community performers. More than 5000 students have been enrolled in RDC’s Performing Arts programs.  There have been over 100 theatre productions and over 500 Music Program concerts.  Hundreds of thousands of performers have graced the stage.

The Arts Centre soon became an emblem of creative excellence to the community and in the province, a place to showcase the rich artistic talents of the community.  A venue for inspiring performances by world-class artists and entertainers, to this day, it captures the imaginations of both young and old.  

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Athletics programs continue to thrive

Our campus mascot, Rufus, became known for not only his disarming hugs of enthusiastic fans, but also for his roar.  As stuffed animals go, a kingly, noble animal was the best representation of the Kings and Queens who continued reign in ACAC competition.  

The Hockey Kings started the decade off with a bang, transitioning from the successful seventies with a national championship in 1980. Building on our national sports legacy, our Queen Volleyball Team took home the Canadian Colleges Athletics Association (CCAA) Championships in 1984.

Our Badminton Queens would follow in the champion tradition when the Doubles team of Kathy Casselman and Rhonda McKay won the national gold medal in 1986.  Our Mixed Curling team also took home the national championship in the same year.   

RDC Athletics were given the Alberta Colleges Athletics Association Supremacy Award six times in 1983, and each year from 1985 to 1989 while our coaches were recognized for their contribution at the national level.  Coaches Al Ferchuk (Kings Hockey, 83), Bob Bennett (Badminton, 84), Cor Ouwerkerk (Queens Volleyball, 85, Bob Bennett (Badminto, 85), Gord Inglis (Kings Volleyball, 86) were named CCAA Coaches of the Year.

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Our Quarter of a Century

In 1988 we reached our 25th Anniversary and celebrated with the community a quarter century of providing post-secondary education in central Alberta.  With nearly 5,000 full-time students, there was much discussion about how RDC should grow into the future.

Enrollments continued to steadily increase, beyond the pace of Government funding, which put RDC in a conundrum of sorts.  There was increased demand for programs, but funding shortfalls meant we potentially needed to reduce the number of learners we served in order to ensure we could offer the exceptional experience our students had come to expect.

Achieving degree-granting status was one way to solve the riddle.  A task force was formed to explore what level of support there was for RDC-granted degrees, which seemed a perfect solution to the problem.  Every two years RDC transferred well-prepared students to other Albertan Universities to finish their programs.  The community consensus was that many would stay and learn in Red Deer if they could, which would be not only be a boon to the local economy, but ensure RDC would continue to thrive.

Results of the studies, undertaken by outside consultants, “indicated conclusively that Central Albertans strongly supported a degree-granting post-secondary institution in Central Alberta.  Red Deer College was identified as the best choice because of its location, reputation, quality of instruction, size and atmosphere,” wrote RDC President Dr. Edward Luterbach in his annual report. xliv

The studies further showed a strong desire in the community for degrees to be offered in addition to the vocational and university transfer programs already offered.  This sentiment was in line with the original aspirations of the founders, as voiced by Margaret Parsons from the beginning. As we looked beyond our 25th toward the future, degree-granting was a major goal we set our sights upon.

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Alma Mater matters

In 1988 the Red Deer College Alumni Association was officially formed. The Association would be a place for successful students who had moved on in their lives and careers to enrich the lives of graduates, connect with the community and organize legacy events.

On event was a Homecoming, the first in our history, which took place during the celebrations of our 25th Anniversary. It was a chance for Alumni of Red Deer College to get together, renew old friendships and start new ones.

Many of the gathered alumni made a trip to the newly named Margaret Parsons Theatre, the team teaching theatre where many had taken courses. Naming the theatre in her honour was a suitable way for RDC to recognize Margaret Parsons’ contribution to the College as a founder after her death in 1984.

Since its inception, the Alumni Association has assisted RDC students and helped them to stay connected with the College. To this day, the volunteer executive is dedicated to promoting academic excellence and works together to raise funds for scholarships and bursaries.  The Alumni Association also works to ensure that RDC continues to play an integral role in the region.

As the 80s came to an end, increasingly, RDC Alumni, our staff and programs were receiving national attention.  RDC was recognized with the prestigious National Council Award of Excellence for Staff, Program and Organizational Development at a ceremony in Chicago, Illinois, the first time a Canadian college had ever been nominated for the award. xlv

Red Deer College Press was named Publisher of the Year for its editorial and design achievements.  The Press was launched in 1971 as an in-house publisher of books written by college faculty and students. RDC English instructor Dr. Gary Botting, himself a poet and playwright, was the driving force behind it. At the turn of the decade Red Deer College Press was publishing more than a dozen new publications each year, which started to reach broader markets in Canada, the US, Australia and the United Kingdom and to be recognized with many awards.  

In 25 years Red Deer College had become an irreplaceable hub of learning where great things happened and where successful graduates were equipped to make significant contributions to their communities and to the world.  

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xlii - “Tipplers give top marks to college lounge,” Jim Lozeron, The Advocate, DATE, 1983.
xliii - ibid
xliv - “President’s Report,” Dr. Edward J. Luterbach. RDC Annual Report. 1988.
xlv - About Red Deer Press.  Retrieved January 29, 2015.

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