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Kerschen credits Pratt Community College for kickstarting successful career

19 September 2018

“Pratt Junior College was a blessing in my life. I’m convinced if I hadn’t attended Pratt Junior College, I would not have made it at K-State in Engineering and possibly not in my career.”

Richard Kerschen was born and raised on a farm just north of St. Leo, a small community in western Kingman County. Kerschen admits while growing up, he wasn’t the ideal student.

“I didn’t work very hard in high school,” said Kerschen. “Classes were pretty easy for me and I didn’t study much. I wasn’t ready for college.”

After graduating from Cunningham High School in the spring of 1959, however, he decided to give higher education a chance and attend Pratt Junior College. He commuted back and forth every day with a friend and a number of his high school classmates to the school, which at that time was located in the same building as Pratt High School students. Most of his first year was adapting to the challenges of learning.

“I spent a little extra time when I first started at a pool hall on Main Street so it took all my first year to learn how to study,” said Kerschen. “After that first year though, I kind of caught on. I was able to apply a little more self-discipline and the second year was a lot better for me.”

Kerschen believes he was able to rise above his high school mentality partially due to his experience with the instructors at PCC at the time.

“I had some good teachers at Pratt Junior College,” said Kerschen. “One was a teacher named Dwight Hardy. He was the advanced math and calculus teacher. He was an outstanding teacher and on top of that, he was a really good person. He did a great job relating to the students and communicating some tough concepts in classes and that helped me do well in them.”

After graduating in 1961, Kerschen was confident enough to take on the rigorous civil engineering program at Kansas State University.

“The engineering courses I took at K-State were all calculus based,” said Kerschen. “You had to be prepared. Calculus was a flunk out course. Fortunately for me I was able to take the calculus courses at PCC and they all transferred to K-State. PCC helped me be prepared not only with my education, but also mentally to take on those responsibilities.”

After graduating from K-State, Kerschen worked for the Missouri Highway Department for six months. He was on a student deferment while in school, however he was drafted as soon as he graduated.

“I was only out of school a few months when I got my physical notice,” said Kerschen. “I joined the National Guard in Independence, MO. My boot camp was in Ft. Leonard Wood, MO and finished out my six months at Ft. Riley.”

It was during that time he decided he wanted to change jobs.

“I was fortunate to get an overnight pass while at Ft. Riley,” said Kerschen, “I traveled to Wichita for an interview with a local construction company and they had offered me a job. They wanted me to go back to Ft. Leonard Wood to work on a big project they had there. Since I had just left there, I wasn’t really excited to go back.”

Fortunately, Kerschen’s parents had a neighbor who was a union carpenter who worked construction nine months out of the year. The neighbor informed Kerschen’s parents about a new company in Wichita. It had been in business for about six years at the time. The name of the company was Law-Pollitt Construction Company.

“After my interview with the first construction company, I called down to Law-Pollitt Construction Company’s office before returning to Ft. Riley. It just so happened that one of the partners was working on a Saturday afternoon and asked me to come on down and visit with him. I spent two hours with him and he offered me a job.”

Kerschen started at Law-Pollitt Construction Company working in the field as a union laborer. At the time, he was paid $2.83 per hour. The name of the company was changed to The Law Company a few years later. Kerschen recalls working on a variety of large projects, including a shopping center in Fremont, NE, for a shopping center developer called Melvin Simon Associates. Today, the developer is called Simon Property Group which is the largest shopping center developer in the United States.

“From the time we were involved in that job in Fremont, NE, until today, there have been very few years we haven’t done work for Simon Property Group,” said Kerschen. “We are still doing work with them today. It’s been a pretty cool relationship that we developed 50+ years ago.”

Kerschen continued to work his way up with the company and in 1978, he was elected president of the company. In 1983, in addition to being president, he also became chairman of the board. Which was possible because of hard work and opportunities given to him along with his time spent at Pratt Community College.

Now, Kerschen’s son has taken over as president of The Law Company, however, after working at The Law Company over 53 years Rich is still Chairman. In addition to his duties at LC, he also gives back to the college that started it all 59 years ago by being involved with the PCC Foundation Board.

Kerschen and his wife, Hannah, have been married for over 50 years and have three children and eight grandchildren. He and Hannah are very supportive of PCC.

“I have fond feelings of my time at Pratt Community College,” said Kerschen. “I would not have been as successful if it weren’t for my time there years ago. I’m honored to be involved on the PCC Foundation Board. It’s a good feeling to be able to give back to the place that helped me nearly 60 years ago.”

September 6, 1938, Pratt Junior College opened its doors as the 14th junior college created in Kansas. Pratt “Juco” welcomed 150 new students to its original campus located on 401 S. Hamilton Street. Eighty years later Pratt Community College is proud to have helped build the futures of thousands of students on-campus, online, at our Winfield and Wichita learning centers and through high school concurrent enrollment.

The mission of Pratt Community College is maximum student learning, individual and workforce development, high quality instruction and service, and community enrichment. PCC is proud to be a part of the community in Pratt, Kansas. With more than 80 years of history, PCC remains humbled to serve our community and students who come to build a foundation for their lives.

This year we celebrate this grand anniversary and remember those who’ve walked through these halls. Each month during 2018 PCC is proud to feature stories and memories from alumnae, community members and faculty who have helped see our institution and mission grow. If you would like to share an experience or memory or be considered for one of our monthly features contact Jessica Sanko, 620-450-1292, jessicas@prattcc.edu.