Dr. John Light was born in northern Ohio in 1930 if my math is correct. Very little of John’s early life would have given anyone a clue as to what this man would eventually accomplish and the tens of thousands of lives that he would impact!
If memory also serves me right, John’s early working career was as a tool and die maker for the Timken Roller Bearing Company in Canton, Ohio. Exactly how John ended up in Nelsonville, Ohio, to become one of the founders of a two-year technical institute was never exactly clear in my mind. What is crystal clear to me is that John coming to Nelsonville and being hired by Mr. Porter changed the course of the tiny town of Nelsonville and would over the next 30 years impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
Mr. T. C. (Thomas Clancy) Porter had a dream, along with a few other progressive thinkers in the region, of opening a two-year technical training facility in southeast Ohio. Mr. Porter knew that if he was to succeed, he had to put together a team of like-minded individuals, individuals who would be stubborn to a fault, persistent in their goals with dogged determination, and who would never ever take NO for an answer! That is when John Light came into the picture, becoming Mr. Porter’s right-hand man.
John was hired as the first vice-president of what would officially be named the Tri-Country Technical Institute. It was a position he held only briefly. Mr. Porter, who was then the president of both the Vocational School and the Technical Institute, quickly realized that John was the perfect man at the right time to take this two-year training institute into the future. The result was that John was quickly promoted to the president of the Technical Institute, a school facing many of the very biggest challenges of all time!
It’s important for people to understand that there could not have been a more difficult time in our nation’s history to face the challenges of opening any kind of post-secondary training facility. The Vietnam War was at its peak. Campus unrest and student protest were on the rise all over the country. The very last thing that any quiet community in this country wanted was another college.
The nearby town of Athens was a classic example. Violence, property damage and everything else that went with those turbulent times made opening a two-year training center outside of Nelsonville one of the biggest challenges that John Light and Tom Porter would ever face in their lives.
Somehow, divine intervention must have brought John Light into this challenge, and Mr. Porter quickly realized he had found the right man to lead into the future what would later become Hocking College.
My guess is that neither of these men knew exactly all the challenges they would face, but they operated on one basic principle, one simple guiding light. For those of us who were fortunate enough to be some of the first instructors hired by John to open this new school, we learned from day one what that basic principle was. John opened every meeting by stating this simple principle: “Anything we do, any action we take today, any decisions we make, MUST first involve what is best for the students and what is in their best interest. There are and will be no exceptions!”
I never knew John to vary from this basic principle. More than 25 years later, when we were proposing some changes to the equine program at the college, I met with John in his office and outlined the changes we were contemplating. John listened carefully, as he always did, and when I was finished, he asked this simple question: “Will these changes benefit the students, and will it lead to more opportunities for them once they graduate?” I figured he might ask that, and I was prepared to answer “yes” and to show him letters from prospective employers asking specifically for those skill sets.
The only other thing John said at the end of that meeting is what Russ Tippett shared in a previous social media post. Light said: “Go for it; if it works for the benefit of the students, expand on it; if it has merit, (but) if it doesn’t work, look for something better, as long as the students are the beneficiaries!”
Was Dr. John Light the right person at the right time for what would become Hocking College? Mr. Tom Porter and all of us who were fortunate enough to be able to work for John certainly believed he was the right choice, and history proved that to be true!
Brad Harter, a resident of Athens County, was a full time instructor at Hocking College from 1968 until 2004. After 2004 he continued to teach on a part-time basis through the summer of 2017, completing 50 years of service to the college.