Robert Ritschel, dean of Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs, is leaving.
After 5 1/2 years at CMC, Ritschel has accepted an offer to be president of Spoon River College in Illinois.
Ritschel's shoes will be difficult to fill, his colleagues said.
"I think (there) will be just a huge vacuum," said Janie Swartz, CMC professor and coordinator of the Alpine Enrichment Program. Swartz, who has been at CMC for 14 years, said she was "devastated" to learn that Ritschel was leaving.
"Bob was just the best thing that ever happened to CMC," she said. "He was a great leader for the Alpine Campus, he was a great asset to the community, he's an advocate for faculty and also provided this leadership and intellect I felt has been missing."
Ritschel said that most college presidents or chief administrative officers stay for five to seven years. It simply was time for him to look seriously at moving on.
He said he applied to a select number of schools and was looking only at communities in the Midwest, where his roots and most of his family -- including his three grandsons -- are.
Ritschel is a career educator and has been a teacher or administrator in community colleges and four-year institutions in Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, South Carolina and Texas.
His service in the United States Air Force encouraged him to pursue a career of leadership in the first place. In the military, and then while working in schools, he noticed how some administrators and officers were good, and others were ineffective. While getting a doctorate of education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he researched differences in good and bad leaders.
Ritschel has been a good leader as dean of CMC and has brought an innovative and intellectual style of leading, his colleagues said.
Ritschel helped create the Alpine Enrichment Program, a free series of community lectures meant to spark discussion. He also reached out to the economic sector with the business incubator program and SCORE, a program through which retired executives help business owners.
Ritschel's fingerprints also are on various groups in the community -- he is a member of the Steamboat Springs Economic Development Council, and he serves on the boards of directors for the Steamboat Springs chapter of Rotary International and the Steamboat Springs Arts Council.
He said that he enjoys that the comprehensive nature of CMC, which offers a range of classes for traditional college students as well as for residents, including young children and senior citizens. He said he also enjoys being a part of the lives of people who are starting businesses, getting General Education Development certifications or learning English or other new skills.
"Those things change people's lives, and that's what we're in the business of," Ritschel said.
Although a change in leadership can be unsettling, it also can help an organization re-evaluate its direction and get a fresh perspective, Ritschel said. He is confident that the college will continue to do well and that programs he helped start will continue after he leaves.
"This campus will do extremely well without me, and in some ways ... that's the mark of good leadership," Ritschel said.
Scott Ford, counselor for the Small Business Resource Center at CMC and manager of the Bogue Hall Business Incubator, said Ritschel was the best boss he has ever had and will be missed greatly.
"He kind of changed CMC from being the college that was in the community, to really this community's college," Ford said. "In my mind, the status of CMC has increased in the minds of the community."
Ritschel said that although he is moving on, he might return to Steamboat Springs as a tourist.
"It has just been a wonderful opportunity here," Ritschel said. "I am greatly appreciative of all the support and all the friendships that I've made over the years."