P O W E L L, W y o. - Before computers were considered personal, practical or even present, before jet travel became a commercial industry, before interplanetary travel was anything but science fiction fantasy, and before television and the Internet became a communication tool to reach the masses around the globe, Northwest College was educating people about their changing world and helping them acquire the skills they'd need to succeed in it.
With the development of each significant new technology, social trend, economic turn or geo-political change, Northwest updated its curriculum, its public programming, its teaching concepts and sometimes even its buildings. Northwest has been a stalwart of the Big Horn Basin for 60 years, but things have changed since it opened in 1946 with nearly 100 full- and part-time students and three instructors who met in classrooms borrowed from the public school district.
Today, NWC boasts a 124-acre campus with 57 buildings and three off-campus locations in Cody, Worland and in the mountains near Sunlight Basin. NWC offers classes and degree programs in areas that couldn't even be imagined in 1946 - the history and culture of rock and roll, computer assisted drafting, plastic welding, artificial insemination, MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), webcasting, nuclear century history and therapeutic horsemanship, to name a few.
That's 60 years of adapting to a changing world and helping students and community members do the same.
As long and proud as that timeline is, Northwest's history is almost 40 years shy of the history Wilma Nielsen saw in her lifetime. She and her brother, Ed Wilcken, had never heard of Northwest College when they moved to Cody over a decade ago, but their histories were soon to intertwine with NWC's to ensure the college's next 60 years and beyond include precious scholarship funding.
The Ed and Wilma story also illustrates an ever-growing connection between the Cody community and Northwest College. Cody has figured prominently in the college's history since 1968 when Park County voters decided they wanted NWC to be a college for the entire county. That connection grew by leaps and bounds in 2001 with the opening of the NWC Cody Center. And now with an even larger center, located in the Park County Complex, the number of Cody area residents taking credit classes, workforce development training and adult basic education tutoring is higher than ever.
While increasing building size and enrollment statistics are important, it's the personal stories like Ed and Wilma's that really tell the story of the Northwest College-Cody relationship.
Ed and Wilma were both in their "golden years" when they pulled up stakes in Iowa and moved to Cody. After a life of managing the family farm, they decided it was time to find the perfect place to retire. Through the years, the brother-sister duo had worked hard, always putting the farm first. Ed remained a bachelor, and Wilma was married only a short while in her younger years.
When they decided it was time to put their estate in order, Ed and Wilma were without heirs. A lifetime of frugality, augmented by the sale of their farm, amassed a considerable fortune over the years, one that Wilma and Ed wanted to be used to broaden the world of possibilities for others (to get off the farm so to speak). They decided Northwest College was the place that could make that happen.
Ed and Wilma chose charitable gift annuities and a life estate plan, living out their years comfortably in their Cody home with income from the NWC Foundation. Ed died at age 89 in 2001, and Wilma followed this spring at age 96. Neither had ever attended college nor were they aware of Northwest until they moved to Cody, yet their endowed gift will impact NWC students forever.
It generated over $75,000 in scholarships this first year alone. As long as Northwest College has opportunities for students, Wilma and Ed's gift will make it possible for students to embrace those opportunities.
Ed and Wilma decided the best gift they could give to the community they'd come to love was the gift of education.
Whatever changes Northwest will be called on to adapt to in the next 60 years, it will be prepared, thanks to folks like Cody's own Ed and Wilma.
If you'd also like to help Northwest prepare for the future, explore your options online at the NWC Foundation.