Mike Gavin calls Isothermal Community College, "A great bunch of people who do great work." And he's not just talking about the staff.
"When I was a reporter, I wrote some stories about Isothermal, but to come here every day and realize that 2500 students are working to make positive change in their lives, it's quite a feeling," Gavin said.
As director of the college's marketing and community relations, Gavin is all over the place, volunteering, offering leadership, attending meetings and occasionally feeling like he has bitten off more than he can chew.
"A lot of the same people are working as volunteers for groups that serve all over; and sometimes burn out in a problem. I feel it sometimes. I'm trying to pull back a little in recent months," he said.
Part of that pulling back sees him leaving as chair of the Economic Development Commission, a public-private partnership that used to be a county agency, but has flourished with the support not only of the county commissioners, but local municipalities and private funders.
"There are some new efforts coming that I can't talk about right now, but stay tuned," Gavin said of the economic development field.
How does somebody become the overbooked, almost burned out volunteer who is so actively involved in his community? One factor is growing up with parents who play those roles. His mother volunteered with Junior League and the local arts council; and his dad belonged to the Rotary Club and helped organize reunions for veterans of the U.S.S. Wisconsin. Gavin grew up in Atlanta and spent part of his teen years in Greensboro and Knoxville. He earned Eagle Scout honors in Knoxville.
He shared a joke his father often used when talking about his service in the Marine Corps. "All Navy ships carry a platoon of Marines to protect the sailors. He was a big guy and could get away with that joke."
When Gavin met his now wife, Denise, she had recently lost her husband, Tony Parris, to cancer. She was a Relay For Life volunteer and he was working for the American Cancer Society in Asheville.
The late Glenn Daniel played matchmaker as did his wife, Lucy. Glenn asked Gavin more than once, "When are you gonna come down off that mountain and help her raise those kids?"
Glenn and Lucy planned a party to honor the Relay For Life volunteers. Glenn asked both Mike and Denise if they planned to attend the party. When both said "yes," Glenn told Mike, "You're picking her up and bringing her to the party."
One thing led to another. At the time of their marriage, Denise's children, Trent and Allison were teenagers. Today they are both grown, married, and have presented the couple with three grandchildren: Logan, Eli and Emersyn. The boys are four and the little girl, Emersyn, is six months.
"The boys don't know it, but that girl is gonna give them a run for their money," Gavin said. "She's already got me."
With family, friends, church, work, why volunteer beyond all that?
"It's critical to stewardship to give something back. We owe it to our fellow human beings who are in need, but it's not just need. Education is important too," Gavin said.
So this guy who makes his living selling Isothermal, goes beyond to educational causes like the Robert and Janice McNair Educational Foundation and the Forest City Kiwanis Club which supports children's causes all over.
He called the late Robert McNair and his wife, Janice, "rare." That might be an understatement. The couple has invested millions in the county's three largest high schools, their feeder schools, the scholars who have graduated and moved on to college and an overall community spirit that puts a premium on education. Gavin is a trustee of the foundation and appreciates the work that has now touched thousands of local young people.
He also appreciates his work with the Kiwanis Club. Forest City's club gives scholarships at both East and Chase and the Rutherfordton club does the same at RS Central. The Forest City Club also fits bike helmets for kids and gives a dictionary to every third grader in the county. Fundraisers like the Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast support children's causes like South Mountain Christian Camp and others. Gavin served a number of years as the club's president and is currently on its board of directors.
The club has recently taken in new members and encourages local big-hearted folks to learn more about the club.
Gavin worked for three years as a reporter for The Daily Courier and three years as its managing editor.
In his job at Isothermal, he works with internal and external communications, media relations, marketing, the college's publications, social media efforts and its website.
He also represents the college by serving on the boards of various community groups. He is the immediate past chairman of Rutherford County Economic Development, immediate past president of the Rutherford County Community Health Council and served on the Forest City Main Street Committee. He is also a past chairman of the Rutherford County Foundation, now the Rutherford County Endowment; chairman of the First United Methodist Church of Forest City Endowment Committee; a board member of the Rutherford County Schools Educational Foundation.
Gavin is a graduate of the North Carolina Community College Leadership Program and the North Carolina Rural Center Homegrown Leaders program. He served as president of PRIMA, the community college system PR and marketing association. He is also an active member of the College News Association of the Carolinas. He formerly served on the boards of Leadership Rutherford and the Asheville Jaycees.
He graduated from Emory University in Atlanta with a B.A. in Philosophy. Gavin and Denise live in Bostic.
If you've ever wondered what you can do with a degree in Philosophy, now you know.