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Former television news director prefers ‘paying it forward’

Simple beginnings don’t always make headline news, but one former television news director thinks it’s newsworthy that he got his start at St. Clair County Community College.

A 1966 graduate of SC4, Jim Collins interviewed people like former vice president Hubert Humphrey, reported on the great gasoline shortage of the 1970s and investigated deadly PCB’s in cattle feed.

“I was fulfilling a dream, exploring new areas, cultures and certainly opportunities,” he said. “It all started with a couple of years at SC4.”

Collins grew up in Emmett, the oldest of three children. He graduated from St. Stephen High School in 1964 and then decided to attend Port Huron Junior College, which a few years later became St. Clair County Community College.

“When it came time to attend college, (SC4) was the readily available and affordable option,” he said. “I was working to pay the bills on the night shift at a shop in Capac. My parents helped with some tuition, housing and meals and plenty of encouragement. Starting at a four-year school would have been wasted on me, not to mention totally out of reach financially. I wasn’t ready for it.”

Collins received his associate degree in spring of 1966 with plans to attend Michigan State University. He graduated from MSU with a Bachelor of Arts in television and radio in 1968. He was in East Lansing during “the height of the Vietnam War and a career path seemed difficult at best, but I was not drafted.”

He got his first job at a radio station in western Michigan and continued on to Wisconsin and Minnesota to pursue his career in radio news. Collins was working in Duluth, Minn., when he made the switch to television, which expanded the type of people he was able to interview.

“I considered myself fortunate to meet and talk one-on-one with people like Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and others of note,” he said. “But it was often more interesting telling the stories of ordinary folks who were doing extraordinary things.”

They moved back to Michigan, with Collins working at WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, first as a reporter and then as the station’s assignment manager. He became a news director in Chattanooga, Tenn., and later Greensboro, N.C., for their CBS affiliate before finishing his career as the city of Greensboro’s communications manager.

“I feel very strongly that our society needs reporters asking hard questions, shining light into the dark spaces of lies, deceit and deception,” he said. “Finding people to ask those questions should not be limited to only those wealthy enough to attend a four-year institution. There are other means to achieve organized thought, writing and presentation skills.”

Collins supports giving today’s young people the opportunity to attend college.

“I recognize that people offering scholarships are often characterized as ‘paying it back’” he said. “I prefer ‘paying it forward’; leaving something for the future, and SC4 can certainly be a great place to start. I chose to support student scholarships at SC4, because I know it can mean something for a student to be able to open the door to an education.”


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