From its beginning in 1963, through 50 years of growth, there is one individual who has been a constant part of Crowder College.

On Thursday, Crowder Board of Trustees member James Tatum submitted his letter of retirement to the board.

Tatum, 88, played a large role in the establishment of the community college, served as president of the board for 45 years, and has spent the last five years as a trustee on the board.

Described by board president Andy Wood as the “heart, soul and body” of Crowder College, Tatum will be retiring from the board effective at the end of this year.

“I don’t know how you could say that, how much it means,” Wood said of Tatum’s contributions. “I don’t know how to put it in words.”

Perhaps words aren’t necessary to realize just how much Tatum means to the Crowder community. A quick walk through the college’s main campus offers two reminders of his importance to the college, with a bronze bust of Tatum on display in the lobby of Crowder’s Farber building, and the Tatum bell tower standing tall in the center of campus.

“It will always be a part of me as long as I live,” Tatum said.

He says it is important to note that his retirement is not the result of any problems with the college or board, he says it is simply time to move forward.

“In my viewpoint we’ve got an outstanding interim president,” Tatum said. “The board is harmonious, things are good. It’s just time to move on. We need to get a person to continue honoring the culture that’s been established.”

Kent Farnsworth, Crowder’s interim president who previously spent 19 years as president of the college, described Tatum’s retirement as a “major event” for Crowder.

“Obviously we need to say, on behalf of the college, how much Jim has meant to Crowder’s development over the years, its being here and the success that it’s had as an institution,” Farnsworth said.

In earlier conversations with the Daily, Tatum has recalled a time when Crowder’s campus looked much different than it does today, when the only present-day buildings were Newton and McDonald Hall, and enrollment was at less than 200 students.

Since that time, Tatum has helped guide the college toward enrollment numbers that continue to set records for the school, with the student enrollment reaching 5,590 students for fall 2012, and first day enrollment being up 2.75 percent when the current fall semester kicked off this week.

He has also served during the addition of the Elsie Plaster Community Center, the Bob Sneller Gymnasium, the Williams Agriculture Building, the Arnold Farber Building, the Davidson Health and Sciences Building and the MARET Center, among others.

The college also expanded outside of Neosho during his tenure, with locations now spanning nine Missouri counties.

Among those sites is the McDonald County campus, a longtime goal held by Tatum and his fellow board members.

The new center, located on Larry Neff Drive in Jane, is currently under construction and a groundbreaking was held in November 2012.

In his resignation letter, Tatum said he had intended to stay on the Board of Trustees until the McDonald County campus was created.

“When I ran for the board last time, I indicated that one of the reasons for my candidacy was to assist in making the McDonald County Campus a reality,” Tatum said. “Now that the building is progressing nicely with the end in sight, I believe that it is timely for me to resign.”

While Tatum may be best known for his work in establishing and growing Crowder College, his efforts were not limited to the local college.

In his work to establish Crowder, Tatum pushed for legislation allowing the formation of what were then called “junior college” districts.

He has also served as president of the Association of Community College Trustees, was on the board of the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges and was president of the Trustees Division of the Missouri Community College Association.

Following the Crowder board meeting on Thursday, Tatum was asked if he could have imagined Crowder becoming what it is today.

“Oh no, there’s no way anyone could’ve imagined that,” Tatum said. “But the lesson for me is, if we pursue a dream and try to do the right things, good things will happen.”

Farnsworth said the board will now begin a search process to fill Tatum’s seat in the interim until the next regular election, to be held in April 2015.