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WTC celebrates 50 years

Withlacoochee Technical College — still Citrus County’s only vocational and technical school — almost didn’t happen at all.

In the mid-1960s, the Florida Legislature began devoting funds to the construction of such schools. If Citrus was willing to forgo any existing local plans and work with surrounding counties, there was $325,000 available to build one.

But nobody was answering the phone. Superintendents of Hernando, Marion and Sumter weren’t responsive.

Citrus County School Board Chair Betty Williams wasn’t having it. She had Superintendent of Schools James F. McCall call the Hernando County School Board during a school board meeting. The boards met the next day and agreed to work together — opening the door to that state funding.

Now the school needed a home. Forty acres at the corner of State Road 44 and U.S. 41 were intended to be used as a park by the city of Inverness. The school board negotiated the purchase from the Forestry Service, which owned the land, for $300 an acre.

Thanks to the efforts of that school board — made up of Phil Zellner, Horace Allen, Walter Bunts, Richard Kaufman and Chair Williams — and cooperation from Inverness, the Forestry Service and the state, Withlacoochee Vocational Technical Center (WVTC) opened in fall 1968.

WVTC offered six programs: Automotive Body Repair and Refinishing; Automotive Mechanics; Business Education; Cosmetology; Distributive Education; and Horticulture. Three of those programs survive today — the two automotive courses and cosmetology. The school, now named Withlacoochee Technical College, has 16 programs today.

“We survived through the years where a college education was more important than anything to now,” said WTC Director Gloria Bishop. “We’re at the point where people realize it’s not as important and you need people with vocational training.”

As the needs of employers evolve, training programs and technical schools have to keep up. The most recently added course at WTC is an applied cybersecurity course, which prepares students for careers or further training in information technology.

“The health piece has grown quite a bit. It’s reflective of the employment that’s in the area,” said WTC media specialist and career pathways program facilitator Jeane DeFelice.

The school now offers massage therapy, medical administrative specialist, patient care assistant and practical nursing programs.

“Our mission is still the same, basically,” Bishop said.

That mission — to “provide the highest quality academic and technical education for current and emerging careers” — continues to guide WTC as it strives to meet the needs of Citrus County employers and students.

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