WEST PLAINS, Mo -- You can't go far in West Plains without seeing one of these proud banners.
"We're celebrating our 50th anniversary. In 1963 MSU West Plains started," said Drew Bennett, Chancellor of Missouri State University West Plains.
But if you take one look around the campus you would never guess the college came from very humble beginnings.
"It was called the "Residence Center" and we worked out of the old high school at that time so our first class was 111 students. That community effort has supported us over the last 50 years and now we have over 2,100 students," said Chancellor Bennett.
Many of those students have stayed nearby, using their education to give back to the community.
"I was a member of the second graduating registered nurse program in 1986. That's how I got my start in health care," said Jeannie Looper.
Looper is the Chief Operating Officer at Ozark's Medical Center. She says having the college in West Plains has had a profound impact on the health care in the area over the past 50 years.
"It has really helped us here at the hospital provide registered nurses when there has been a shortage throughout the nation," said Looper.
Since receiving separate accreditation to offer degrees in 1995, more than 4,100 students have graduated from MSU West Plains. Many of whom say their lives were shaped by the addition of this college.
"Certainly it would not have been as easy for me financially and location wise. Would I have ended up where I am now, probably not. I was very thankful to have this and have this choice," Looper explained.
University Leaders say West Plains is the largest town for about 100 miles, and college is the only public institution for higher education within a 100 mile radius. It has given people in this rural area an opportunity to go to college, which has proved to be a win-win for both the students, and the local economy.
"We have contributed to the education of people in the community who are doctors, dentists, optometrists. You cant go into a nursing home or hospital in the service area without finding a MSU West Plains graduate," said Chancellor Bennett.
The official 50th Anniversary of the college is on September 16th. However, university leaders plan to celebrate all year long with an "Operation 50k" community service volunteer hour project, a gala dinner, and a special ceremony at the Smith-Londen Centenial Bell Tower on campus. For more information on exactly when and where these events will be held visit the MSU West Plains website at :http://wp.missouristate.edu/