“It’s been on my mind for a while,” said Cole, reflecting on his 44-year career in public education, 20 of those as ICC president.
Thursday night, ICC’s Board of Trustees accepted Cole’s retirement at its monthly board meeting.
Mike Eaton of Fulton, a former ICC football coach and athletics director and now assistant to the president, will become president July 1. Eaton also has served as dean of students and vice president of student services.
Ripley banker Bobby Martin, a longtime supporter of Cole and ICC, was surprised at the news.
But, he said, Eaton – as a native Tippah Countian – “is an outstanding human being and an excellent selection for ICC to continue moving up.”
Cole, 66, said ICC has had a succession plan before the board since October.
“This is a good time,” Cole said. “Coles don’t live much over 75. I believe I need to transition out.”
He joked that once he retires, he may start an Internet blog or run for president.
Cole and his wife, Betty, have four adult children and nine grandchildren.
He became ICC president in 1993 after 18 years as superintendent of South Panola School District in Batesville, where he and his wife grew up.
He holds a host of community awards and board memberships and is a former chairman of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges Presidents Association.
Cole also has been a regular and effective presence at the Mississippi Legislature on behalf of the community colleges statewide.
As ICC’s fourth president, he is widely recognized as an innovator and a visionary who worked his relationship networks and financially able friends to build a modern, vibrant campus in Fulton, as well as new and expanded campuses in Tupelo and Belden. He also raised thousands of dollars quietly to help individual students afford higher education.
Last year, he received a premier honor as the Southern Region’s Chief Executive Officer Award winner for the Association of Community College Trustees.
Under Cole’s leadership, ICC was selected last April as one of the nation’s top 120 community colleges.
He also was instrumental in helping build the educational and political groundwork for Toyota to locate its newest U.S. manufacturing plant in Northeast Mississippi.
Dan Lee Bishop, ICC’s board chairman, said of Cole when he nominated him for the ACCT award, he “is committed to ICC’s students and faculty.”
“He’s never too busy to take a few minutes to visit with those who seek him out or to initiate conversations with anyone he sees on his walks, both day and night, across campus.”
Friday, Cole termed Eaton “the right person at the right time,” to lead ICC.
“He is credited with providing the leadership for every major initiative the college has undertaken in the last few years,” Cole said about Eaton. “His experience and love for the college make him the natural choice.”