By Amanda Dyslin
---- — NORTH MANKATO — South Central College President Keith Stover has a tendency to run out of gas.
He also tends to mix up his wife's name, Sandy, with his assistant Carol Freed. And he's always had a thing for old classic cars.
That's actually one of the first things Stover and Minnesota State University President Richard Davenport bonded over when Davenport arrived in Mankato 12 years ago, he said. At Stover's retirement program and barbecue Tuesday afternoon, Davenport and many other colleagues, family and friends were eager to dish about these little anecdotes — or, as North Mankato Campus Foundation Executive Director Tami Reuter put it, “finally throw him under the bus.”
Davenport said the first thing he and Stover planned to do together was buy an old retro Thunderbird and restore it together, but somebody else beat them to the purchase. In the many years that followed, their two families became close friends, even gathering for board game nights with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor and businessman Fred Lutz and their wives.
Friendly competition over games of Apples to Apples is just a sliver of the lighthearted rivalry between the two over the years, Davenport said. They've competed over everything from how fast they could get to the Twin Cities to weight loss, with Davenport pledging to lose two pounds for every one Stover lost.
“But then he had a heart attack,” Davenport said. “I couldn't compete with that.”
Davenport also told a story about how he would give his MSU president's seats to Stover at basketball games, and Stover ended up going to more games than Davenport. People started thinking Stover was the president of MSU — and Stover did not correct them, Davenport joked.
With the Stovers building a house next door to the Davenports, Davenport said he knows their friendship will continue for years after Stover's retirement at the end of the month. Friendly rivalry aside, Davenport ended his comments on a warm note.
“He's a great guy, and he would give anybody his right arm to help them, and he certainly has in my case,” Davenport said.
Other speakers included Larry Kuyper, who announced that a committee had been quietly working to create an endowment in Keith and Sandy Stovers' honor. About $35,000 was raised for the Keith and Sandy Stover Scholarship Endowment to benefit SCC students.
Others shared funny stories about having to bring Stover cash to get out of a parking ramp and gas on the side of the road near Le Sueur when he ran out. Stover's daughter, Sara, talked about having to help lift a heavy Corvette door at age 8 or 9 when her dad was restoring it and learning that “can't” wasn't in her father's vocabulary, nor should it be in hers.
Stover took his time at the podium to turn the spotlight away from himself and onto everyone else, asking his administrators, faculty, staff, family members and donors to the college to stand for applause. He spent time thanking individuals, including the woman in the cafeteria who has ensured he make good choices every day, and of course, his wife.
On their first date in 1968, Keith took Sandy to the movies in a 1961 Pontiac Bonneville convertible. When they left the movies, he realized he was about out of gas. And before they could get to the service station, the car ran out.
“I ran out of gas going against the traffic. And we're married,” he said. “I don't know why.”
Stover has been working in education for more than 40 years, the past 14 spent as president of SCC.
Upon announcing his retirement, Stover said there are numerous accomplishments he’s proud of during his long career, including in 2005 when the then South Central Technical College in North Mankato and Faribault went before the MnSCU board of trustees to become a comprehensive community college, known as South Central College.
But it’s “the kids” he’ll miss the most, and being remembered as an advocate for them and for employers is important to Stover after he retires.
“I have always had great relationships with businesses and kids,” he said last year. “Young people have more hope than the rest of the world.”