STEUBENVILLE - A classroom fixture for the past 39 years, Eastern Gateway Community College's longest tenured instructor is giving it up. Sort of.
Bernie Levite, 69, said he's ready to pass the torch to a new generation of instructors .
"I think it's time," he said. "It's not that I don't like it anymore, I've absolutely loved my job. It's been a terrific career. But it's time for younger people to take up the reins."
Levite, who taught math, said he'll stay on part time, but he'll cut back to two or three classes a semester - two math and a spreadsheet class, maybe, a far cry from the full schedule he typically carried.
After graduating from Steubenville High School in 1960, Levite enrolled at Bethany College, where he earned his bachelor's degree in math in 1965. He enrolled at the University of Toledo, where he got a graduate teaching assistanceship while he worked on his master's degree in math.
"I absolutely fell in love with teaching," he said. "It was such a fantastic feeling to have an effect on young people's lives - that's never changed. Really, counting those two years, I've taught for 43 years and I still get the same charge out of it."
After graduating in 1967, he spent two years teaching at Slippery Rock State University in Pennsylvania and then moved to Houston, where he spent four years as a geo-physical programmer. While he liked the community, "the job just left me cold, but in those days teaching jobs were tough to come by." When he could take no more, "I just walked away," he said.
"I was there for four years and I hated it. If ever I got a clear message that teaching is where I belonged, that was it."
That's when Eastern Gateway, then the Jefferson County Technical Institute, entered his orbit. He joined the faculty in 1973 and never looked back, enduring four name changes and all that entailed - becoming Jefferson Technical College in 1977, Jefferson Community College in 1995 and Eastern Gateway in 2009.
"With teaching, you feel like you're accomplishing something, you feel like you're having a positive effect on people's lives. I wasn't getting that when I was working in industry - I was making more money, but the money just didn't seem to make up for the loss and feeling of accomplishment."
He went back to school for his second master's degree, this one in education administration, from the University of Dayton in 1990.
"I had been teaching computers and computer programming, but that program kind of fizzled out in recent years," he said. "I'd gone back to teaching mostly math classes, which is where my degrees are anyway."
After a stint as program director for the now-discontinued computer information systems program, Levite became program director for the school's administrative assistant program. He also developed a paralegal program, which the college launched last year.
"Maybe 30 years ago I had a chance to move to another school, actually two other schools ... Muskingum Tech in Zanesville had offered me a job along with a tech school in Toledo, but I didn't see the point. It wasn't going to be an improvement, and I'd have had to leave all my friends here - I figured what was the point? There wouldn't be a benefit, so I stayed put."
Levite said his 39 years at the school "flew by, just flew by."
"I always looked forward to going to work," he said. "I always wanted a career like that, one that I'd look forward to. I never wanted a job that I dreaded going to every day. When I go to work, I'm always thinking about what I'll talk about in class, what we're going to be doing and before I knew it, it was the end of the day. It wasn't one of those jobs where you'd watch the clock. I never thought about when the day was going to end."
The best times, he said, were when he could see the light bulb go off in his students' head.
"You know it when it happens, and it's such an incredible feeling to know you're getting through to them, getting a concept across. It's better than a fat paycheck by a longshot."
He and his wife, the former Kimberly Hlivko, have been married 27 years. He has two children, Daniel of Steubenville, and Jenee, enrolled at Cleveland podiatry school.
"I'd tell anybody, particularly somebody who is about to start a career, that if you can find something where you look forward to going to work every day, you have been truly blessed," he said. "You've got to have a passion for what you're doing, and I really feel like I do."