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Karen Knudtson celebrates 25th year on NIACC board

Karen Knudtson

Karen Knudtson is in her 25th year as a member of the North Iowa Area Community College board of directors.

MASON CITY | Karen Knudtson is in her 25th year on the North Iowa Area Community College board of directors.

That's longer than any other board member, past or present, has served.

Not only that, but she's only missed two board meetings during the past quarter of a century.

Being on the board has been rewarding and an honor, according to the 74-year-old Mason City resident.

"I'm just very happy to be here and take part in the students' success," she said.

Knudtson was appointed to the board in the fall of 1989 to take the place of Ed Boender, who resigned due to health reasons.

Knudtson's daughter, Jodee O'Brien, had recently graduated from NIACC. She was impressed with the quality of the staff and that all her daughter's credits from NIACC transferred to the University of Northern Iowa. 

Knudtson agreed to apply to be on the board, with encouragement from Boender. The board members interviewed 11 candidates and ultimately chose Knudtson.

She filled the remainder of Boender's term, which ended in September 1990. Since then she has been elected to eight consecutive terms.

Knudtson said the NIACC campus has changed a lot over the years. Many buildings have been added, including the Murphy Technology Center, the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, the Muse Norris Conference Center, the North Iowa Community Auditorium, the Recreation Center and the North Iowa Public Safety Training Center.

The most recent addition is the new student housing complex currently under construction.

The college now is planning a capital campaign to construct a new science building, Knudtson said.

Another important area of growth has been the partnerships NIACC has established with communities in North Iowa and other colleges in the state, according to Knudtson.

"We have really branched out," she said.

Knudtson graduated from Klemme High School in 1958.

She and her future husband, Ron, met while roller skating in Garner. 

The two of them are still on wheels together.

The Knudtsons, members of the National Gold Wing Road Riders Association Hall of Fame, have been to almost every state in the United States on motorcycle.

The Knudtsons have two children: O'Brien, now executive director of Main Street Mason City and Rod Knudtson, who attended NIACC and now lives in Marseilles, Ill., where he works for a Buick dealership.

Knudtson received business machine and tax accounting degrees from Hamilton School of Commerce in Mason City. She also graduated from the Real Estate Institute.

She owned Knudtson Tax Service for more than 38 years before selling the business. Knudtson, who is a real estate broker, also has been co-owner of Knudtson Real Estate with her husband for 40 years. 

Knudtson has been active in the community in many ways besides serving on the NIACC board.

She is past president of the Mason City Women's Club and served on the United Way of North Central Iowa board of directors.

Knudtson serves on the NIACC Foundation board of directors. She and her husband have established the Ron and Karen Knudtson Scholarship Fund through the NIACC Foundation.

Due to her longevity on the NIACC Board, Knudtson has served with 30 to 40 other board members, past and present.

"These folks make goals, set policy and understand the agenda," she said. "No matter the length of time on the board, we can always learn. A good board works together."

Former NIACC board member Joyce Hanes of Mason City said Knudtson's genuine, deep-seated personal interest in the college is balanced by the fiduciary skills she brings to the table because of her background in running a business and tax preparation.

"Karen is really a complete board member," she said.

Knudtson also has worked with four NIACC presidents and has been involved in the hiring of three of them, including Steven Schulz, who became president at the end of 2013.

Knudtson said with the changing leadership over the years, she has chosen to continue serving on the board because she was familiar with the history of the college and the challenges NIACC is currently facing, including decreased enrollment, less state aid and the need to update technology.

Knudtson said she is confident NIACC will do well under Schulz's leadership.

Schulz said he is grateful for Knudtson's continued committment to the board. He said board members play a critical role in the success of the college, "and Karen has been one of NIACC's strongest advocates over the past 25 years."

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