After three decades at the forefront of Hall County economic development, Russell Vandiver is looking forward to a future that builds on relationships with his loved ones.
“Frankly, I want to spend time with my grandkids,” he said Tuesday. “I’m trying to teach my grandson the wonderful art of deer hunting and fly-fishing.”
Vandiver, 59, announced Tuesday he is retiring in March, after spending 37 years at Lanier Technical College, the past two as president and most of the remaining years as vice president of economic development.
He broke the news at the school’s board of directors meeting.
“I’m at the point where the bucket list of stuff I wanted to accomplish is getting down to where there’s just a few things left to do,” Vandiver said in an interview before the meeting. “It’s been a really great career.”
Plus, “We need some fresh, new blood at Lanier Tech,” he said. “We need direction that is not from a long-term person that’s been here. The full growth of the college is going to depend on somebody having a vision (for the future).
“What if there is someone else out there — and there will be — that comes in here with the energy, vision and enthusiasm to go even to the next step?”
Vandiver, 59, a Habersham County native, started as a special needs coordinator one year after graduating from West Georgia College in Carrollton. He also earned degrees from Brenau University and the University of Georgia.
He later became the coordinator of industrial training, precursor to vice president of economic development.
In February 2010, he was named interim president when Mike Moye left for Central Georgia Technical College in Macon. Vandiver was named president in September 2010.
Among his proudest accomplishments are opening the new Dawson County campus and conference center/new classrooms at the Forsyth County campus.
“I feel like I’ve had two careers here,” Vandiver said. “When I took the (president’s) job, it felt like I was starting a second career. It was just a different perspective. I have always wanted to own and run my own business, so for the past (two) years, I have felt like that was exactly what I was doing.”
Over the years, he watched as Lanier Tech grew from a small trade school to a technical college with satellite campuses.
“The training and opportunities we provide for our students to use skills they’ve learned here to make a living — we’ve stayed true to that mission the whole time that I’ve been here,” Vandiver said.
Tim Evans, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s vice president for economic development, said he was with the state Department of Economic Development when he met Vandiver about 20 years ago.
“He was revered even then and long before as one of the real stalwarts of economic development in Georgia,” Evans said. “He’s been involved in every major economic development effort in this community for a long time — and in many other communities.
“Lanier Tech has reached beyond Hall County. They and (Vandiver) have been involved with projects all over the region.”
Mike Light, spokesman for the Technical College System of Georgia, said that decisions concerning an interim president or the timeline to replace Vandiver will be made by Commissioner Ron Jackson closer to his retirement in March.
“For sure, the entire TCSG staff will hate to see Russell leave,” Light said. “He’s meant so much to the college and the region that he’s served. No doubt, he’s been one of the very best economic development professionals in the state. Most of all he’s been a great friend to us all.”
Light added: “I like to think that it’s no coincidence that he chose to retire in the spring just ahead of his grandkids’ getting out of school. They can look forward to some great days spent with their newly retired grandpa.”
In other personnel news at Lanier Tech, Tim McDonald started Tuesday as the new vice president of economic development.
He has served as the dean of the Dawson campus and will continue in that role until a new campus leader is chosen.
“I am delighted that the search committee found the right person for this important (job),” Vandiver said of McDonald’s appointment.
“This important leadership position brings more jobs, more awareness to our communities, and more business partnerships to our North Georgia communities and to Georgia.”
Also, Lanier Tech has hired Cris Perkins as executive director of the Lanier Technical College Foundation.
Perkins comes to Lanier Tech from Gwinnett Technical College, where he spent nearly six years as part of its development team as director of institutional advancement.