If you are interested in some of the history of Lake Erie College, your best bet is to find a faculty or staff member on campus who has been here for a while, and who can tell you some of amazing stories from decades ago. One such staff member is Sunni Gothard, associate registrar and the person who assists most transfer students in picking out their classes and completing their class registration.
Sunni arrived at Lake Erie College in September of 1969 and since then this has been her home in one way or another. Originally from Nashville, Tenn., her family moved to Colorado Springs, Co. where she graduated from Colorado Springs School for Girls in 1969. In the fall of 1969 Sunni arrived at Lake Erie College. "I had a hard time deciding upon a major,” she said. "I came to Lake Erie College because of its fine arts and study abroad programs, and, as a bonus, they had horses.” Ultimately, she decided on a major in music, which is the major with which she graduated, but that program gave her more than just education—it led to meeting her husband, LEC Professor of Music Paul Gothard. "We were [both] piano students of Dr. Harold Fink,” she said. "Professor Gothard’s lesson was right before mine, so we met literally in the doorway to what is now his office.”
After she graduated, Sunni began working at LEC as a graduate assistant in the theatre department, back in 1976-77, and after that program ended, she briefly worked in Lake County but stayed in touch with the College through the College Chorus. In 1982, a position opened as the administrative assistant for the Academic Program Abroad office at Lake Erie, and her former French professor contacted her. "He knew my skills in French and knew I wanted to work at Lake Erie College.” Five years later a position opened at the registrar’s office which Sunni took, and she has been there ever since. "I wanted to work in higher education because of the bright, creative energy that surrounds me,” she said. "I love working with the students, being able to help them map out a path to long-term goals, or just get through a rough class.”
Over the past few decades, Sunni has helped hundreds of students select and register for classes, and many of them still stay in touch. "I am often pleasantly surprised by the students who stay in touch with me, or send me a thank you card out of the blue,” she said. "That’s when I know I’ve made a difference in someone’s life.” Even these students, however, might be surprised by the variety of other interests this associate registrar has. From music and bird watching, to her work with horses and zebras, to sailing (but only in French!), Sunni has found out many ways to get involved with the Lake Erie community and beyond.
"I’ve been around horses—riding and showing—since I was about seven years old,” she said. "I was a member of the Middle Tennessee Pony Club, one of the first Pony Clubs started in the U.S.” She used to show hunters and jumpers, and even boasts about clearing a six-foot jump. "My favorite jump is still a picnic table turned on its side,” she said. "In the 1960’s we weren’t so bright!” Her passion for horses later on translated into helping to launch a local program in equine guided learning, The Chrysalis Adventure, and working as the equine specialist partner with Professor Rob Pliskin in the Fall 2012 semester for the equine guided psychotherapy course he taught. Sunni has a Professional Practitioner certificate from Spirit of Leadership, and she is a member of the European Association for Horse Assisted Education.
Her interest in music is also something she pursued further after LEC. "I accompanied the Lake Erie College chorus [on the piano] for about 25 years,” she said. She has also sung in the chorus since 1969, and she has a 12-string guitar on which she accompanies herself singing folk songs.
Her favorite thing about Lake Erie, however, has always been its park-like setting. "I am a birder,” she said. "If you see me standing in the middle of the driveway looking up, it’s probably because a flock of tundra swans just flew over.” She and her coworkers in the registrar’s office even had to come up with a special signal for when she suddenly jumps up and runs out of her office because she has seen or heard a special bird, so they don’t assume something is wrong. A couple of years ago, a fledgling red-shouldered hawk had clumsily landed on the back porch of College Hall, where it proceeded to call for its mother. Sunni was one of the first people to greet it and make sure it did not feel threatened.
"Probably the strangest thing about me is that I learned how to sail boats in French… I do not know how to sail in English,” she said, and then continued to explain that she had attended a French camp in Vermont for many years where everything is taught in French. "I not only learned the equestrian vocabulary in order to teach riding there, but as a camper I had never sailed before and thus learned [how to do so] in French.”
Considering her vast experience with Lake Erie College and its community, I asked her what advice she has for our current and prospective students. "Take as many courses as you can in as many areas as you can,” she said. "An education in the liberal arts offers students many opportunities to do just that.”
"Get to know your professors, at least one new one every semester. That way you will have eight letters of recommendation when you graduate. Lake Erie College has the best faculty around, and they are always open to helping students grow.”