GREAT BARRINGTON -- Phylene Farrell may only stand about 5 feet tall, but to students and staff of Berkshire Community College's South County Center, she is a "pillar in the community."
Farrell has served the college for 31 years, 23 of which have been spent in Great Barrington as BCC's director of off-campus centers. She will retire from the job on Friday.
"She has been a pillar in the community, bringing educational opportunities to students as well as workshops in art, music, computers, writing and leisure activities [such as bridge and wine tasting classes] to south Berkshire County," said David Hodge, of Egremont, who teaches non-credit guitar and other music workshops at the satellite center in Great Barrington.
Hodge said that with Farrell's support, he's been able to expand his work from a single, five-member workshop first offered in 2005 to dozens of students enrolled in one of eight group music classes he offers at the South County Center now.
"I know it's cliché, but she does a really good job with putting the community into a community college," Hodge said.
BCC President Ellen Kennedy said the college is still searching for Farrell's successor, but she agrees that Farrell and her staff have done exceptional work to sustain BCC's presence beyond the main campus in Pittsfield.
"She's established a deep and strong foundation off-campus," Kennedy said. Whoever moves into that role will go on having that culture of connection and community, and that's something that can be attributed to Phylene."
On average, the center serves between 280 and 300 students earning course credits, and an additional 100 non-credit workshop participants who hail from the Berkshires as well as nearby Connecticut and New York. All the courses are taught by adjunct faculty members.
During a recent interview at the South County Center, Farrell recounted the early days there.
"We were a staff of all women -- and still are. I remember when computers came in, we had to reinvent ourselves," she said.
Farrell credits administrative assistant Cathy Dargi and evening clerk Pat White (who Farrell calls her "tech guru"), for supporting the center's growth and change.
"Over the years, we've renovated the classrooms. We've gone from floppy disks to the latest technology," Farrell said.
She described the early 1990s as a time when the center was filled with business instructors and general classes in English, mathematics, psychology and sociology. Now there's a licensed practical nurse program offered there and expanded science programs from conservation and ecology to anatomy and physiology. There's an art and music room, as well as space offered to the community, serving groups such as Dave's Driving School, Toastmasters, Literacy Network of South Berkshire and the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.
This spring, the center also took on a newly revived adult basic education program, which also supports English language learners.
Farrell, a Pittsfield resident, said she'll miss her adoptive town of Great Barrington, but will miss the students most of all. Her open-door office has a view into the main entryway, where she regularly waves hello and chats with people walking by the welcome counter.
"You have to be a good listener. The students really want you to listen, and you have to be a team player here," Farrell said. "I think this is an important place for South County. I really do. It gives them opportunity."