Rowan County Chief Deputy Kevin Auten jokes about how long he was an undergraduate at Catawba College before earning his bachelor's degree in 2000. He'll tell you about his false starts, that college is a balance of grades, maturing and experience, and how all it takes is for you to apply yourself, but it took Kevin Auten a total of 21 years to get it exactly right for himself.
Today, it is with pride in his voice and a just little relief that he'll tell you he's a Catawba College alumnus.
Auten was one of eight Catawba College alumni recently promoted at the Sheriff's Department. Now the majority of the administrative posts there are occupied by Catawba graduates. Other Catawba alumni and their positions at the department include:
John Sifford '87, captain over the administrative division; Sam Towne '85, captain over the criminal division; Tim Wyrick '90, 1st lieutenant over the criminal division (criminal investigators, special investigators, patrol and special deputies; Eddie Kluttz '03, lieutenant over special projects; Debbie Yokley '05, lieutenant over community safety division; and Kent Collins '08, detective.
Auten started his undergraduate career at Catawba in 1979. He was a football player who lived in Abernethy Residence Hall. "Not applying myself" ended his college days, temporarily at least. He joined the Rowan County Sheriff's Department in 1987 and worked there for almost a decade "before my dad challenged me to go back to school and get my degree." Thanks to Catawba's evening program, he was able to finish what he had started two decades before.
"I was going to gain a six percent raise for having a bachelor's degree and my dad was going to gain satisfaction," Auten quips, noting that his two sisters, Kelly Auten Powlas '91 and Kim Auten Smyth '96, both started at Catawba after him and both finished before him. As an adult student, he applied himself to his studies and brags that he made the Dean's List three times and the President's List once during his time in Catawba's evening program.
In 1980, Sam Towne came to Catawba from Fairfax, Va., to play football and major in outdoor recreation. Five years later, he earned his degree in outdoor recreation. The job market was not great the year he graduated, so he returned to northern Virginia and worked construction for a time – long enough to know that was not what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
In 1986, Towne married a girl he had met at Catawba, Susan Saintsing '85, and the two resettled in North Carolina with Towne taking a job at the Davidson County Sheriff's Department. Towne moved to the Rowan County Sheriff's Department in 1992 to work for another Catawba alumnus, the late Sheriff Bob Martin '49.
"It's amazing the way Catawba is in your blood," Towne says. "You do try to sell the school because you believe in it.
"I'm so glad I finished when I did," Towne explains, stealing a glance at Auten who was seated next to him. "I can't imagine trying to work and go to school. After you're out in the real world, and see how important a degree can be — it clicks real fast."
Tim Wyrick was an East Rowan High School guy who loved playing baseball. He had played American Legion ball in Newman Park on Catawba's campus and had the opportunity to come to the college on a baseball scholarship. He did just that, majoring in physical education and recreation and inspired by former Catawba College faculty members, Dr. Patricia Whitley and the late Dr. Frank "Dutch" Meyer.
Wyrick had plans to teach until "I did student teaching," and thereafter chose another career path. He went to work at the Rowan Sheriff's Department the same year he graduated from Catawba, 1990. Ironically, also in 1990, Wyrick married his wife, the former Nancy Sheets, a 1987 alumnus of Catawba in Catawba's Omwake-Dearborn Chapel.
In addition to his responsibilities at the Sheriff's Department, Wyrick is a certified instructor through N.C. Criminal Justice and Sheriffs' Standards Division and teaches mandated in-service classes in both Law Enforcement and Detention training. He says "I didn't just want a job working from paycheck to paycheck. I chose a career and law enforcement is just that — a career."
With a grin, Auten summed up his and his fellow deputies' take on college this way: "You need to get school out of the way first. It will open doors for you and make you more marketable. A degree helps your salary forever and it also helps your retirement."