North Idaho College retiree, Gene Soper, learned resourcefulness, self-reliance, and innovation from his earliest days. Born during the Great Depression, his family moved to Idaho from Nebraska in 1934. In a small town in southern Idaho, Gene learned important lessons from his parents as his father operated the local bakery and his mom taught kindergarten classes on their enclosed porch. The lessons were invaluable to Gene in all aspects of his life, including creating the first Diesel Technology program at NIC.
Through the years, Gene worked in a variety of fields, including heavy equipment mechanic, machinist, and pilot. His aptitude in these fields was evident early in his life. Gene remembers with a smile the time his sister had a pair of roller skates.
“I said, ‘She only needs one!’ and I took the wheels off of the other one, attached them to a peach crate, and made a scooter out of it," Gene says.
His ingenuity extended to the Radio Flyer wagon his grandmother gave him.
“I took the wheels off and built it into something else!” Gene says.
During World War II, Gene recalls there were no new cars or tires being manufactured. Only a teenager, Gene’s neighbors asked him to repair their vehicles.
“There was no one else there to do it,” he says. “The men were serving in the war.”
His motto was “Identify the problem, then find a solution.” And as for spare parts, “If you can identify it, save it.” Gene put himself through his last two years of high school by repairing, buying, and selling cars – 30 of them!
Gene graduated from high school in 1948 and moved to northern Idaho a few years later. He used the many skills he had developed, putting in long hours as a heavy equipment mechanic for road construction and paving companies. He became actively involved in the aviation community, repairing and flying planes.
Gene’s first connection with NIC was through his acquaintance with Clarence Haught, Dean of Vocational Education. Gene first taught a millwright class for NIC at Bunker Hill Mine in Kellogg. In 1977, Clarence asked him to create a Diesel Technology program for NIC. The resourcefulness and innovation that were hallmarks of Gene’s life helped him to build the program from the ground up.
Gene retired from NIC in 1992. He says he is proud of the students he taught.
“Their dedication helped them to advance," Gene says. "Many who graduated from the diesel program went on to successful careers and have stayed employed in one job until their retirement. Two students went on to teach diesel technology at a community college.”
“North Idaho College means so much to me,” Gene says.
His passion to help students continues. Gene established the Eugene R. Soper Scholarship endowment, which will provide scholarship support for students in the Diesel Technology program in perpetuity.
North Idaho College faculty and staff, both past and present, are distinguished by their tireless dedication to students and to NIC's mission to deliver excellence in education. In honor of your service, the Alumni Association invites all NIC Retirees to become members, regardless of whether you were a student at NIC. Our goal is to keep you connected to the NIC family.