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Dick and Darlene Muth, Muth Electric donate $1.1 million to Mitchell Tech

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Darlene and Dick Muth receive a round of applause after an announcement of a $1.1 million donation to Mitchell Technical Institute on Thursday evening in the Campus Center. (Matt Gade / Republic)2 / 4
Darlene and Dick Muth receive a standing ovation after an announcement of a $1.1 million donation to Mitchell Technical Institute on Thursday evening in the Campus Center. (Matt Gade / Republic)3 / 4
Darlene Muth smiles at her husband Dick as his biography is read aloud during a special announcement ceremony on Thursday evening at Mitchell Technical Institute's Campus Center. Dick and Darlene and Muth Electric made a $1.1 million donation to Mitchell Technical Institute on Thursday evening in the Campus Center. (Matt Gade / Republic)4 / 4

Holding back tears, Dick Muth proudly told the crowd he's a graduate of Mitchell Technical Institute.

Standing by his side was his wife, Darlene, and together they thanked the technical institute for all it has done for their family. But now it's their turn to give back.

Dick and Darlene Muth, along with Muth Electric, are gifting Mitchell Tech $1.1 million — the single-largest contribution to the technical school in its soon-to-be 50-year history.

The $1.1 million is a combination of endowed funds, past donations and in-kind contributions. The announcement, which was made Thursday night on Mitchell Tech's campus, also declared the school's Technology Center be named the Muth Electric Technology Center and the commons in the MTI Campus Center be renamed Muth Electric Commons.

"We've had close ties with MTI for all these years, and MTI has given us a lot," Dick Muth told The Daily Republic earlier this week. "And I could almost say we owe our success to MTI. It's time that we give back."

Dick and Darlene began Muth Electric in 1970, shortly after Dick graduated from Mitchell Tech. Forty-seven years, 12 locations and 390 employees later, the company has grown beyond the couple's wildest dreams. And it couldn't have been done without the Mitchell institution, they said.

Of the company's nearly 400 employees, approximately 100 have come from Mitchell Tech. And of the remaining 290 employees, nearly all are technical school graduates. Eight Muth Electric employees hold four-year degrees.

"Basically our company is run by tech school graduates," Dick said, adding that their dedicated employees have also helped the company grow to success.

Along with Dick being an alum of Mitchell Tech, four of his brothers and two of his sons have also graduated from the school.

"We believe in technical education. MTI is near and dear to us," Dick said.

Renovations, remodel abound

The Muths have been talking about making a donation to the school for several years. And as the institute's 50-year anniversary nears, the timing was right.

Mitchell Tech President Mark Wilson said the $1.1 million will be used to make "significant renovations" to the Campus Center, such as expanding a few rooms, moving restrooms and creating more space for larger events.

The Technology Center, the oldest building on MTI's campus, will undergo lighting and flooring upgrades, making it comparable to the rest of campus, Wilson said. All building upgrades will be completed within the next three to five years.

But what's important from the Muth's donation is the endowment, according to Wilson, which will generate funds that could be used annually forever.

"Dick and Darlene are putting obviously hard-earned resources into Mitchell Tech, including the endowment, and it's really the lifeline or the future lifeline of opportunities for future students and employees at Mitchell Tech. It's exciting," Wilson said.

Wilson continued to add the Muths have set a standard for generations to come and grow with the school. He remained tight-lipped about how the endowment will benefit the campus' 50th anniversary next year but will reveal it once the time comes. The celebration will be held Sept. 18.

"Really the word, 'legacy' has really stuck in my mind when we started working on this. And that's really what we want and why we're setting it up this way," Wilson said.

The value of technical education

The stage is set for technical education, according to Wilson.

"We can say, "You know what, here is one of our graduates that is moving on to do what he wants to do everyday,' " Wilson said. "And that has really set the stage to say, 'Look at what they have done for this community, this region and their family.' "

Present at Thursday's announcement included members of the recently formed South Dakota Board of Technical Education as well as the directors from the state's Build Dakota Scholarship board.

And to show off the success of a distinguished alum was important for the future of technical education, Wilson said. But what Dick is interested in is not his success, but the success of students.

"All or any student that can benefit from the endowment for any reason and goes anywhere that's a help to our state or our workforce," he said. " ... There's lots of opportunities, tons of them, you just got to go get them."

And his co-president of Muth Electric, Terry Sabers, agrees. Sabers sits on the board of technical education and is a 1975 graduate of Mitchell Tech.

"Hopefully this caps it off, because technical education is finally getting some of the limelight for the value it can provide for young people," Sabers said.

Seeing these opportunities first-hand is instructor Doug Fuerst. For 20 years, Fuerst has taught students within the electrical construction and maintenance program at Mitchell Tech. And when he found out about the large contribution by Muth earlier on Thursday, he was surprised, yet excited for the school-wide benefit it will have.

"I've seen a lot of students go through and it's very rewarding seeing them be successful in the careers as they head out and find jobs and Muth Electric has been one of the key employers for these people," Fuerst said. "It's impressive."

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