Like many young students who struggle in high school, Steve Mitus didn't plan to go to college.
"I barely got through," he said. "My plan was to go to work."
And so he did, building a brief career in the food service industry that culminated in his running food operations for several factories belonging to the former Digital Equipment Corporation.
He enjoyed the work, he says, but by his mid-20s decided he wanted to try something else, like finance. That led him to Holyoke Community College, where he discovered his math skills did not measure up to even a high school algebra level.
He starting with developmental math classes and ultimately earned his associate degree in business in 1980 before transferring to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for his bachelor's degree in finance and accounting.
He passed his CPA exam on the first try.
"That was really a lesson for me that sometimes success is about motivation and about working a little bit harder, and that things can change over time," he said. "That was a very good experience."
Mitus returned to the HCC campus yesterday as the newest member of the HCC Board of Trustees. His appointment by Gov. Charlie Baker was announced just before the end of 2015.
A native of Wilbraham, who now lives in Westfield, Mitus is a certified public accountant and the executive vice president and chief financial officer of Balise Motor Sales, where he has worked for more than 30 years.
His wife, Moira, is also an HCC alum. She earned her associate degree in accounting in 1993 and transferred to Elms College for her bachelor's degree. The couple was honored by the HCC Alumni Association in 2009 with a Distinguished Alumni Award for their contributions to the college.
"I think it's a remarkable educational facility, and I'm very much looking forward to this opportunity and getting reacquainted with the school," Mitus said.
Over the years, Mitus has been busy as a volunteer with other community organizations. He serves on the boards of Baystate Health, Health New England, PeoplesBank, and the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. He has also served on the boards of the Willie Ross School for the Deaf, the Springfield Technical Community College Foundation, the National Conference for Community & Justice, the Sisters of Providence Health System, Brightside for Families & Children and others.
"We are delighted to have Steve as a trustee," said President Messner. "He combines a knowledge of HCC, born from his days here as a student, and experience and knowledge of the community college sector, from his service on the board of trustees of Springfield Technical Community College Foundation, with a 30-year history as a businessman for one of the more visible firms in Western Massachusetts. He's got a real interest in higher ed, particularly in using community colleges as a vehicle for promoting access to education and excellence for our students and the community as a whole."
Mitus will join the board for its next meeting on Tues., Jan. 26.
PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: (Left) HCC's newest trustee, Steve Mitus, '80, greets Alumni Relations director Bonnie Zima Dowd during a visit to campus Monday. (Right) HCC president Bill Messner, left, new trustee Steve Mitus, center, and board of trustees chair Robert Gilbert Jr. met Monday in the president's office.