Friends remember Georgia college president who died from COVID-19

Mark Ivester, seated at his desk, became president of North Georgia Technical College in August 2016. He died on Sept. 12, 2020 from complications from COVID-19. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED.
Mark Ivester, seated at his desk, became president of North Georgia Technical College in August 2016. He died on Sept. 12, 2020 from complications from COVID-19. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED.

North Georgia Technical College President Mark Ivester desperately wanted to attend a drive-thru ceremony on campus last month for spring and summer graduates, but he learned some family members had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and he wasn’t feeling well himself.

Ivester went to the hospital a few days later. He didn’t make it home.

Ivester, 57, died late Saturday of complications from the disease. He’s believed to be the first college president in Georgia to die from COVID-19. Agnes Scott College President Leocadia “Lee” Zak was hospitalized for COVID-19 in August, but returned home and is recovering.

Coworkers placed a wreath Monday at one of Ivester’s favorite places, a state marker on the Clarkesville campus with information about how the college was founded.

North Georgia Technical College employees placed this wreath at this state marker on the campus Monday in memory of Mark Ivester, the college's president, who died on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020 from complications after being diagnosed with COVID-19 in August. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED.
North Georgia Technical College employees placed this wreath at this state marker on the campus Monday in memory of Mark Ivester, the college's president, who died on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020 from complications after being diagnosed with COVID-19 in August. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED.

Ivester, who grew up near the college, was hired there in 1999, first as its vice president of administrative services. He became its president in 2016.

“Being the college’s president was his dream job,” said Amy Hulsey, the college’s vice president of community and college relations.

Ivester, she recalled, personally interviewed each person who applied for a full-time position. The college has about 180 full-time employees.

“He wanted to know everyone’s name, their story and how they connected to the college,” she said. “He also remembered those stories when he saw them after they were hired.”

The college has 2,557 students and also has campuses in Blairsville and Currahee. A plan to name an interim president is in the works.

Ivester appreciated the college’s mission, helping young and adult workers learn skills to find good-paying jobs to support their families or get a promotion, said Janney Sanders, a real estate attorney who knew Ivester for about 25 years and attended church with him.

“That’s what he was all about. Making a difference in people’s lives,” Sanders said Monday.

State Rep. Terry Rogers, R-Clarkesville, knew Ivester for more than a decade. Rogers recommended Ivester for the job of president of the college when the position was open.

“I’ll be honest with you, I’m still trying to digest the whole thing," Rogers said. "Mark was just a superb guy. Besides being a good friend to me, he was a great personality who loved North Georgia Tech, he loved his community, he was involved in a number of different things. He was just the type of person that you wanted to be around and it’s a tremendous loss for the community.”

Condolences came from Gov. Brian Kemp and Technical College System of Georgia Commissioner Greg Dozier, who said in a statement he was “heartbroken” by Ivester’s death.

North Georgia Technical College President Mark Ivester gives Technical College System of Georgia Commissioner Greg Dozier a tour of the campus on July 31, 2020. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED.
North Georgia Technical College President Mark Ivester gives Technical College System of Georgia Commissioner Greg Dozier a tour of the campus on July 31, 2020. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED.

Ivester took Dozier, who became commissioner earlier this year, on a daylong tour of the college on July 31. The college recently developed an agricultural program and hired a new director. Ivester shared his vision for the program. It would be a place for students in North Georgia to study the field, instead of traveling south. He showed Dozier a few labs. Ivester also wanted to renovate the gym, which is in need of some repairs and is currently closed to the public. He wanted it to be a place for students living on campus and nearby

That was Ivester’s last day on campus. He frequently exchanged text messages with employees to update them on his condition. Some days he was doing well. Some days, he wasn’t. Ivester’s oxygen levels were up a few days ago, Sanders said.

“We were just keeping the faith that he would come through,” Hulsey said.

Ivester is survived by his wife, Eleanor, four children, two grandchildren and his parents.

A private funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at First Baptist Church of Toccoa. The service will be livestreamed on Facebook and the college is setting up locations on its campuses for students and employees to watch.

Staff writer Ariel Hart contributed to this report.