By Robert Lucke
Somehow it is fitting that Alex Capdeville is the chancellor at Montana State University-Northern. After all, he spent his formative years in this part of Montana, attended Northern himself and knows the Havre community as well as most people do. When he came back to Havre, there were no surprises and that can make it so much easier to run the school.
He comes from north of Glasgow at Opheim, just 10 miles away from the Saskatchewan border. Capdeville's father was a Basque sheepman. His mother, although born in Minot, N.D., spent much of her childhood in Sweden.
Is it any wonder, then, that he played football his junior and senior year for the Opheim Vikings? He laughs when he talks about it.
"I was never much of an athlete. I was just not that well-coordinated. In fact, the only reason I went out for football my junior and senior year was that the coach was also the history teacher and I wanted to pass history," he said.
Capdeville's thing in high school was auto mechanics.
"I knew I wanted to go into the trades," he said. "I had decided to go to the Helena vo-tech school for aeronautics and that started the summer after I graduated. I got there and at that time the school was connected with the Helena high school and I didn't like being there with all those high school students so I came back home and was talked into going to Northern. I graduated with a two-year certificate in 1967."
Those were the days when Joe Crowley was president of Northern and never in his wildest dreams did Capdeville think that he might one day occupy Crowley's office himself.
He went to St. Louis and got a job at a private technical school. At that time he joined the National Guard. Homesick for Montana, he transferred his Guard status to Montana and moved to Havre, where he became a machinist for Valley Motor Supply. That was in 1969. That next year Capdeville was able to get a certificate based on his work experience that qualified him to teach vocational classes at Havre High. He taught there from 1970-74.
Later he worked in Helena and Billings, and picked up his Ph.D. at Colorado State in 1977. After working in North Dakota for a time he was offered the job of replacing Bill Korizek, the longtime head of the Helena vo-tech school.
"Bill Korizek had been the head of that school for 12 years and I wondered how I would ever replace him," Capdeville said with a smile. "I ended up staying there 22 years and at the end of my 12th year Korizek invited me to lunch and reminded me I had been there as long as he had. I couldn't believe it. It seemed like he was there a long time and I had been there that long as well."
In September of 2000 Capdeville was offered the job of interim chancellor at Northern so it was a move back to Havre once again. He was eventually made chancellor.
Capdeville, who is divorced, has two sons, one 23 and one 15.
"The divorce was the biggest failure of my life," he said. "I have a good relationship with my boys and see them often but I just failed in that part of my life."
Capdeville brings to Northern a zest for the job and an understanding of the environment not seen for a long time in that office. He heaps praise on the community and his Northern colleagues.
"I like the people in the community a lot and they have been really nice to me. This campus has a lot of potential. I see people here who are willing to get involved and really want this school to succeed," Capdeville said. "I have noticed that people really pull together here. I can't make a difference by myself but all working together we can."
Capdeville sees his position as one of letting people do their jobs and having ownership in any changes made. He pointed to a needs assessment study done recently that showed Northern should work harder on recruitment, residence life, the school's infrastructure, and long-term planning.
"There has been a real willingness in Bozeman to make a good institution out of Northern," he said. "And we need to bring lots more kids to school here at our Havre campus. That is important. You know kids all over northeastern Montana will come to Northern if we recruit them hard."
Capdeville has no trouble identifying his own personal crosses to bear.
"I am impatient. I don't think things happen fast enough. I would like to see us building a new dorm by next fall. That will be a real challenge," Capdeville said.
"But I have no real issues with the job," he added. "People had the feeling that they could not make a difference. I don't see that as much anymore. I think people feel that Northern will grow. Lots of people are really committed to this place."
Capdeville has even thought about his legacy after he has gone.
"I think Northern's potential is great," Capdeville said. "My goal is to set things in place so that when I leave it will continue to be successful. Any legacy that anyone should leave is the fact the place goes on very successfully after they leave. And even though things are going well, six months after I leave they should be asking, Alex who?' "