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DEWINTER: Interview with Cleo Franklin

DEWINTER: Interview with Cleo Franklin

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The following is a summary of my interview with Cleo Franklin, Muscatine Community College alum from 1978, who went on to play a leadership role in multiple companies.

Cleo Franklin and former president of MCC Bob Allbee attended MCC together. They were from different backgrounds, but connected as athletes and friends then, and to this day. Cleo was offered a chance to play at the University of Iowa but rather than being redshirted, he decided to attend a community college and played basketball at MCC. He was one of the top high-school recruits from the Chicago area. “My dream was to be a Hawkeye,” Franklin told me, ‘’and I turned down scholarship offers from several major universities and Ivy League Colleges, such as Dartmouth and Cornell, with dreams of putting on the Iowa black and gold.’’ Franklin became the all-time leading scorer at MCC while earning his associate of arts from MCC. “The basketball recruiting process started all over again after I graduated which was tough. My parents were not happy that I turned down prestigious scholarship offers before coming to MCC, so I asked them to pick the school to which I would transfer to make amends. They selected Morningside College in Sioux City. I enjoyed my time there and had many successes from being elected as the first African American student body president and completing my basketball career as one of the nation’s top Division II basketball players and the eighth all time second leading scorer in Morningside’s history only after two years of playing."

"Coming to Muscatine represented the best of times and the worst of times as an 18-year-old. Moving from Chicago to a rural area was a great adjustment. It also expanded my horizons within agriculture and helped to set my future career path at John Deere, Case New Holland and Mahindra/ Mahindra."

Franklin’s goal had always been to earn an MBA and after three tries, graduated from the University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill.

“The colleges that will be able to embrace and partner within their communities beyond academics, while helping to make the lives better of those who live, work and reside in the community will be best positioned to succeed after COVID-19. This is a great time and opportunity for community colleges like MCC that provide a great value for students to gain a quality education, while maintaining a community connection. If I had been a student at MCC during COVID-19, I believe I would have recognized that while my short term plans may have changed, my eyes would have remained on my long term goal. I believe in the power of the struggle and the ability to embrace challenges and failure, as they are the seeds of success. The one valuable lesson for us all, despite the chaos COVID-19 has created in our lives, is that within chaos, there is also opportunity. No matter what happens to us in life, it is how we respond that matters.”

“Envision it and work to achieve it,” is one of the pieces of advice Franklin shares with me. “I have been blessed to visit urban and rural areas across the globe and found a shared humanity connects us all in this world. Especially within agriculture, it is the connection to the land that farmers from across the world can appreciate, relate to and understand. Being on a farm in Germany, China, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, and Iowa, I saw the pride of stewardship of the land. It is the strong heritage and love for farming that bridge cultures, geographies and languages, and no matter where you are from, or what you are farming, farmers can easily recognize when they meet those who are connected to the land.”

Franklin graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work and also began a non-profit at his alma mater, Morningside College, the Franklin Leadership Foundation and was inducted into the college’s Hall of Fame in 2018. He currently runs a global consulting business, and is a senior corporate fellow at the University of Houston’s MBA program. He served on the National Foundation Board of the FFA until 2017 and was awarded the FFA Honorary American Degree for his contribution to Agriculture. During his board tenure he also spearheaded two initiatives he is very proud of: Women in Ag and the Urban Agriculture scholarship program that promoted a pathway toward a career in agriculture for minorities and women. Franklin has released a new book, sharing 10 leadership lessons that he has learned over his illustrious life to share with anyone aspiring for a career in leadership. The book is entitled "Coffee with Cleo." Franklin has not returned to Muscatine since his graduation. It would be wonderful to welcome him back.

Dr. Naomi DeWinter is the President of Muscatine Community College, “The Community’s College”. MJC/MCC was established in 1929 and has proudly served the community for over 90 years. Contact


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