Joe Ben Welch will walk away from the community college he helped build from the ground up, retiring from River Parishes Community College in August.

Welch, who has been RPCC’s chancellor since it opened in 1999, announced last week to colleagues that he would retire effective Aug. 31, and the college made the announcement public in a news release on Wednesday.

A lifetime educator, Welch has spent 50 years working in higher education in Louisiana, Georgia and Texas, and the last 14 years at the Ascension Parish community college.

“Of all the CEOs I’ve worked for in my 46 years (in higher education), he was the best,” said Bill Martin, RPCC’s executive vice chancellor. “He was a man of great integrity, and his word was as good as gold.”

Under Welch’s guidance, the fledgling community college has grown into a major player in the River Parishes region, including breaking ground on a new campus in Gonzales that is scheduled to open next spring.

The college was named the fastest-growing community college of its size in 2010 by Community College Week, and the 2013 graduating class of 206 students was both the largest in the college’s history and larger than the initial student body when the college opened in the fall of 1999.

Welch, who spent two decades at Lamar University in Texas and served as president of Middle Georgia College for nine years prior to moving to RPCC, oversaw the college’s merger with the Louisiana Technical College Ascension campus in 2010 and the acquisition of property and development of the new campus plan.

Martin praised his boss, saying Welch’s leadership style has been instrumental in the college’s growth and success.

“He did not micromanage,” Martin said. “He hired an excellent professional staff and empowered them to achieve the vision he helped set for the college.”