February 6, 2015
Dr. Jess Parrish
When Jess Parrish entered the arena, community colleges were truly the new kids on the block of higher education. Born of a blend of democratic values, the early junior college model, and the practical success of vocational-technical schools, these new institutions called comprehensive community colleges were committed to making higher education accessible to all who could benefit. But, accessibility meant more to the community college than being in the neighborhood, and higher education meant more than the first two years of traditional university programs. In addition to these important functions, these new, uniquely American institutions, pledged to provide another chance to students who had not yet developed college entry-level skills, to give both employers and students the benefits of state-of the art career training, to provide first-class professional development for individuals already in the workplace and to share the resources with their communities through cultural enrichment and community service activities. These comprehensive community colleges needed a new breed of leadership, leadership that embraced all of the promise. Jess Parrish was that kind of leader; he was the right kind of leader at the right time.
When Jess came to Midland College, he was already a nationally recognized community college leader. He and Norma were glad to be back in West Texas where they had started out. He was particularly happy to be at Midland College. It was the culmination of a lustrous career. He knew Midland College for the gem it was, just ten years old, created by strong leadership and a proud city, excellent faculty and staff, eager students, a world class campus. He relished the way the community doted on its college, watching over ever tree and rose bush; he was astounded by the level of giving, and he was proud to be the steward of this abundance. He set out to give the college his best and, for him, that meant ensuring that every part of the ambitious community college vision had a place at Midland College. And so he oversaw the creation of the Associate Degree Nursing Program and, shortly after, a new Health Sciences Division. He said yes to Kids’ College when traditionally minded administrators cringed at the thought of children in the labs and classrooms. Flexibility and innovation were rewarded. He pushed for the creation of a full-fledged continuing education department and, to the surprise of many, recognized it as an equal partner in college programming. He encouraged a rich community services agenda as a way of better sharing the resources of the college. New departments and initiatives emerged. The literacy council was welcome on campus; a center was created for women returning to school after years of adult responsibility; free afternoon classes for senior citizens were offered; customized training for employers became a staple. Jess was there for the first GED graduation ceremonies and the joyful potluck suppers that followed. When the Abell-Hanger Foundation broached the possibility of universal scholarships for high school graduates, he embraced the concept as the ultimate example of how a community college could partner in service. His college was for all who could benefit.
While he was leading his college to a fuller understanding of its role, he was also encouraging leadership among the staff and faculty. Jess believed in creating leadership opportunities. He allowed and even encouraged the creation of a women’s leadership group. The community college world still has many leaders who are grateful for the part Jess played in their success. As a mentor, he was demanding and he was forgiving, and he was always on the side of growth even when it was painful. Jess was competitive and energetic; he had a sharp wit, a generous spirit and an inclusive approach in every setting. He made many friends along the way, most of whom considered themselves friends for life. He changed those of us who worked with him, and he broadened our sense of why we were there.
In 1989, Jess was identified in a national study as one of 50 community college leaders who were able to “transform their personal vision of their college’s future into a future shared by faculty and staff.’ His legacy is, at least in part, the fullness of his vision and the way he shared it with us.
By Dr. Deanna Savage
Special Advisor to the President, Midland College
If you wish to make an online gift in his memory, visit Give a Gift, or you may mail your donation to:
MIDLAND COLLEGE FOUNDATION, INC.
3600 N. GARFIELD · MIDLAND, TX 79705