Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

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December 13, 2013

WKU-Glasgow says farewell to first employee

GLASGOW — Three locations. Six directors.

Judy Parker, the first full-time employee when she was hired as a secretary at what was initially Western Kentucky University-Glasgow center, has been with all of them, but has retired this week as office coordinator in the campus chancellor’s office.

Calling it a campus in the beginning would get you corrected by some, she said, adding that it didn’t meet the definition because no classes were offered on site. Only offices were at the location on Happy Valley Road; classes were elsewhere. She’s also quick to note there were part-time employees as part of the center before her.

She recalled the move from there to the Liberty Street campus, when a truck was sent from Bowling Green and got loaded. Upon arrival at the place she hadn’t even seen yet, she was asked, “OK, where do you want everything?”

A lot of things got rearranged from their initial positions, she said, grinning.

“The big deal was it went from just me,” Parker said, adding that just before the move she had been allowed to add a student worker, Betty Alexander, at the office. “She was a jewel.”

As she’s been going through boxes and files in preparation for her retirement, Parker said a lot of memories have returned.

When Ruby Beale was director at the campus, February was already a big deal because four or five of people had birthdays and then Loretta Murrey had just gotten her doctoral degree one year. Beale hired a limousine that took them all for lunch at Bolton’s Landing.

Juanita Bayless was director two of the less than three decades since that “center” was started in 1986; she died in December 2010, less than a year after her retirement. As Parker reflected on that time, she unsuccessfully fought tears.

“[Bayless] was such a special lady,” Parker said. “Talk about being honored to work with someone; she was just a great lady.”

Later, she mentioned the grand opening at Liberty Street and the silver anniversary celebration at the Hilltopper Way campus both happened to fall on her February birthday.

At Liberty Street, advising and administration were opposite ends of the hall, and the faculty lounge was between them. If they all had their computers on and someone tried to use the microwave to make popcorn, for example, the breakers would trip.

“We went from ‘make do’ to when we moved in here [at Hilltopper Way off Trojan Trail], everything was state of the art. It was so wonderful for our students.”

She noted the changes in office technology, recalling her first computer in 1988 that came in a suitcase-style box and had a green screen. It had a 40 MB hard drive.

“They said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll never fill it up,” Parker said.

Now she has dual flat-screen computer monitors of at least approximately 23 inches each.

“There’s so many pictures in my mind,” she said.

One of those images is of instructors walking through the hallway with umbrellas up due to leaky ceilings during an especially wet year.

“I’ll never forget seeing them and just turning around and laughing,” Parker said.

But the main thing that struck her the most, she said, is “I’ve had the honor of seeing a lot of people’s dreams come true.”

Gary Ransdell, WKU president since 1997, said he has been fortunate to observe Parker and her outstanding work.

“She has been a special servant to our students and a loyal colleague. Her dedication will long be the hallmark of what makes WKU-G special. I join everyone in the WKU family in wishing for her a great retirement,” Ransdell said.

James McCaslin, who was assistant director under Bayless’ leadership and then was interim director after her retirement, said he had had the pleasure of working side-by-side with Parker for 10 years, and noted her longevity with the institution.

“She became the de facto campus historian. Judy has grown with the campus and has touched the lives of thousands, including me. Judy will always be more than a colleague; she’s family,” McCaslin said.

Sally Ray, who became director after McCaslin’s interim period and has since been named regional chancellor, said Parker’s tremendous institutional memory was a critical part of her transition. Knowledge like that of  how things have been done historically and of the people involved is important to any successful transition of leadership, she said, adding that it will be missed.

“I think she’s been in a really unique position having been there from the beginning and seeing the campus evolve,” Ray said. “She has a passion for history, so she’d been our campus archivist, so that’s certainly a strength she’s brought.”

Parker has played a lot of roles with WKU-G over the years, and over the past two years, she coordinated the interactive video services for the campus. Ray said IVS is a primary source of instruction for many classes, so the university has strived to strengthen that component. Parker has done a marvelous job with it and left the campus in really good shape in that aspect, making it easier for her successor to take over the reins.

The great turnout for Parker’s reception on a Thursday afternoon of finals week was a testament to her strong relationships with students, faculty, staff and the community, Ray said, assessing it as “pretty impressive.”

Ray said she and Bill Walter gave Parker the book that was written on the history of WKU for its centennial and wrote in it about her significant part in that.

“She has played an important role in the history of WKU, so she can certainly feel good about the contributions she’s made and the lives she’s helped to change through education,” Ray said.

Walter, who became assistant director at the campus September 2012 and was recently named vice chancellor, said that because Parker has been with WKU-G virtually from the beginning, she’s been the resident historian for the institution.

He first became acquainted with her as a parent with children at Temple Hill Elementary School when he was principal there, Walter said.

“I think for many people, when you think of WKU-Glasgow, you want to put a face with the name, and typically that face is Judy Parker,” he said. “She’s been the glue that holds the place together over the years [and through multiple directors and locations].”

“On the other side of that, her presence on this campus has meant so much, literally, to thousands of students,” Walter said.

A large percentage of people pursuing their education at WKU-G is nontraditional students, and perhaps more so with them, “You come in looking for a friendly face, someone you connect with and from whom you can gain support and encouragement.”

Parker is very unassuming and offers kind words and a smile, but she also has “a quiet strength” toward which students gravitate, he said.

Parker said she used to be shy and didn’t want to go to WKU’s main campus in Bowling Green where she may not know anyone, and, all as a part-time student, she earned an associate’s degree in general studies, a bachelor’s in English with a minor in history and a certificate in organizational communications. So she knows a thing or two about being a student.

She says her degrees should list, besides her own name, those of her husband, mother, children and babysitters because they gave her so much support, and she admires students she knows who are working at a full time job while also working on their educations.

The vice chancellor described her as a “servant-leader,” adding that Parker’s calling was the service to students, “setting an example for all of us” in that regard, yet she could readily jump in and take the lead with getting things done. For a long time, she was the go-to person for anyone who needed anything scheduled at WKU-G.

“She’s a wonderful person. She’s got a great heart, very genuine,” Walter said. “She’ll always be a strong presence here at WKU-Glasgow.”

It is Parker’s heart that is leading her away from WKU-G at this particular time after all these years.

Her husband, Kevin Parker, died in 2000, but several years later, “I met a wonderful man and he proposed to me a year ago in July.”

He lives in Metcalfe County, though, and did not want her to have to commute every day, especially in bad weather, so, Parker said, he told her she wouldn’t get the wedding ring until after she retired.

“Faced with the option of spending the rest of my life with him or working,” she said, placing her hands at different heights to illustrate scales, “it really didn’t seem like that much of a choice to have to make. … I never thought after my first husband I would be blessed that way again, but God has blessed me again. … He’s a very honorable man, not to mention the fact that he’s fun to be with.”

The wedding at which she plans to become Mrs. Patrick King is tentatively scheduled in May.

Five other faculty or staff members who came over from Liberty Street are still with the campus. One of those is Murrey, who also taught classes when WKU-G was just a “center.”

“[Parker’s] been a great colleague and a true supporter of WKU-Glasgow from its beginning in 1985, when she was in a little office in the Happy Valley Shopping Center and classes were located all over Glasgow,” Murrey stated. “I taught upstairs at the Mary Wood Weldon Library, and others taught in bank conference rooms and anywhere else a large room could be found. Then in 1988 the Liberty Street campus opened.”

Murrey noted Parker’s kindness to everyone, including faculty, staff, students and community members, and her passion for WKU-Glasgow.

“She has kept huge scrapbooks of the campus and its people and events from the very beginning and will gladly show them to anyone,” Murrey said. “I’m happy that she is moving on to another, equally wonderful stage of life, but her loss will be felt by the entire Glasgow campus.”

Parker, as she reflected on all the things that changed during that history, said two things haven’t.

“The purpose has been the constant,” Parker said, adding that the motto in the beginning was “Bringing Western to you.” It was tweaked a bit at the current location, because it’s shared with Southcentral Kentucky Community & Technical College, to “Bringing educational opportunities ...”

“It was always, ‘What can we do to help the students? What do they need to complete their education?’” she said.

Community support was the other constant, Parker said, naming local government leaders and others in the community who worked to get the center going and have reinforced the effort since.

“It makes you feel like you’re doing something important in people’s lives,” she said.

She talked about how people like former Glasgow Mayor Charlie Honeycutt and Bayless are the ones who really impact lives. She said she thinks of herself as “not that important” and “just ordinary.”

“I was the secretary. … I did the paperwork,” she said. “So I guess that’s why it’s kind of shocking that people are making a big deal out of my retiring.”

Upon hearing about that, Ray said Parker underestimates her influence, “but perhaps that modesty is what has endeared her to so many people.”

In sum, Parker said: “It’s been a lot of fun. … I’ve had the opportunity to work with the best people on the face of the planet, and that’s something I’ll always be grateful for.”

Read more of this story in the print or digital Glasgow Daily Times.

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