40 years & count­ing

National Park Com­mu­nity Col­lege cel­e­brates an­niver­sary

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N ational Park Com­mu­nity Col­lege has a dif­fer­ent name, a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion and a dif­fer­ent stu­dent pop­u­la­tion than when it be­gan 40 years ago, but the same stu­dent-first ap­proach re­mains the col­lege’s key to suc­cess.

National Park is cel­e­brat­ing 10 years as a merged in­sti­tu­tion and the 40th an­niver­sary of the found­ing of Gar­land County Com­mu­nity Col­lege this year. The com­mu­nity col­lege merged with Qua­paw Vo­ca­tional In­sti­tute in 2003.

A vote in 1967 de­nied the open­ing of a new col­lege, but new leg­is­la­tion in­voked a new ef­fort in 1973 and vot­ers over­whelm­ingly sup­ported the found­ing of Gar­land County Com­mu­nity Col­lege in July of that year by a 74-26 mar­gin.

“We had a tremen­dous amount of sup­port from the com­mu­nity once we got started,” said Ron Chesser, di­rec­tor of coun­sel­ing at NPCC.

The board of trus­tees first met in Au­gust and hired Ger­ald Fisher as the first pres­i­dent of the col­lege. Regis­tra­tion opened on Sept. 20 and classes be­gan for 500 stu­dents on Oct. 1. Eve­lyn Marie Fa­gan was the first stu­dent to com­plete regis­tra­tion. To­day, National Park’s stu­dent pop­u­la­tion still skews fe­male, but the aver­age age is more along the aver­age col­lege stu­dent age. The aver­age age of a GCCC stu­dent in 1973 was 37.

“Th­ese are peo­ple who had busy lives and wanted to go to school, but even to drive just to Hen­der­son was too much,” said Ken­neth Cook, the first fac­ulty mem­ber to sign a con­tract at the school and a cur­rent mem­ber of the fac­ulty at National Park.

Gar­land County Com­mu­nity Col­lege be­gan with­out its own phys­i­cal lo­ca­tion. Of­fices of the col­lege were es­tab­lished in St. Gabriel’s School on Sil­ver Street and later moved to the First Fed­eral Build­ing. Classes were held in lo­ca­tions all over Hot Springs, in­clud­ing St. Gabriel’s, Langston school, South­west Ju­nior High and First Methodist Church, which would serve as the col­lege’s main hub.

“Wher­ever there was an open room,” said orig­i­nal and cur­rent fac­ulty mem­ber Bar­bara Briscoe. “I didn’t teach at a strip club like Thad (Flen­niken).”

Classes out­grew Langston, and Flen­niken, who still teaches art at National Park, be­gan to teach class in a build­ing be­tween two bars on Oua­chita Av­enue. He said there was also a “flop­house” over the top.

“Ev­ery time we had classes, there was an in­ci­dent,” Flen­niken said. “We had fire trucks and po­lice cars and ev­ery­thing that would be in­ter­rupt­ing the classes that would be go­ing on. We would have to clear off all of the liquor bot­tles and ev­ery­thing when we came in the morn­ing. And some­times we would have to en­cour­age peo­ple to move on who had spent the night on the doorstop.”

Flen­niken met a woman nearby and sug­gested she take cour­ses with the col­lege. The woman en­rolled in one of Briscoe’s classes. Briscoe tells of a time the woman be­gan a pre­sen­ta­tion set to mu­sic dur­ing one class.

“And she didn’t say a word,” Briscoe

said. “She had on this straight shift dress with a zip­per on the front and she pulls the zip­per down to­ward her cleav­age. I go, ‘Oh my God. I’m go­ing to lose my job if this woman takes her clothes off,’ be­cause I knew she was a strip­per.

“The guys in the class were go­ing, ‘Yeah.’ The mu­sic kept go­ing. She turned her back to the class and we heard the zip­per go all the way down. I said, ‘She re­ally is go­ing to strip.’ She pulled one (strap) off one shoul­der and one off the other shoul­der and the mu­sic still go­ing. Peo­ple were go­ing, ‘I can’t be­lieve this.’

“She let the dress drop and she had a bikini on un­derneath. Then she said, ‘Now that I have your full at­ten­tion, I’d like to talk to you about bur­lesque.’ That was her at­ten­tion-get­ter for the speech.”

En­roll­ment in­creased to 1,000 in Jan­uary as mem­bers of a site se­lec­tion com­mit­tee were seek­ing a per­ma­nent cam­pus lo­ca­tion. Gene Parker, who is still a mem­ber of the board, was ap­pointed chair­per­son of the site se­lec­tion com­mit­tee. Qua­paw Vo­ca­tional Tech­ni­cal School joined the joint ef­fort to ac­quire the land.

The Mid-Amer­ica Park cam­pus be­gan with five build­ings for ad­min­is­tra­tion, math, science, lib­eral arts and a li­brary, as well as ex­tra pods for ad­di­tional space and of­fices. The ded­i­ca­tion ad­dress on April 24, 1977 was made by for­mer U.S. Rep. John Paul Hammerschm­idt.

The move be­gan a nearly three-decade long neigh­bor­ship with Qua­paw, which had been au­tho­rized in March 1973. The school had orig­i­nally been au­tho­rized as a branch of Oua­chita Vo­ca­tional Tech­ni­cal School in Malvern in De­cem­ber 1969.

John L. Kauf­man served as the first di­rec­tor of Qua­paw un­til Au­gust 1977 and was suc­ceeded by Hugh Cheek. Cheek would serve as di­rec­tor for the next decade. New fa­cil­i­ties con­structed in 1978 would cost $1.25 mil­lion on 28 acres. The two schools would op­er­ate next to each other yet un­af­fil­i­ated un­til 2003. Col­lege em­ploy­ees would eat in the cafe­te­ria at Qua­paw, which even ad­ver­tised in the GCCC yearbook in 1979.

The Gar­land County Com­mu­nity Col­lege Lak­ers be­gan com­pet­ing in sev­eral sports, in­clud­ing bas­ket­ball and ten­nis, in 1974. The school col­ors were green and gold and the teams com­peted in the National Ju­nior Col­lege Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion. The bas­ket­ball team orig­i­nally prac­ticed in the gym at Langston and played at area high schools. Chesser coached one year in the sit­u­a­tion be­fore de­cid­ing the team needed its own home court.

Larry Bracken and Don Har­ris, a dean with the school at the time and later elected to the board, went to Bos­ton on be­half of the col­lege and ar­ranged the pur­chase of the Bos­ton Celtics’ prac­tice floor for $10,000. It was set up on a Sun­day at the con­ven­tion cen­ter and 4,000 peo­ple were in at­ten­dance the next day for a Har­lem Glo­be­trot­ters game.

Leg­is­la­tion passed in the early 90s led to the elim­i­na­tion of ath­let­ics at nearly all twoyear in­sti­tu­tions in the state by pro­hibit­ing the use of school funds on ath­let­ics. Col­leges must now fund ath­letic de­part­ments through their own booster clubs. The re­stric­tions are still in place to­day.

Fisher re­tired in June 1994. The Ger­ald H. Fisher Cam­pus Cen­ter was of­fi­cially ded­i­cated with key­note speak­ers Sen. Dale Bumpers and Gov. Jim Guy Tucker.

State leg­is­la­tion passed in 1991 led to the merg­ers of many of the state’s vo­ca­tional schools, but Hot Springs vot­ers re­jected the mea­sure. Qua­paw even­tu­ally be­came the Qua­paw Tech­ni­cal In­sti­tute in July 1991. Prospects for a merger stalled un­til Sally Carder be­came the di­rec­tor at Qua­paw in 2000 and talks re­sumed. A two-year fea­si­bil­ity study cleared the way for a merger.

The two sides de­cided to be­gin with a new name, new mis­sion and a new logo in­stead of merg­ing into one or the other. Gar­land County and Qua­paw taught many of the same cour­ses and con­sisted of du­pli­cate di­vi­sions. Still, both in­sti­tu­tions were funded dif­fer­ently and board seats were gov­erned dif­fer­ently.

“What we had to do was work out all of those de­tails,” Carder said. “And the good thing about it, go­ing through the process that we went through, we were able to put to­gether – in leg­is­la­tion – ben­e­fits that were the best ben­e­fits from Qua­paw and the best ben­e­fits from the col­lege. There is no other in­sti­tu­tion in the state that has the ben­e­fits pack­age that we have be­cause we were able to put all of that to­gether.”

National Park Com­mu­nity Col­lege be­gan op­er­a­tions in July 2003. Carder served as

vice pres­i­dent for Tech­ni­cal Ed­u­ca­tion un­til Spencer re­tired in 2005, when she im­me­di­ately suc­ceeded him as pres­i­dent.

A num­ber of build­ings have been added in the decade since the merger, the pop­u­la­tion soared to over 4,000 for a se­mes­ter in 2011 and the stu­dent body now con­sists of a ma­jor­ity of tra­di­tional stu­dents ages 18-24. Some of the changes have been aided by an im­proved per­cep­tion of com­mu­nity col­leges.

“I think over the years, the recog­ni­tion and the cred­i­bil­ity of the com­mu­nity col­leges have grown,” said Su­san Aldridge, as­sis­tant to the pres­i­dent at NPCC.

“It took a while for (par­ents) to trust us with their 18-year old chil­dren,” Cook said. “They just didn’t. It took a while for that to hap­pen.”

Briscoe, Chesser, Cook and Flen­niken are just a few ex­am­ples of fac­ulty mem­bers who have been with National Park for the long haul and it is likely that only Chesser, who was prin­ci­pal at South­west, would live or work in the area if not for the col­lege.

An in­evitable staff turnover and ever-im­prov­ing tech­nol­ogy are the most sig­nif­i­cant changes on their way to National Park. The col­lege fights to keep up in tech­nol­ogy de­spite state fund­ing drop­ping from 80 per­cent of the bud­get to 58 per­cent.

The ad­di­tion of a tech­ni­cal cam­pus re­mains a pri­or­ity for National Park, de­spite vot­ers re­ject­ing an at­tempt to in­crease the col­lege’s mil­lage from 0.8 mills to 2.5 this April by a 60-40 mar­gin.

“What hasn’t changed are the fa­cil­i­ties that we have on the tech side,” Carder said. “It’s to the point you don’t want to pour money into a rat hole. We’ve got it as good as I guess we could have it. We’ve got to start sup­port­ing that side. We still have wait­ing lists.”

Carder said fac­ulty at Hen­der­son love stu­dents from the National Park. She said that shows that the school’s stu­dent-first ap­proach is what still makes it suc­cess­ful af­ter 40 years.

Regis­tra­tion by com­puter

Story by Jay Bell Pho­tos by Mara Kuhn and Richard Ras­mussen and courtesy of National Park Com­mu­nity Col­lege

1982-83 Lak­ers Base­ball Team

National Park Com­mu­nity Col­lege fac­ulty and staff gather for a photo to cel­e­brate the school’s growth dur­ing the past four decades.

National Park Com­mu­nity Col­lege Pres­i­dent Sally Carder stands in front of a por­trait of the first col­lege pres­i­dent Ger­ald Fisher.

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