When Jan Parker says she “did a little traveling” after graduating from Wahama High School, she isn’t kidding. In fact, the teenager, with her parents' permission, took off across the county with a friend for a five-year odyssey that would take her to the mountains of New Mexico, the heart of Kansas City, and to the seashore in San Diego, Calif.
Actually there was no master plan to her travels. “I just wanted to see what it was like in the West,” she says matter-of-factly. She supported herself with a series of jobs, secretarial gigs and selling cosmetics among others. It was a grand adventure, a carefree life the young Mason County girl had dreamed about, a cure for her wanderlust. But eventually she longed for the green hills of her home state and knew it was time to head home.
And more than that, it was time for her to embark on a career path, Parker, who is an administrative assistant senior in the Graduate Dean’s office, says. Although she had been "footloose and fancy free" for the past several years, she needed to give some serious thought to the rest of her life and Marshall loomed large in her future. “I’ve always liked business practices and accounting, they’re so structured, so I decided to major in accounting. After a while I decided I would rather work in higher education but I went ahead and got my accounting degree and I’m glad I did. That’s something no one can take away from you.”
There was a bonus to her Marshall years—she met her husband, James, a Vietnam War veteran who was working on a social work degree. Parker received her degree in 1982 and the couple married two years later. She fulfilled her wish to work in higher education when she was hired for a secretarial position in the academic accounting department, a position she held until 1988 when she took time off to be with the couple's three children.
And the couple passed their Marshall legacy to their children. Daughter Jenna has two degrees from Marshall and currently works for Mount West Community College, while Jodi has a biology degree and is completing a master’s degree. Son J.T. chose another career path and is attending a recording arts school in Ohio.
The whole family are avid football fans and attend games in good years and bad to cheer the teams on.
Parker returned to the university in 2000, this time working in the Graduate Dean’s Office, a position she loves. She has high praise for the people she deals with daily. “I work with a lot of offices, both academic and administrative. I have a lot of contact with departmental people and they are just great. They make my job easier.”
And she’s known for her empathy and helpfulness for the graduate students she sees daily. If there’s a way to solve a problem or make the graduate experience easier, she’ll find it with her soothing, calm demeanor. “Our students are under a lot of stress,” she says. “Usually they have a full-time job, they’re taking classes and many have families with children. They have so much stuff going on in their lives, so if they slip up on something and I can help them get back on track, that’s what I’m here for. Seeing the students make it to graduation is so rewarding.”
With their family close by, the Parkers find plenty to do in the Huntington area. She particularly likes scoping out craft fairs. “I’m not the least bit crafty but I enjoy seeing what others do and I can buy the items that appeal to me.” They enjoy traveling to the periodic reunions of Vietnam War veterans that have been held in various areas of the Midwest and South. But mostly the family enjoys their home and each other.
Looking back on the
years of carefree adventure that followed her high school graduation, it’s
still a source of amazement to Parker that her parents allowed her to set off
cross country, virtually alone, but she’s grateful for the confidence they had
in her. “That was very generous of them. It was a different time and I would
have second thoughts if one of my kids wanted to do this. It was a wonderful
time for me; I got to see so many different cultures. I made a good friend in
New Mexico and we still keep in touch. But I’m glad I got right back on track
when I came home. Coming to Marshall was one of the best things I ever did. I
met my husband, I got my degree, I got my job. I couldn’t ask for a better
place to work or better people to work with.”
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