After a more than four-month postponement due to COVID-19, Weatherford College was able to hold its 2020 Alumni Awards Luncheon on Friday, Aug. 28, at the Doss Heritage and Culture Center.
Dr. Tod Allen Farmer, WC president, was recognized as the 2020 Alumnus of the Year and Dr. Jeanine Irby and Col. Thomas MacKenzie were honored as Distinguished Alumni Award winners.
Dr. Irby recently passed away and was memorialized by WC Board of Trustees vice chair and former WC instructor Sue Coody. Due to COVID-19 concerns, Coody issued her remarks via a pre-recorded video.
“She began her higher education in 1959 at Weatherford College studying under professor Jack Harvey who soon recognized her awesome intelligence and encouraged her to pursue additional degrees,” Coody said. “She often proudly shared with us stories of driving a school bus as she earned her bachelor’s degree at TCU after earning her Associate in Arts degree at Weatherford College.”
While teaching English at Azle High School, she completed her master’s degree at TCU, and in 1966 she fulfilled her dream to teach at WC where she retired in 2006 after a 40-year career.
“I was privileged to teach alongside her and learn alongside her for 30 of those years,” Coody said. “Her basic teaching philosophy was founded on the principle that everyone could write, and write well if given the opportunity and the necessary encouragement. And she always referred to her exams as ‘opportunities to excel.’ And her methods worked.”
Coody also read a letter from retired WC art instructor Myrlan Coleman who reflected on her early days at WC when Dr. Irby took her under her wing and made her feel she belonged at WC.
“I soon learned that Jeanine took care of everyone,” Coleman wrote. “She was so giving and unselfish that it was evident that her thoughts were always about others and seldom about herself. Students would stand in line for a long time just to enroll in one of her classes and her classes were always the first to fill and close.
“She not only taught English, but her students learned the way in which one should live with compassion, understanding and a positive attitude. Students of hers might forget other courses and other professors, but none would forget Professor Irby.”
Bob Glenn, the 1997 WC Alumnus of the Year, presented the Distinguished Alumni Award to MacKenzie, his friend and neighbor.
“You know a lot of us after we got out of high school, we were trying to have a dream of a career or job and never reached that career because of a failure or lack of effort, hard work. Not so of our honoree today,” Glenn said before listing off MacKenzie’s list of accomplishments.
MacKenzie joined the U.S. Army right out of high school in 1967 and spent a year in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot where he was shot down by enemy fire multiple times, always escaping serious injury. He left the Army in 1971 and joined the Weatherford Police Department, working the night shift while taking classes at WC during the day courtesy of the G.I. Bill.
He graduated from WC in 1977 and moved on to the University of Texas at Arlington and then to the Baylor College of Dentistry before rejoining the Army to complete his residency as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.
After 33 years in the service, MacKenzie retired as a colonel with dozens of medals and awards for his service to his country. He continued working as a surgeon for several years in Wisconsin before returning to Weatherford.
“Tom MacKenzie knew what he wanted to do and knew how to get there,” Glenn said. “He did take the risk, put forth the effort and found success.”
In his acceptance speech, MacKenzie repeatedly thanked his wife for sticking by his side for 49 years and pushing him, helping him to reach his goals.
“Weatherford College gave me several things: strength, confidence and that drive turned into tenacity. And I’m probably the most tenacious person you know. But I didn’t do this alone,” MacKenzie said. “I’m proud of being an alumnus of Weatherford College because it started here.”
Lin Bearden, Weatherford banker, WC alumnus and former WC board member, introduced President Farmer as the 2020 Alumnus of the Year.
“Our alumnus of the year was clearly a rising star within the Texas A&M University system, most recently serving as the chief of staff for the president of Tarleton State University,” Bearden said as he outlined Farmer’s many leadership roles at Tarleton.
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While at Tarleton, Farmer wrote two professional books, submitted numerous journal publications and reviewed scholarly works. He became known around the state of Texas for educational leadership and was a noted speaker, consultant and professional development mentor for many.
“Two words often used to describe his work: focused and effective,” Bearden said. “In less than three years our alumnus has already dramatically impacted the Weatherford College universe. He has spurred the WC stallion into a full gallop.”
Bearden listed several WC achievements during Farmer’s short tenure as president so far: philanthropy has exploded, the construction of a new Workforce and Emerging Technologies Building in partnership with Texas Workforce Solutions has begun, five new sports are in the works, WC now offers a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree, the college reached All-Steinway status in less than one year and much more.
“Walking across that stage some 33 years ago, I just don’t know if that young man who was awarded an Associate in Arts degree from Weatherford College would ever in his wildest dreams be so bold as to think he would be named the first alumnus to become president of Weatherford College, but yet here we are today,” Bearden said.
“A college, as we’ve heard today, with extraordinary synergy in all ways—growing, thriving, adapting despite a worldwide pandemic; flourishing when others are suffering; expanding, making new partners daily with donors, other institutions, state agencies and business leaders. You can call it luck, good timing, a great community, a beautiful campus, a good economy, tradition, loyalty, whatever you want to call it. I call it leadership.”
As Bearden predicted, Farmer passed on credit for the recent WC successes to the faculty, staff, students, community members, donors and board members.
“Collectively, they are the change agents that are making this world an even greater place one person at a time,” Farmer said. “I will tell you with sincere personal humility that I gladly give Weatherford College all that I have to give as a leader, and yet at times, it is woefully inadequate. The success of Weatherford College is truly a team effort.”
He also reflected on his first day at WC walking up the hill in June of 1985 shortly after graduating from Weatherford High School.
“I honestly wondered if I had what it took to be a successful college student. I came from a very humble background and struggled tremendously just to graduate from high school,” he said. “I was immediately welcomed by warm, caring professors, and although I was intellectually challenged like never before, I found that with a tremendous amount of hard work on my part and the support of my caring professors, I did have what it took to succeed in college.”
His time at WC sparked what he called an “insatiable appetite for learning.” After completing his associate’s degree at WC, Farmer majored in marketing at Tarleton State University, earned a Master of Education degree from Tarleton in 1998 and a doctorate in educational administration from the University of North Texas in 2005.
“My experience at Weatherford College set me on a new trajectory in life,” Farmer said. “Any successes that I had later in academics or career accomplishments began right here at this noble institution.
“And then, 31 years later, my dream did come true. I was able to return to my beloved alma mater as president. I will tell you that over the last two-and-a-half years at Weatherford College, they have been the greatest years of my life. There is no place on Earth I’d rather be than right here.”
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