I was working on episode four of Meridian Community College's 75 year journey when I learned of the passing of my friend and colleague Jack Shank. Thus, I put our glance at the formative years of public education in our community on hold so we could celebrate Jack's life and significant role in MCC's history.
George Kline Shank, Jr.'s childhood home on 49th Avenue was within several blocks of MCC's Highway 19 North campus. A graduate of Meridian High School and Meridian Junior College alum, he and I met in August of 1963 when I joined MJC at our then location within the current Meridian High School campus. Jack's portfolio included teaching history, managing "evening credit classes," a variety of "community non-credit activities," school district public relations, counseling, photography, student camera club and a variety of other related duties.
Underpinning the variety of job related tasks were his love of this community, his family and faith, his appreciation of craftsmanship, his background as a student of public administration and history, his service as a combat infantryman, his post-war experiences in Trades Training for veterans and his teaching experience at MHS/MJC. He was, one might say, "a Jack of all trades."
His story, our nation's story, the history of our community and the post-war emergence of the community college "movement" were well met. The close of WWII brought enormous educational challenges. Our nation was profoundly changed as "the greatest generation," enabled by the GI Bill, found opportunity in our rapidly growing universities, colleges, junior colleges, and vocational/technical schools.
In 1963 plans for the relocation of MJC away from its MHS home of some 26 years were underway. Jack Shank was unusually well prepared to lead the adult learning work of the "new" MJC. In the summer of 1964 MJC moved from MHS to the old Stevenson Elementary School at 25th Avenue between 10th and 11th Streets.
How did adult education fare with Jack as the point person? The initial "evening registration" was about two and half times expected enrollment. The line went out of the building and almost around the block. Our students endured this inconvenience with grace and we were busy and elated. More than one of the critics of the move to "Stevenson Tech" became community college fans.
For the following 23 years Dean Shank led MJC's continuing education activities. Beginning with Lockheed, Jack set a course of innovative industry and business training partnerships. He led implementation of a number of Manpower Training Act programs focused on lifting skill levels in local businesses in our area. His work in this arena positioned MJC to become a state leader in workforce development.
Jack's experience with adult education moved MJC forward as a leader in adult basic education, community based Literacy Education and in vocational-technical education for adult learners. The General Education Development program or GED was a special interest for Dean Shank. For many years MJC led the state with GED enrollments.
He helped establish the nationally recognized Teen Learning Center (TLC) partnership between the Meridian Public Schools, MJC, the Lauderdale County Health Department and the community.
Don't overlook the Lauderdale County Literacy Council and its many volunteers that helped scores of adults become readers. Another hat Jack wore was the development of the University of Southern Mississippi's upper-division and graduate program delivery at NAS Meridian and at MJC. And the list could go on!
There are tensions of purpose and policy between the "college" serving role and the "community" serving role. Frankly, it is easier to upbuild colleges than to upbuild community. Jack Shank helped all of us keep our eye on "serving this community" in innovative and compassionate ways. He opened wide the door of opportunity! And for his colleagues he modeled servant-leadership.
Dr. Bill Scaggs is President-Emeritus of MCC. The opinions and perspectives contained in this column are his alone.