The first impressions of Frank Parker, Vice President of Student Services at Sam Houston State University, are of a figure almost larger than life. He is blessed with an engaging, charming personality made perfect with an ever-present smile.
He would be the first to tell you how his 35 years of service to the university seem to him as something that started only yesterday. To a number of students around the campus, he still remains in their eyes the “Coolest Bearkat” of them all. Why not, he is credited with approving some of the most up-to-the-minute student activities—all designed to produce one of this country’s most well-rounded student populations. This makes him perhaps one of the most compelling embodiments, manifesting the ideals that represent one of the fastest growing institutions of higher learning in the southern United States.
“One thing I’ve always believed is that life is too short to smoke a bad cigar. That’s my only vice. So I pride myself on being an Arturo Fuente Double Chateau Natural Toro guy. I’m really into it. But, I started at this university 35 years ago, and even back then it was still difficult to find a place to park. The 35 years just does not seem that long ago to me. People always ask me if I feel old. I tell them the only thing that really shocks me is ‘How did I get here so fast?’ I’ve had a wonderful time. I’ve seen so much progress, so much positive change, and I’ve just enjoyed riding those waves. I just feel like a guy who’s had opportunity to have a few ideas that met with the right type of people who felt a few of them made sense. So, I’ve seen a lot of great things happen here at this university. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I’d be here.”
I thought I’d come here to work a little, make a few dollars, then move on. I always tell people that I hate those “I-started-at-the-bottom-worked-my-way-up” type of speeches. But when I came here, I was assistant director of the student center, which was pretty low on the totem pole. We didn’t have a department of student activities like we do today. I worked concerts and dances…all in all, I must have worked over 60 hours a week.
Back then, we’d show movies on Wednesday nights for 50 cents, concerts, coffee house shows, and dances. I was at every one of them, because I was the program director. I really enjoyed that, and it also helped that I was only 24 years old, young and single, with no children or any other responsibilities. Then one day, I looked up, and I had been here seven years. It was around that time I wanted to start to make a greater contribution.
Well, in 1986 or ’87 I was made assistant dean, which was where I wanted to go. I simply thought that I’d be a dean of students at some small liberal arts college. I came from a small school, Sul Ross State University, in Alpine, Texas. I came from a small town, Bay City, Texas.
I finished in four years from 1973-1977, with a degree in political science. I worked every summer to make sure I could afford to go to school the next year. I was able to pay for most of it by myself, and only remember once ever having to call home and ask for money. Of course back then, if you got $20, you could eat for almost two weeks. Most kids today are too young to remember things like that. Today, that’s one trip to McDonald’s with your friends. Back then, a pizza was $3, or a can of sardines was 26 cents. I remember folks used a lot of Skoal smokeless tobacco back then, even a lot of your hardcore cowgirls.
No. I did try chewing tobacco once. I was with my uncle, who I’d work with putting roofs on houses. One day, he cut some off. It was about 3:30 p.m. in the July Texas heat. He told me not to swallow it. I remember getting so sick. He finally told me to go home, and don’t tell your mama I gave you tobacco.
No. Only because I couldn’t defend the indefensible. But, I think deep down I would be in law enforcement or education. Even though I’ve not taught a course in well over 30 years, I’m still an educator, without a doubt. Once I started working for this university, that light was turned on and never went out. I know I’ve talked about doing something else, but I knew young people were my calling and this would be my vocation. I really couldn’t imagine doing anything else. This has been a great ride for me. That’s why I always tell people, ‘Wow, I got here so fast.’
Yes, I did. I also officiated football in the College Station area. I only did two years of college ball, starting out as a linebacker, then moving to the offensive line. But my education became so much more important.
I started out at 6’ 5” and ended up about 6’ 3”. But, I was also a musician. Back in those days, I was doing drum lines and dancing and all that type of stuff. We had the reputation of being the boogie band from lobo land. We were really rocking and rolling and had a lot of fun. We’d listen to music and come up with our own rhythms, even back then. It was all about creating excitement.
It’s the exponential arm of learning of our students. About 60 percent of all learning comes outside the classroom. For example, there is learning in the residence hall or the student center. It’s not all programs, but everything from recreational sports to resident life. We are involved in the student union, health center, different forms of counseling. All those areas are important parts of the student learning experience.
A lot of people think it’s just fun, but when a student is being recruited, where do you think one of the first places that student is exposed to? The student union. All of these things are important to a student’s learning career. That’s the 60 percent that students and parents look for in the total development.
We help to provide leadership, as well as the official host of the university, Orange Key—not to mention employing over 160 people helping to use strengths-based theories as well. These theoretical elements are well-substantiated aspects of the real world in which we live. We want to be sure that, when a student graduates from Sam Houston State University, they not only have a degree, but if they are invited to a steak dinner, they don’t pick up a steak with their hands. We produce a well-rounded, productive individual.
I don’t select a lot things, but I surround myself with great people. Back in my day when I did programming, I could tell you all the hottest groups in rock, R&B, country. I don’t do that now, but I have great people that surround me who have their finger on the pulse of the times.
I didn’t create this, but around 1987 I brought back to life the motto in the student handbook. I happened to be reading a book called Vision Realized, a history of the university. The book talked about the motto, so I started putting the motto in the student handbook, and it caught on. Now, everyone talks about “The Measure of a Life is its Service.” I didn’t create it, but I like to think I played a part in echoing that sentiment our students carry to the world through lifelong learning, research, leadership, volunteering, and all sorts of creative endeavors. I take a small measure of personal pride in the fact that I had a small part in reintroducing this profound concept into effect again. I never knew the affect it would have. People started talking about it and using it, and it became important again.