Mesalands Community College bade farewell last week to one president while welcoming another just in time for state legislators to pay the college a visit.
Mesalands President Emeritus Phillip O. Barry was honored at a retirement ceremony Wednesday. About 100 community members attended the lunch event.
Mesalands Board of Trustees Chairman J. Bronson Moore said Barry, who spent the last 15 years as the college president, was instrumental in the college’s success.
“He’s not only done a wonderful job here, he’s put Tucumcari on the map and has probably done more for Tucumcari and Quay County than anybody else or a combination of people,” Moore said. “I certainly believe that and I’m going to stick to it.”
State Rep. Dennis Roch commended Barry for his ability to work with politicians to secure funding for college initiatives.
“He knows who to talk to if the funding comes under attack or if our programs come under attack or other competing schools try to get into our area of service. He has really been exceptional and natural at playing defense,” Roch said.
Mesalands rodeo coach C.J. Aragon presented Barry with a commemorative plaque on behalf of the rodeo team.
“In 1998, Dr. Barry was instrumental in starting the Mesalands rodeo team and over the course of the last 13 years we’ve had five coaches and over 325 students that have benefited from his insight on starting the rodeo team. This year we’ve had one of our best years ever thanks to Dr. Barry and all the support that he’s given us,” Aragon said.
Barry spoke near the end of the event. His speech began with jokes and ended on an emotional note as he thanked his family, staff and board trustees for their efforts over the years.
“In 1996 when I arrived at Mesa Technical College ... they had three failed attempts at accreditation. When I took the job, when I was in Iowa, (the state Department of Education) called me immediately ... to inform me the college had a budget for next year for three months and that if I couldn’t turn the college around in three months there wouldn’t be any more budget,” Barry said. “Shortly after that, Governor Johnson called me to his office. The quote was ‘You need to understand that you are the last president in,’ and that if I couldn’t turn the college around, he personally would be closing the college here in Tucumcari.”
Barry said the school was in dire straits both financially and organizationally. He said it took much time and effort to straighten those issues out and convince state legislators to take the school seriously.
“The college had recently asked the state permission to award college degrees to entire families,” Barry said. “It was creative to say the least.”
Though Moore had earlier given Barry the lion’s share of credit for the college’s growth, Barry emphasized the importance of the community’s support for Mesalands.
“(Mesaland’s success) was all because the community got behind the college,” Barry said. “I was fortunate to have a staff that cared about students and went to great lengths to make them successful.”
A Chicago native, Barry said he planned to move to Michigan after retiring.
Mesalands President Mildred Lovato showed up for her first day of work at Mesalands Friday. One of her first actions as the college’s new president was to organize a meeting of the New Mexico Legislative Interim Economic and Rural Development Committee at the college Wednesday and Thursday.
Lovato said she thought it would be a good idea to show committee members how the college’s wind energy program contributes to the community and clean energy industry.
“This is a really important time, not only for the college but the community because of the situation we’re in nationally, regionally and locally with economic development,” Lovato said. “(State legislators) are here to get a better idea of what we have to offer and what issues we face. That’s how we’re starting out with this transition.”
Lovato has 13 years of experience in higher education. She earned her doctorate degree in educational administration from the University of New Mexico. A native New Mexican, she comes to Mesalands from Bakersfield Community College in Bakersfield, Calif., where she became vice president of student services in 2005. Mesalands trustees announced Lovato’s hiring April 6.
“I would like to invite anyone to come visit the college, to come by and ask questions and meet with our great staff and myself. It’s an open-ended invitation,” Lovato said. “I’m anxious to get out in the community and listen to what people have to say.”