CSM’s Campaign for Next 50 Years Envision the potential—Make a difference

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Visionary John Thomas Parran Provided Community With a Legacy

A golden age ago, a core of visionaries in Southern Maryland had the foresight to commit upon a journey to bring excellence in higher education within the grasp of their community.

Envisioning the potential that a community college could make were the likes of Frank Wade, former president of the Board of Education of Charles County, and fellow board member Evelyn Bowling; educators Calvin Compton, Milton Somers, James Sweatt and J.L. Randle; early trustees Mary Jenkins, Frances Dodson, Dorothea Rees, Mosher Wells, C. Paul Barnhart and Frances Slavin; the college’s first dean, Bruce G. Jenkins; and former elected officials such as Charles County Commissioners John Sullivan, Ed Barry and Lemuel Wilmot, and former state delegate and state senator J. Frank Raley Jr.

Among those far-sighted individuals who 50 years ago breathed life into the institution that has become the College of Southern Maryland was former State Senator and Delegate John Thomas Parran Jr., who was one of the college’s most ardent advocates and influential supporters throughout his lifetime.

“Charles County was very small at the time, with maybe 35,000 population and no big projects,” said Sullivan. Serving as a county commissioner from 1954 to 1962, Sullivan described the county he recalled from that time period. “It was a very rural county, and a very conservative county, scarce with money to be throwing around. In fact, it was during that time that the county had its first one-million-dollar budget,” he said, adding, “John Thomas was the one person who was the man of vision, who saw things newer and better for Charles County. He deserves the credit more than anyone else I can think of…John Thomas was the visionary and the man who put that college there.”

Representing Charles County in the General Assembly from 1954 to 1966, first as a delegate and then as a state senator, Parran devoted more than a half-century to public service. Revered as a visionary for Southern Maryland, he was part of the college lay advisory board during the 1960s, and served on the college’s Board of Trustees from 1970 to 1991 and as its vice-chair from 1979-87. He also was a director for the CSM Foundation from 1972 to 2000.

A staunch believer in the community college system, Parran provided financial support to the college and was the first to place money in a trust for the college's Foundation in 1997, envisioning a potential for the college that would outlive himself.

Parran, who died in January 2006, had established a legacy for the college that is among the initial gifts to the college’s five-million-dollar “Campaign for the Next 50 Years: Envision the Potential—Make a Difference.” His final legacy to the college of $328,044 is among the $3,342,000 already received by the college.

“John Thomas was really instrumental in a lot of things legislatively, but the thing he was most famous for after his legislative days was the college. The fact that he was the first person to invest money into the college at a time when no one else was dong so speaks volumes of his passion for this institution and its success,” said Mike Besche, chair of the CSM Foundation’s “Campaign for the Next 50 Years.”

Parran witnessed first-hand the tremendous growth and positive impact the college has had on the community—from offering a few night classes at the local high school beginning September 17, 1958 to becoming a dynamic community institution with campuses in each county of Southern Maryland and that houses everything from the Corporate Center offering customized workforce training, to an active Fine Arts Center that premieres The Washington Ballet program.

Because the college is such a vital provider to the community, Parran had always stressed that businesses and individuals should give back to the college. “The community college gives everyone an equal opportunity to start their education. Those who have businesses in the county ought to give something back to the community,” the longtime Indian Head resident and retired insurance company owner was quoted in October 2001.

“John Thomas really did believe in the mission of the college. What’s more, though, the college from day one unified people politically and socially in this community, and it has been a tremendous source of pride for all who have served it and been affiliated with it ever since,” said Indian Head resident John McWilliams, a longtime friend of Parran’s who has served nearly a decade with the CSM Foundation and whose wife Dianne was a trustee for 10 years. “The college was an effort that everyone got behind. While the founders who as politicians were on opposite sides of each other with regard to everything else, they all were on the same side when it came to creating the community college.”

To learn more about the “Campaign for the Next 50 Years,” visit www.csmd.edu/foundation or call 301-934-7604.

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