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Dr. Stockton honored as 2013 Ozarks Ambassador

Dr. Jim Stockton, 2013 Ozarks Ambassador Award RecipientAccording to Dr. Jim Stockton, there are two kinds of people in this world.  Some people want to say ‘yes,’ while others are more likely to say ‘no.’

“We need both personality types to make things work,” says Stockton, “but I like to tackle things and get them done.”

For more than 35 years, as a coach, instructor, public relations director, vice president for institutional advancement, and interim president, Jim helped move North Arkansas College forward.

In recognition of the many ways he represented Northark and the area with distinction during his career, Stockton will be honored Friday, May 3, as the 2013 recipient of the Ozarks Ambassador Award.

The award presentation, during the North Arkansas College Foundation’s annual Evening on the Plaza Dinner at 6:30 p.m. in the L.E. “Gene” Durand Center, will be preceded by a 6 p.m. reception in the FedEx Freight Atrium at Northark’s Center Campus.  Tickets are available for $30 each by calling Jacquie Markle (870- 391-3159).

In 1977, Northark had two part-time job openings: women’s basketball coach and public information officer.  The Harrison Daily Times also needed a sports editor.

Dr. Bill Baker, Northark’s founding president, and the late J.E. Dunlap, Jr., publisher and owner of the Times, got together and offered all three jobs to Stockton.

Of course, he said, “Yes.”

Over the next 11 years, the Stockton-coached Lady Pioneers won 248 games and lost only 77.  Three times they won the Arkansas Junior College State Tournament, reaching the finals six of the eight times the event was held, and they were nationally ranked in Division 1 of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).

Jim’s teams won games all over the country—from Pensacola, Florida, to Peoria, Illinois—and all over the world—from Australia and New Zealand to Europe.  In 1985 the Lady Pioneers bested Harvard in a series of games against common opponents to capture the Holland Cup.

As public information officer and, later, director of public relations, Stockton’s career accomplishments earned him the 2004 D. Richard Petrizzo Award, the highest honor presented by the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations, the association of America’s two-year college public relations professionals.  He remains the only person from Arkansas ever to receive the honor.

After two years working part-time at Northark and the Harrison Daily Times, and with a newly earned master’s degree from the University of Arkansas, Stockton was employed full-time at the college in 1979.  “It’s funny how things work out for the best,” he says.  “Looking back, I wouldn’t trade those two years working for J.E. at the paper.”

Two things Jim did as coach of the Lady Pioneers set up the next phase of his career.  First, he raised more than $25,000 three different times to take his basketball team on trips to New Zealand (1983), Europe (1985), and Australia (1987).  Second, his international travel, including a month-long trip to Africa as a participant in the State Department’s Sports America program, helped shape his global view.

In 1987 the college was looking for an executive director for its foundation.  Dr. Baker offered him the job and, of course, Stockton said, “Yes!”

One year later, the college received an invitation for someone to attend a luncheon hosted by the Arkansas Council for International Visitors.  ACIV was interested in starting associate councils in cities outside of Little Rock.

“Dr. Baker handed me the invitation.  He said, ‘If you want to, go, or throw it in the trash,” Jim remembers.  Stockton went to the luncheon, which, he says, “changed my life.”

In short order, North Arkansas College established the Harrison Council for International Visitors, and over the last quarter of a century, Northark and Stockton have hosted more than 200 visitors from about 80 different countries through the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitors Leadership Program.

Stockton was twice elected president of the ACIV board and served more than eight years on the board of the National Council of International Visitors, including more than three years as that board’s chair, “one of the greatest experiences of my life,” he says, noting the opportunity to meet and work with foreign and U.S. government leaders.

The first person ever elected again after two terms on NCIV’s board, Jim chaired the organization’s 50th Anniversary National Meeting in 2011 and also led its successful search for a president and chief executive officer last year.

However, his work as executive director of the North Arkansas College Foundation is perhaps Stockton’s most important legacy as a professional.  From 1987 to early 2013, Stockton led the college’s fundraising efforts.  Along the way, Jim completed his doctorate in the administration of higher education in 1994.

On Stockton’s watch the foundation helped fund the Durand Center, Bradley Student Center, Baker Amphitheatre, 14 endowed chairs, more than 80 scholarship funds, the John Paul Hammerschmidt Lecture Series, Economic Update Breakfast Series, and numerous special events.

A pioneer in community college fundraising in Arkansas, Jim was the state’s first vice president of institutional advancement at a two-year college.  From the start, he has worked with an exceptional group of community volunteers.

“Clearly, I’m not objective,” Stockton says, “but I think our foundation board has been the best nonprofit board in Harrison for almost three decades.  I’m grateful that so many busy and talented people have taken the time to help us raise money for the college.”

For most of those years, Jim also served as board president of the North Arkansas Partnership for Health Education (NAPHE), Northark’s partnership with North Arkansas Regional Medical Center.  “I don’t deserve much credit for NAPHE’s accomplishments, but I’m really proud of the things Dr. Rick Hinterthuer and, now, Sherri Hinrichs and their staffs have done,” he says.  “We have a model program in healthcare continuing education and community health education.”

Government Relations and Interim President

Dr. Jeff Olson, the second president of North Arkansas College, gave Stockton another opportunity he gladly accepted in 2007.

“Really, I asked Jeff for the chance to handle our state government relations,” Jim remembers, “and he was very supportive.”

Stockton already was looking after federal government relations.  His trips to Washington, D.C., often at NCIV expense, resulted in more than $1 million in federal appropriations (earmarks) for such projects as the Allied Health Addition, Durand Center, and classroom technology.

“I had good contacts at the state level,” Stockton says, “and I knew our local people—or I got to know them.  Plus, I’ve always been interested in politics.”

After a strong start during the 2007 legislative session, Northark received more general improvement funds in 2009 and 2011 than any other two-year college in Arkansas, including $1,029,000 in 2009.  Those funds helped start the Carroll County Center in Berryville, and build the Bradley Student Center and Durand Center, among other projects.

When Olson retired five months earlier than expected, the college’s board turned to Stockton and gave him one last and very special way to serve Northark.  He was the college’s interim president from Feb. 1 through June 30, 2011.

During his 150 days at the helm, Jim and his staff produced a $475,000 operating surplus, enjoyed the college’s biggest spring semester enrollment (2,381) in recent years, settled a major lawsuit, remodeled the basketball team locker rooms, started the college on the path to new science facilities, and saw a record number of groups from outside Boone County come to Harrison for meetings and conferences in the Durand Center.

Stockton booked Larry Gatlin to be a speaker (and singer) in the John Paul Hammerschmidt Lecture Series, and raised the funds to bring the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra to the Bill Baker Amphitheatre.  He handled all of the college’s major activities—including Commencement and Evening on the Plaza—and organized the event introducing Dr. Jackie Elliott as Northark’s new president.

“Those 150 days were unforgettable.  I’m so grateful for the support I received,” Jim says.  “I tried to focus on our wonderful employees and their contributions to Northark’s success, and it was lots of fun—and work.”

Life After Northark

Jim Stockton retired January 31, after 35 years and five months at North Arkansas College.  He and his wife, Gail, are enjoying the freedom of this phase of their lives.  They have already done some traveling, and have more plans on the horizon.

“Gail is the most important person in my life,” Jim says.  “Now I have lots more time to spend with her and our family.”

Two of their sons live in Harrison.  Brian Warner and his wife, Stephanie, have three sons: Hunter, Dane, and Chance.  Jon Warner and his wife, Pam, have three daughters: Chasey, Addi, and Eliana.  Jamie Stockton, Jim’s and Gail’s youngest son, and his wife, Mandy, live in Germantown, Tennessee.

Looking back on his career at North Arkansas College, which bridged all or parts of five decades of his life, starting when he was 28 and ending when he was 63, Jim says it’s easy to see how one assignment led to the next.

“The fundraising and travel in coaching gave me an opportunity to run the foundation and the idea to become involved with NCIV,” he says.  “Those experiences, plus my background in public relations, prepared me for government relations.  And the leadership opportunities that came my way with NCIV, along with all of the above, helped me be ready to be president.”

Just before he retired, Jim taught a seminar for an employee leadership group at the college.  One of the points he stressed came from a familiar theme in his career:  “Have the reputation for doing a good job, and be ready to step up, not back, when opportunities come your way.”

In other words, just say “yes.”