By Bob Belcher
Corsicana Daily Sun
He’s only the fifth president the college has had since its inception in 1946.
And, under Dr. Richard Sanchez, Navarro College has experienced record growth and expansion, paving the way for future generations to learn and improve their lives.
Sanchez, 72, is stepping down as district president on Aug. 31. The Daily Sun visited with Sanchez this week to learn his thoughts as he approaches retirement.
Daily Sun: Why retirement now?
Sanchez: I’m 72 years of age. I’ve had 15 wonderful years at this institution, and I’ve had wonderful trustees. I’ve had an absolutely incredible experience. It’s been a highlight of my career. But there comes a time when you have to ask yourself ‘is it time to retire, is it time to leave?’ There are several things Angie and I want to do. At 72, I feel blessed to be healthy and I believe it’s time now to do the things we’d like to do that we’ve not been able to do. ... We’re looking forward to travel and spending more time with family and with Angie.
Daily Sun: Do you remember the campus you came to in 1998?
Sanchez: I remember this campus vividly. The two worst images to me were the Quonset huts that we removed, and that vacant lot that existed next to the Special Events Center and the Gooch Library. When I saw it for the first time, I could ‘see’ the library, and the dining hall, and the clock tower in that space. That’s why I began to develop that as a vision, and look what we have now.
Daily Sun: When you started the college had a presence in Ellis County and Mexia. That has dramatically expanded during your years.
Sanchez: When I came in 1998, the district had just completed building the first wing in Mexia. Shortly after they constructed that there was need for a second wing. ... In Waxahachie, all we had was a ‘cabinet shop’ — it didn’t look like a college campus at all. ... we had a new front designed for it, did some remodeling inside to give ourselves some more room, and then of course came Midlothian. What spawned the idea in Midlothian was a trip I took and observed the tremendous progress there. ... I came back and discussed what I saw with trustees and said we needed to have a presence there. Fortunately, the trustees supported that and we built the campus in Midlothian. ... Now, the Mexia campus has also exceed the capacity so we’re in the process of building an administrative building ... and convert the existing administrative area to classrooms.
Daily Sun: Did you foresee how much growth there would be?
Sanchez: I did not foresee this amount of growth. I knew that Navarro College had the potential to grow dramatically beyond what it was when I came with 3,600 students. I began working with staff and we developed a very aggressive plan for enrollment management. We had our recruiting and marketing department out speaking to students ... and the enrollment began to increase. It was very aggressive marketing plan, and the trustees supported that, and the faculty and staff bought in to the vision, and we moved together, and collectively we brought this campus from 3,600 when I arrived to almost 11,000.
Daily Sun: Where does it go from here?
Sanchez: The college will continue to grow, but what I envision for the college is most of the growth will be coming from Ellis County. ... because the population base and the industrial base from Dallas is now moving south as opposed to north. ... there’s an abundance of property and it’s reasonably priced. That’s the reason I believe Ellis County will someday become a county of 450,000 people.
Daily Sun: What would you call your proudest moment?
Sanchez: I think I have two. One is when I was able to develop the ‘Opening Doors to Success’ program, a program for first-generation, disadvantaged students who have every potential for college but for some reason never thought of attending college. That program is one of my most sacred achievements. And second was bringing Texas A&M/Commerce to the county, and allowing people to access a baccalaureate degree. Every May when we graduate, I see over 100 students earning their baccalaureate degree, and about five to 10 earning their Master’s degree. That didn’t happen before I arrived. I was just so happy that we could encourage the president from A&M Commerce to bring a program here to Navarro College and begin offering this program to our residents, because time and money are very critical, and a lot of these folks don’t have the time or money to access these higher education institutions that surround us in a radius of 50 miles.
Daily Sun: Your darkest moment as leader of the college?
Sanchez: Unquestionably, the darkest moment was in 2004, when we had the horrible basketball accident. We lost two players, we had several that were injured. The ones that were injured recovered very well. I had two recently visit me. ... I’ll never forget a story of one of the players. His name was Elijah. During the accident he had his ankle broken, just about severed from the bone. He went to Baylor and the physicians there were very successful to bringing him back to full use. But one day, someone came to me and said ‘Dr. Sanchez you have to go see Elijah. He’s having a very difficult moment.’ He was having bone marrow transplants to help the ankle. I walked in to Elijah’s room and said ‘Elijah, I understand you are very upset and frustrated, and you just don’t know what to do.’ He said ‘Dr. Sanchez, you are absolutely right. I am tired of laying on my back.’ I told him, ‘Elijah, every time that leg hurts or anytime the doctor does work on that leg and it hurts, I want you to remember that every time it hurts, give thanks, because at least you have your leg back. You just about lost your leg.’ He said ‘Dr. Sanchez, you are right, I will never again complain.’ Today, he plays basketball, he’s just as mobile as can be. You would never believe he had that injury. It’s wonderful.
Daily Sun: What advice have your shared with Dr. Kavalier going forward with Navarro College?
Sanchez: There are two things that I always suggest to people. One is, to be consistent. Consistency is very, very important. The second that I would say is something that has served me very well all these years, is ‘if you do it for one, you better do it for all — if you can’t do it for all, you best not do it for one.’ Those two have kept me out of trouble through my entire career as president. Those are two suggestions I would give a new president, a new administrator, and I believe that these will serve her very well.
Daily Sun: Talk about the support the college receives — what has that meant?
Sanchez: The college has been very fortunate. The college is supported by the Caston Foundation, the Navarro County Educational Foundation, we have scholarships that we provide for students that are absolutely wonderful. ... We have the John Deere program, John Deere has supported the college ever since I came, that’s a wonderful partnership. ... We’ve had very good success with XTO and Cana in the oil and gas program. We just recently met with Anadarko, so those oil companies are very instrumental in helping the college. And, we’ve had a lot of folks that have helped us in year’s past. I’ll never forget Dean Milkes — he is the one who gave me a substantial amount of money to begin the ‘Opening Doors to Success’ program. The foundation has been very instrumental — they constructed the Cook Center, they funded the expansion, and of course, we have to think of Charles and Peggy Pearce. They were incredible, unselfish people that gave the college the artifacts and paintings that are worth several million dollars — it’s all because of Chuck and Peggy. Several people have been very instrumental, so has the community, and business and industry has been very supportive of Navarro College. We’re so appreciative.
Daily Sun: Final question - what’s the first thing you’re going to do in retirement?
Sanchez: Angie and I will be taking a river cruise. We’ll be taking a cruise from Prague down to Paris. ... that’s going to happen almost immediately. We’ll spend about 12 days on that trip. In the spring, I’ve always wanted to go up to the Canadian Rockies. I’ve always wanted to see the Jasper National Forest. I was a ‘backpacker’ in California, and I always heard the Jasper National Forest was a ‘Mecca’ for backpackers. ... I want to see Lake Louise, and I want to stay at the Fairmont Hotel that overlooks Lake Louise. And, I want to take that railroad trip through the Canadian Rockies. ... And, we don’t ‘know’ Texas. I haven’t seen much of Texas, so Angie and I want to come to ‘know’ Texas — south Texas, east Texas, we’re not too interested in going west (laugh) but it’s very pretty when you go east.
The public is invited to attend a retirement reception for Dr. Sanchez from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, at the Cook Center at Navarro College in Corsicana.
Bob Belcher may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: email@example.com