Dr. Jerry Parker, 71, of Upper Darby, former president of Delaware County Community College and an educator who worked to make higher learning possible for those with few advantages, died Tuesday, Nov. 20, of cancer at his home.
Dr. Parker had deep roots in Upper Darby. In response to a classified job ad, he moved there four decades ago to begin his career at Delaware County Community College. He served as its leader for 14 years before retiring in 2017.
"Jerry was a compassionate, community-minded visionary who devoted most of his life to educating and training students," said the current college president, L. Joy Gates Black. "Delaware and Chester Counties benefited significantly from his knowledge and passion for higher education. He will be sorely missed by his peers, colleagues, and friends."
Prior to joining the DCCC staff in 1977, Dr. Parker served as an admissions officer at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. His job was to recruit male students for the previously all-female school then going coed. Many of the students he met had never thought of themselves as college material.
"At Vassar, I was the recruiter who visited inner-city high schools, many of which had few advantages, to discuss opportunities for students," Dr. Parker told Town Talk, a local newspaper, in a Sept. 18, 2012, profile. "It sparked my interest in the community-college concept."
Later, he viewed DCCC's mission as being flexible and student-focused, whether pupils trained for jobs or used DCCC as the bridge to a four-year college degree.
"Community colleges have an open-door mission to provide affordable access and opportunity," he told Town Talk. "It is an enormous challenge but one we relish."
"His keen understanding of the unique role that community colleges play in the lives of students, as well as the positive economic impact these institutions have on the regional and state economies, helped shape some of the most significant policy changes in higher education in Pennsylvania, including changes to operating and capital funding allocations," said Elizabeth A. Bolden, president and CEO for the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges. "Dr. Parker's impact and influence in Delaware County, across Pennsylvania, and throughout the nation will continue to be demonstrated by those who were fortunate enough to learn from him."
Dr. Parker's first job at DCCC was assistant to the vice president for administration. Over time, he served as executive assistant to the president for planning, research, and external relations; dean of management systems, planning and enrollment management; and vice president for community and corporate education.
A recurring theme in Dr. Parker's work was the need to train students for the job market and to match those skills with openings in industry. He formed alliances with companies such as Aker Philadelphia Shipyard, Boeing, and Sunoco, Town Talk reported.
His efforts were noticed: He received many awards for his commitment to Delaware and Chester Counties.
In October 2017, the college renamed the Advanced Technology Center at the Marple Campus after him. Three of the college's eight campuses are in Delaware County. Five others are in Chester County.
In March 2017, the Chester County Economic Development Council inducted Dr. Parker into the Chester County Business Hall of Fame for leadership in forging lasting relationships between DCCC and business and industry in Chester County.
In 2016, the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), a national community college advocacy organization, named Dr. Parker CEO of the Year for the group's Northeast Region. That same year, the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce presented Dr. Parker with its President's Award.
Born in Kingston, Luzerne County, in Pennsylvania's coal country, he graduated from Wyoming Seminary, a preparatory school in Kingston. He earned a bachelor's degree in American studies from Wesleyan University. He earned a master's degree in adult education and a doctorate in higher education administration, both from the University of Wisconsin.
Dr. Parker is survived by his wife of 45 years, Susan Rufener Parker; children Zack and Jessica; and two sisters. A brother died earlier.
A visitation starting at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, will be followed by an 11 a.m. memorial service at Christ's Community Church, 337 Riverview Ave., Drexel Hill. Burial is private.