Wednesday, December 23, 2015

TOP STORY >> McKay ends 50-year career

ASU-Beebe Public Relations

Dr. Eugene McKay, chancellor at Arkansas State University-Beebe, will retire in January after 50 years of service to the institution.

There will be a reception given in his honor from 1 until 4 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8 at the student center, which has been renamed the Dr. Eugene McKay Student Center in recognition of his 50 years of service to the institution.

McKay has led the university for more than 20 years as chancellor, and before that he has served in various roles from instructor to administrator.

Karla Fisher, who has been vice president of academics at Butler Community College in Kansas, will succeed McKay.

Born in 1941 to a farming family in Amagon (Jackson County), McKay says he learned an appreciation for hard work at an early age.

“We worked daylight to dark. We would milk the cows, eat breakfast, and head to the fields to chop or pick cotton,” said McKay. “I learned that once you start something, you don’t quit.”

Along with his older brother and younger sister, McKay attended small rural schools at Amagon, Wiona and Charlotte.

“Three things have helped me throughout my life - the value of hard work, endurance, and setting goals. I have used these in all my life experiences,” he said.

McKay’s journey in education began during high school at Bradford (White County). He excelled in English, writing and reading. During that time, he had the opportunity to meet with a recruiter at Lyon College (formerly Arkansas College) in Batesville, who suggested that he sign up for classes.

With no money to attend college, McKay said the recruiter helped him get a job on campus to pay for classes.

“I relate to the sacrifice and struggle many students experience in getting a college degree,” said McKay. “Education changed my life. I was the only one in my immediate family to attend college. We didn’t realize there were other options available.”

“I was a C+ student in high school, but the recruiter at Lyon College believed in me,” he said.

At Lyon College, McKay received a bachelor’s in English in 1964. He then taught high school English and French at Alton, Mo., for two years before teaching English and French at ASU-Beebe from 1966 until 1987.

McKay said it was ironic that French was his minor in college, but was the reason for every job he obtained during those early years of teaching.

McKay, along with his late wife Dr. Judy McKay, also served as residence hall parents at ASU-Beebe in the former men’s dormitory, Quapaw Hall. One of the conditions of his employment as an instructor was that he had to earn a master’s degree.

In 1968, McKay received a master’s degree in English from the University of Arkan-sas. Then, in the early 1970s, he and his wife attended the University of Mississippi, and both completed doctorates in English.

McKay became vice chancellor for academic affairs in 1987. Then, in 1994, with the unexpected death of Chancellor William (Bill) H. Owen Jr., McKay accepted the chancellor position in 1995.

“I didn’t want to be an administrator,” he said, “and I certainly didn’t want to be the chancellor, because I felt teaching was the best way to help people with their education. But I have seen my work and mission as the same.”

He credits the team of administrators and division leaders who have successfully led ASU-Beebe over the years.

Under his leadership, the university’s enrollment has grown from 2,800 in 1995 to 6,347 students during the past academic year, and ASU-Beebe has opened branches in Searcy and Heber Springs.

ASU-Beebe also offers classes at Little Rock Air Force Base.

“The air base campus was established in 1965, the year before I came. They are celebrating their 50th year this year,” said McKay.

All of the campuses have seen major expansions and renovations under his tenure.

One of the first programs McKay helped implement as chancellor was a partnership with John Deere to acquire the Agriculture Equipment Technology program in 1995. The university sought legislative support to garner the $135,000 to start the program. The John Deere Ag Tech program has since grown into the largest John Deere program in the U.S. and Canada.

He also helped establish the veterinary technology program in 2007.

Students can also earn an associate’s degree completely online. Approximately 1,400 students are enrolled in online coursework. “We’ve come a long way since obtaining the first computer on campus in the mid-80s. You have to be flexible, innovative and willing to keep up with new courses and programs in demand,” said McKay.

ASU-Beebe received in 2011 the Aspen Award, which placed the university in the Top 10 percent of two-year colleges based on retention and graduation rates, and State University.Com listed ASU-Beebe as the safest college in the U.S. for several years. The university has also been designated as a military friendly school.

McKay serves on the Beebe, Cabot and Searcy chambers of commerce. Beebe chamber president from 2003 to 2004 and is recipient its lifetime achievement award.

This year, the Beebe chamber honored him as the ASU-Beebe Educator of the Year Award. He continues to serve on several boards, including Unity Health, formerly White County Medical Center, and United Way of White County.

McKay has also served on the Advancing White County Steering Committee and is an active member of the Beebe Lions Club. He has been an active member of the Beebe First United Methodist Church.

He is now looking forward to retirement and spending more time with his grown sons, Shaun, Kevin and Robert, and their families.

“I want to be able to see each of my 11 grandchildren achieve their education,” said McKay.

Even though McKay plans to attend fewer meetings during retirement, he will continue his involvement in several community service groups. He also plans to oversee the Dr. Judy McKay scholarship, established by family and friends to honor his wife who died in 2013 of breast cancer.

His wife was a retired associate professor of English and former director of the Learning Center at ASU-Beebe. This fall, the first recipient was awarded the scholarship. “We both loved reading and teaching English,” said McKay. “Judy would have been happy that the scholarship will help others achieve their education.”

An avid gardener, McKay will most likely be found tending flowers at his home in the Stoney Point community. Additionally, McKay and his sister, who was born on his second birthday, are planning a cruise.

ASU System president Dr. Charles Welch, who worked with McKay as vice chancellor for academic affairs for several years, said, “He has devoted his entire life to helping people achieve their dreams.

“Personally, he has been a mentor and friend to me. His trust and confidence have allowed me to experience outstanding opportunities in my own professional career. His integrity is beyond reproach and after 49 years in higher education he still enjoys an incredible reputation.

“Simply stated, Eugene McKay is a good man who has done extraordinary work in his life. While he will certainly be missed after retirement, his legacy will live on for many years to come in the countless lives he has touched,” Welch said.

McKay said, “I have enjoyed my work and helping people achieve their goals. I believe if you love your job, you don’t ever have to work.”