For Gary Damron, life is about opportunities and opening doors. Change can lead to opportunities and the fulfillment of dreams.
“God opens up doors sometimes circumstantially,” Damron said.
The doors of opportunity opened for Damron when he headed to Liberal in 2005 to be the pastor of the Liberal Friends Church. Damron, who had lived in the eastern part of Kansas for most of his life, was a pastor for a Friends church in Kansas City for 21 years.
“The superintendent asked me to come out here and I know some people in that church; they’re good people,” said Damron. The fact that his wife, Barb, hailed from Ulysses provided additional motivation.
“The move was kind of an opportunity for her to get out here, where she grew up,” said Damron. For the rest of the Damrons, “it was a big move for us because we left our [grown] kids behind and most of our family.”
In that previous life back east, Damron was not only a pastor, but a substitute teacher at a high school and an adjunct at community colleges. It was only natural for him to find his way to Seward County Community College when he came to town.
“I’ve always pastored and taught at the same time,” Damron said. Having graduated from MidAmerica Nazarene University with a double major in Religion and History in 1972, Damron had earned a Master’s in American History from Wichita State University in 1985 and did some additional graduate studies in education at UMKC.
“I taught on the side,” Damron said. “I was teaching U.S. History at Longview Community College and driving to Johnson County Community College on Tuesday and Thursday and teaching Western Civilization.”
Damron’s start at SCCC began when he ran into John Loucks, then the SCCC Humanities Division Chair and discovered the college needed someone to teach as an adjunct.
“I started teaching geography, which I never taught before,” Damron said. His real-life love of travel helped him through the unfamiliar subject, as did his natural curiosity. “I pay a lot of attention to world affairs,” he said.
After three years behind the pulpit at Liberal Friends, Damron felt he needed a change. He supplied at several churches before settling in at Lone Star, where he is still the pastor. At that same time, he also headed down a new career path.
“I just felt that I needed the change in ministry again after being there three years,” he said. “It just so happens at the same time the (former) Dean of Academic Affairs Cynthia Rapp was trying to find a way for me to get in over here. With Rhonda Kinser, who at the time was the TRiO/Student Support Services Director, she created a full-time job. I worked part-time at TRiO and part-time at social sciences.”
It was a good beginning. Since that time, Damron is jokingly known as the social sciences department. He has taught 10 different courses during his career at SCCC.
“It started out with geography. Then I got to teach my American History courses,” Damron said. When Dr. Loucks left, I picked up his world civilization, philosophy and ethics classes. Then instructor Lee Courtney left, so I shifted over to the social sciences full-time and left TRiO. I picked up Lee’s government and U.S. history classes and then I settled in with U.S. history, ethics and geography. Those have been my favorite courses.”
Other courses Damron taught included Old and New Testament, Marriage and Family and Sociology.
“I really appreciated the opportunity to teach so many different subjects,” he said. “In most colleges, you get locked in to teaching the same class over and over again. I remember my colleagues at Longview moaning that all they got to do was teach American History I. They never even got to teach American History II.”
According to Damron, receiving the 2011 Teacher of the Year Award, which is a student-nominated award, was a major highlight at SCCC.
“When I won (the teacher of the year award) I asked, ‘who would nominate me?’” he joked. “It just amazed me. Someone told me that the students appreciate you because ‘you are hard and your expectations are high and fair.’ I think I’m considered a tough teacher. I like to be consistent. To me, it’s an ethical issue. If you’re my favorite student I’m going to teach you the same way as someone who gives me a headache.”
Damron also received the 2013 National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) Excellence Award, which is an administrative/faculty/staff-nominated award. Finally, he serves on the executive council of Kansas Association of Historians.
While Damron has visited 49 of the 50 states (the exception is Hawaii), he has never traveled abroad.
“We got a passport 10 years ago, but never used it,” Damron said. “My daughter went to school in Germany, went to school in China and worked in Uganda. We got the passport just in case she got stuck somewhere and needed help, but we never used it.”
Damron has traveled out of the country to Canada and Mexico, “but never across the ocean,” he said. Now that he’s retiring, perhaps that will change. “We would like to travel go to Italy, Greece, Turkey and Barb wants to see Israel.”
In additional to traveling, Damron wants to write.
“I have 40 books I want to write,” he said. “They’ll be devotional and historical books. I plan to get up in the morning and spend four hours writing, take the middle of the afternoon and tour the lake and in the evening, I’ll work on my sports memorabilia collection.”
Despite his detailed plans, leaving the world of academia is somewhat bittersweet for Damron.
“The only reason I’m leaving is because I’m getting old enough where it’s hard to do two jobs,” he said, alluding to a second local pastorate he took on during his tenure at SCCC, Lone Star Friends Church, east of Hugoton. “I don’t have the energy. I’d love to keep doing this job, but my wife has been retired for three years. I’m going to stay at the church for a year. We bought a small condo in the Lake of the Ozarks and then we’re retiring there.”
More than the adjustments ahead, Damron reflects on his opportunity and good fortune.
“I don’t know if I ever intended to make a career out of teaching — but I love teaching,” he said. “I got to teach what I wanted to, subjects that I’m interested in. I think religion is extremely important and I love history. So, it’s been a really good combination.“
“It’s neat to see the student success,” he added. “I’ve always taught my classes to prepare students, hoping that someday they are going to end up at a four-year college.”
Damron said he’ll miss “just walking onto campus, bumping into somebody in the parking lot. This has been my life. What am I going to do? I know I have still have another job, yet this is my identity. This is who I am … and when I am no longer employed by SCCC, I’ve lost a chunk of my identity. I think anybody who retires goes through that.”
As Damron leaves the campus, this feeling is not unfamiliar for Damron as he said, “I think that’s what happened when I left the church in Kansas City.”
But if that’s the case, Damron should expect more opportunities to come his way. After all, he believes that God opens doors.