A Life at Navarro College

By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

Yes We Can

This Thursday, Navarro College formally turns 75 years old. Over the past seven and a half decades, the college has created a lot of memories for people in the community and surrounding areas. For me, that red bricked campus just off of Seventh Avenue built a lifetime of personal experiences.

Most people know my father was Jim Chapman, the state and local/national government teacher. Dad worked at the college for around 40 years, starting in the 1960s before eventually retiring in the 2000s. When I was a child, he would regularly bring me to his office on the second floor of the Albritton Administration Building, and I would usually while away the hours playing in the halls while he taught night class.

Dad’s life at Navarro regularly became our family’s life at home as faculty members would regularly drop by the house. Dan Nesmith, Mike Prim, and Don Mershawn were regulars in my household growing up. I always remember them being kind and respectful to me, always willing to share a joke with me or listen to one of my stories. They would let me sit in on their “adult talk” until I eventually became an adult myself.

Sometimes, I would even become part of the classroom experience. Around the time the Atari 2600 came out, Dr. Richard Miller used me as an example in his psychology class, showing his students how video games influenced hand-eye coordination for children.

That “expertise” came into play again as in 1993, as I collaborated with Dad one of his classroom projects. I’ve remained a lifelong gamer, and after watching me play SimCity for the Super Nintendo, he realized that some of those titles could have practical learning applications. He created a project as part of his class curriculum where students would adopt the role of mayor and city government, making decisions for their fictional city. The project became so popular students would often request more time in the classroom so that they could learn how to manage a city better than anyone else.

His efforts were acknowledged in Washington D.C. in April of 1994, where he was awarded that year’s “Most Innovative Teaching Technique” by the National Council of Instructional Administrators for his unique lesson plan. His work was later published in a booklet, “Student Success Strategies.” Along with Dr. Linda Timmerman, our family got to go to D.C., where I got to experience the museums and culture as part of an early graduation present.

No one told me that I looked like a young Egon Spengler from Ghostbusters. – Photo courtesy of Christina Lucas

Dad often tried to present his subject matter in a digestible and entertaining manner for his classes. He used a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Drumhead” as a warning episode for the abuse of political power and what people stand to lose when fanatical paranoias are used as a substitute for preserving freedoms.

After I graduated high school, I experienced Navarro on a different level as a student with an art major. Unsurprisingly, my relationships with my houseguests-turned-professors changed. Home visits were still very much the same, but now I had to deliver a whole new set of expectations. This also meant my relationship became very different with Dad.

Things were still normal as far as visits went, but none of them held back on making sure my work was done, and in class, I was just another student. A lot of people thought Dad just gave me the A’s I had in class, but I can honestly say, I excelled out a massive sense of anxiety, and was treated as just another student… for the most part.

Look, no one wants to hear how they botched a test over constitutional amendments over dinner or have a professor come in their room to discuss test results. I studied out of a personal peace of mind.

Personal relationships aside, my time in Dad’s class was unique. He loved history as much as his field of study, and was a passionate storyteller. His discussions over the establishment of the Texas republic and retelling of the battle of the Alamo would move him to tears. It was a true dramatic monologue.

By the time my second year rolled around, my interests shifted to radio/television/film. I worked for a while at the NCTV television station in programming before an on-campus flier inadvertently started my journey with Midway. Sure it slowed down my two year journey to five, but I finally finished and got my associates.

It was shortly after that I moved off to Denton and Dallas, then San Diego. When I’d come home for Christmas, I’d still visit the campus and the teachers there. Of course, they’d visit the house when I was in town.

My connection to Navarro’s family was never more apparent until after my Dad passed in 2008. His funeral was a bittersweet reunion, comfort brought by the faces there in remembrance and support. For a while, I couldn’t return to the campus, as it was too painful. I could “feel” my father’s presence in every corner of that building.

I eventually did walk through those doors again, and his remaining colleagues always welcomed me into their offices, eager to hear my stories from the West Coast. With my childhood home sold, it was the only place remaining I could “reconnect” with my father.

The sudden passing of Mike Prim in 2014 was heartbreaking. He and Dad were close friends, and Mike helped me come to terms with “letting go” and reconciling my sense of loss. By this time, most of Dad’s colleagues had retired or moved on, but Nesmith, Laurie Robertstad, and Tommy Stringer always welcomed me warmly. Dad’s friends were my friends.

During one visit in 2017, the college was well into its 70-year celebration. There’s a row of photos by the bookstore highlighting the various events and people over the years. Included in the photos was the picture posted above. I barely noticed the tears streaming down my face when I heard a family member whisper to another: “That’s Jim Chapman’s boy,” before they introduced themselves to me. I was glad to see my Dad’s work remembered.

When I moved back to Corsicana and began writing for the Daily Sun in 2019, I again found myself back on the campus of Navarro College with a purpose, writing about everything from Pearce Museum and student events to Cheer. My journalistic relationship has continued on with the Gazette.

When Thursday’s ceremonies on campus take place, I will be there. I want to honor the remarkable school that has been a part of my life since the beginning. I want to honor the legacy of my father, and I want to honor those instructors and staff who played such a deeply influential role in my life. Age has a way of making you remember and miss people around anniversaries.

These days, I’m still wont to taking the occasional walk around campus with my dogs, or through the Albritton Administration Building. As it turns out, I can feel my father in every corner there. It’s a comforting feeling.

It’s my second home.

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Categories: Opinion