Fred E. Davis, the founding president of State Fair Community College whose mantra was, “Students first,” died Monday morning at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City. He served as president from 1967 to 1984.
Davis, 88, lived in Clinton with his wife Margie. Arrangements are pending.
SFCC President Dr. Joanna Anderson ordered flags at all SFCC campuses to be flown at half-staff in honor and memory of the college’s first president.
“Fred saw the possibilities of what a community college could do for the residents and students of Pettis and Benton counties and the surrounding region,” said Anderson. “He and Margie loved students and worked tirelessly to improve the lives of those they served. Our prayers and sympathy go out to all those who were impacted by this remarkable man.”
Gary Noland, president of the SFCC Board of Trustees, had the opportunity to work with Davis since August 1972.
“I’ve seen firsthand the immeasurable contributions he made to SFCC and the Sedalia community,” said Noland. “Fred loved students; he knew most by their first names, and he was passionate about helping students, faculty, community members, and everyone he knew grow and prosper.”
Before becoming SFCC’s president, Davis served five years as director of junior colleges for the state of Missouri. He assisted in the formation of eight other junior colleges throughout Missouri and held positions on myriad state educational committees.
Because of his position, Davis’ relationship with the college began even before it was officially established through a 1966 election.
When the Sedalia Jaycees traveled to the State Board of Education in Jefferson City in the mid-1960s to seek help in forming a junior college district, they met Davis, who encouraged them to pursue their mission. They were impressed with his enthusiasm, knowledge and guidance.
When Davis was hired as SFCC’s first president on Dec. 1, 1967, no buildings existed. He loved telling the story of his first day on the job.
“That day in December 1967, when I came to work, I had three books I’d brought with me, a cardboard box, a telephone, and three borrowed folding chairs,” Davis said. “You can’t start with much less than that.”
When SFCC opened its doors on Sept. 16, 1968, it consisted of a single building—six modular units connected by a central hallway—furniture, textbooks, 404 students and 18 faculty members. It was christened “Plywood U.” During Davis’ tenure, the college grew from 15 acres of empty fields to a true “bricks and mortar” campus.
Dr. Marvin Fielding, who succeeded Davis as the college’s second president, was the first dean and fourth employee to be hired by Davis in 1968.
“I quickly found Fred to be an ideal founding president,” said Fielding. “He was passionate and knowledgeable about community colleges and was very good with students and the public.
“There’s a saying that an institution reflects the personality of its president. In our case, SFCC reflects the personality and philosophy of its founding president. He insisted this college be a student-centered institution.”
Davis oversaw many important events while at SFCC, including the construction of a student union building and the Charles E. Yeater Learning Center, the college’s first accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the purchase of an additional 113 acres, and construction of the Career and Technology Center.
The idea for the college’s mascot, the Roadrunner, even came from a discussion around the Davis family’s kitchen table. Suggested as a joke, the idea quickly caught on.
Davis laid the groundwork for an academic community that has helped thousands of students realize their dreams and has enriched the quality of life of residents in the communities it serves.
Dick Nash, 1970 Student Government Association president, has fond memories of Davis.
“I was new to Missouri when SFCC opened and Fred made me feel right at home,” said Nash. “In fact, he and Dr. (Steve) Poort talked me into running for student body president. It was an amazing two years and Fred was a huge part of that.”
After retiring in 1984 Davis remained involved in community colleges and served as the first president of Ozarks Technical Community College in the first few months of its founding in 1990.
“Fred did a terrific job of getting OTC started as they searched for the first permanent president,” said Dr. Hal Higdon, chancellor, Ozarks Technical Community College.
When SFCC celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1993, Davis reflected on the college’s rocky start.
“Those folks who said we’d never make it—even bet money we’d fail—I’d love to talk to them now,” he said. “I’d like them to meet all the people who came out just to get a GED, or maybe take one course, and went all the way through to a four-year degree. Those are the real success stories, and they happen every day.”
One of Davis’ biggest dreams was to have an activity center on campus. SFCC’s multipurpose center opened in October 2001, and in July 2004 the college honored Davis by naming the building the Fred E. Davis Multipurpose Center.
Davis remained a vital member of the SFCC family, often visiting the Sedalia and Clinton campuses and attending events. In November 2010 he was named member emeritus of the SFCC Foundation.
Davis took enormous pride in all the college’s accomplishments, from its new facilities and programs to its ever-increasing enrollment.
“I heard a successful SFCC graduate answer a question about her various degrees,” Davis once said. “She said, ‘Oh, I got my degree from a university … but I got my education at State Fair Community College.”