Known throughout the area for his leadership and dedication to excellence, Texarkana College President James Henry Russell was recognized with an outgoing reception Tuesday.
Surrounded by family, administration, community and educational leaders, he was thanked for his seven years of service to the college as its eighth president.
"Someone has said when people move on that it is hard to tell they left," TC Board President Kyle Davis said. "With James Henry Russell, we will know not only that he has left, but that he has been here."
Russell was hired as president of the college June 7, 2011, during the time TC almost had to close its doors. Through much effort, he worked to turn it around and to become the success it is today.
"If education is the movement from darkness to light, as someone said, James Henry's leaving us with the lights on and shining bright," Davis said. "He helped bring TC a long way in a relatively short period of time, but that's not been without its critics. We've heard critics say, for instance, that we may spend too much money. But James Henry always seemed to adopt the opinion of Jeff Rich who said, 'If you think education's expensive, try ignorance.'"
He went on to say that Russell has always appreciated the trustees' duty to stretch tax dollars and gifts to "Herculean limits."
"When he realized the financial situation, he launched the TC Tomorrow Community Challenge campaign to raise funds to stabilize the college," Davis said. "Then he calls on our most notable alum, Ross Perot, and talks him into giving $5 million to the college.
He talked the voters of the entire Bowie County to pay more taxes and passed the historical annexation of Bowie County in 2012, expanding our taxing district from 16 square miles to over a thousand. And he's brought the bankrupt college, with multiple audit findings into 100 percent compliance and we've gotten multiple awards for it. He did all this while being a great community volunteer and balancing his wonderful family."
Prior to his tenure at TC, Russell worked with Texarkana Independent School District for 17 years, four of them as superintendent.
Board Member George Moore, who taught Russell biology in 10th grade and then worked under him, said he was one of the hardest working men he knew, both as a student and friend.
"I heard him make this statement a couple of times," Moore said. "'I may not be the smartest student in the classroom, but I stay up all night long studying to be the best student in the classroom. We all know he was the best student in the classroom. Now, as a friend, if I had a personal crisis, I would not hesitate to call my friend, James Henry Russell, at the midnight hour. But better yet, as a true friend, if he knew I was having a crisis I wouldn't hesitate to call him, he would call me."
Moore also read a letter from Ross Perot, which thanked Russell for his service to the college and community.
It stated: "It has been my pleasure to be associated with you and your great staff over the past several years. Please accept my personal gratitude and appreciation for your tireless efforts to make Texarkana College the finest institution it is today. Your leadership has inspired so many students and all those who have had the pleasure to work alongside you at Texarkana College. I wish you and your family the very best as you take on new challenges."
Russell said his time at TC was definitely the highlight of his professional career.
"I have learned so much, made so many friends and have seen the true heart of our entire community," he said. "I've also seen the power of what this community can do when they want to make something good happen. Today was sad for me because I'm leaving something I love, but there's no question in my mind it's time and I am ready for a great new adventure and I can't thank the Bunch family enough for giving me this possibility."
Russell announced his resignation in September to take the position of executive vice president and chief financial officer for BWI Companies, a wholesaler and distributor of agricultural products. Last month, the TC board hired Dr. Jason Smith, who has served three years as superintendent at Pleasant Grove ISD, as president. He will begin Jan. 1.
Smith earned his bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees at Texas A&M University-Commerce with a focus in education administration, and he completed the superintendent certification program in 2002. He also served as superintendent of Melissa ISD for 11 years after serving as principal at McKinney North High School and Maypearl Middle School. Smith is also co-founder of TeacherTube and served as CEO of the company from 2014-16.
"I have the highest confidence possible in Dr. Jason Smith and cannot be happier with him being selected as the next president of TC and can't wait to see where he, the board the community, faculty and staff take it," Russell said. "I may be leaving TC and I'm going to stay hidden from around here for a while and not get in Dr. Smith's way, but I'm not going far and I'm not going away for long. I'm going to be one of the loudest advocates for community colleges, universities, K12 that you've ever seen in this community and try to stay too because this is important. This place drives the economy, drives lives and it means a lot to me. Serving Texarkana College has been the highest honor of my professional career and I can't thank you all enough for giving me that honor."