Thursday, April 25, 2013

A bricklayer’s legacy

By Rebecca C. Bell
Dean, Community Relations & Special Events


In the early 1970s James R. South (Jim) laid the bricks on the first buildings at Midland College (MC). Forty years later the deceased bricklayer’s wife, daughter and son-in-law now claim MC as their alma mater.

Jim’s wife Heidi took Powder Puff Mechanics during the early years of Midland College in the automotive department of the old Sears store on Cuthbert. Little did she know at the time, that in 2000, MC would purchase that old Sears store and transform it into the state-of-the-art Midland College Advanced Technology Center, and the facility is once again being used for automotive technology training.

Powder Puff Mechanics was just the start of Heidi’s experiences at Midland College. In the early 1980s, she took a computer course, which led to her enrolling in and graduating from the college’s legal assistant (now paralegal) program and eventually enjoying a successful 20-year career. Now that Heidi is retired, she still takes courses at MC through the College Classics program, which is designed for people 50 and over.

Heidi exclaimed, “College Classics is great because I learn new things, meet new people and have taken a couple of trips as part of the program. I loved working as a legal assistant but couldn’t wait to retire, just so I would have time to take the wonderful College Classics courses!”

Heidi’s daughter Joanie has her mother’s thirst for learning. In 1987 Joanie graduated from Midland College with an associate’s degree in general studies. However, she didn’t stop there. She later earned two bachelors’ degrees in history and anthropology and a master’s degree in history from the University of Houston. In addition, she also has a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of North Texas and has completed all of her coursework toward a doctoral degree. Currently Joanie works as librarian and archivist at St. Thomas High School in Houston.


Joanie South-Shelley, her daughter Claire and Heidi South
Joanie, who received tuition assistance at MC through the Abell Hanger scholarship (now entitled the Legacy Scholarship), fondly recalls how her love of learning first began at Midland College: “Attending MC made me get serious about higher education. I was editor of the student newspaper El Paisano during the 1986-1987 school year. My experiences as editor encouraged me to be organized about coursework and meeting deadlines. In the mid-1980s, computers weren’t yet being used for newspaper layout. It took a long time to get an edition ready for print. In fact, one time my mom had to help me type the stories. At other times, I would be at the college late at night in order to meet a deadline, and I would take my dog Jasper with me to keep me company.”

It wasn’t all late nights and publication deadlines for Joanie while she was attending MC—in the spring of 1985, she found love in, of all places, an algebra class. It was Joanie’s first year at the college; however, Curt Shelley had procrastinated taking algebra until his last semester as a respiratory care major.

Curt said, “I wouldn’t advise waiting until the last semester to take a required algebra class, but I guess fate intervened because had I taken algebra earlier, I wouldn’t have been in class with Joanie.”


Curt Shelley
After graduating from Midland College, Curt worked at Midland Memorial Hospital as a Registered Respiratory Therapist. Eventually Joanie and Curt married and moved to Houston where Curt continued his career in respiratory care. The couple has one daughter Claire, age 8, who is in the second grade at Red Elementary in Houston. In 2003, Curt received a bachelor’s degree through an online program at Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey, and in 2009, he received his master’s degree from the University of Houston’s Allied Health Education/Administration program.

For 20 years, Curt has been employed at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, and during the last 5 years, he has served as the ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) coordinator. In this capacity Curt oversees and trains ECMO specialists and physicians in cardiac and respiratory ECMO. In 2007, Curt was named Employee of the Year for the 6,000 employee hospital.

Even with his busy schedule, the 1982 Lee High School graduate still finds time each year to return to Midland and give a presentation on the latest trends in ECMO care to current MC respiratory care students.

Curt Shelley lecturing to current MC respiratory care students on April 3, 2013
“I believe in giving something back to the place where it all started,” explained Curt. “My successful career was based on the superb foundation I received at Midland College. In fact, if a graduate of MC’s respiratory care were to apply for a job in my department, I would give them consideration over other applicants because I know they received great training.”

Curt recalled the words of his mother who was a nurse at Midland Memorial Hospital for many years: “When I told my mother that I wanted to become a healthcare professional, she was so excited because she said that as a nurse she could only care for one person at a time. By having a son in the industry, she could now reach even more people through me. I guess I have that same feeling when I conduct training sessions and visit with students at Midland College. I am imparting my knowledge to them so that they can care for others, thereby affecting countless lives every day.”

Curt’s father-in-law Jim, the bricklayer who worked on construction of the first buildings at Midland College, has indeed left a legacy. Those early buildings were just a start to the education and personal enrichment that his family would receive at MC. More importantly, those buildings were the beginning of a rich tradition of training people whose lives will impact future generations.

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