Longtime Danville educator and Centre College professor J.H. Atkins to retire

Posted by Centre News in News 20 Feb 2015

2009atkins_jamesJHAtkinsAfter some four decades as an educator and community leader, with the last 14 years spent at Centre College, J.H. Atkins has announced his retirement as assistant vice president and associate professor of education, effective June 30, 2015.

“J.H. was an important addition to the Centre team,” says College president John A. Roush, “and we are a better place because he was a part of our community. We will miss Artie and J.H., but he departs from Centre having had a profound impact for good on the lives of so many young men and women.”

When he was hired in July 2001 by then Dean of the College John Ward, Atkins was praised as “a man of principle, capable of providing leadership through candid, thoughtful and careful communication.”

Ward went on to say of Atkins, “Above all, he is an educator, one who will work hard to make Centre a better place to learn.”

Centre students, faculty and staff would all agree that Ward’s prediction came true, precisely because of Atkins’ principled leadership. Not only has he helped train a generation of teachers but his influence on increasing diversity at Centre has been similarly effective.

Ward’s successor as vice president for academic affairs, Stephanie Fabritius, is equally complimentary of Atkins.

“J.H. has been a very positive force both on campus and in the greater Danville community,” she says. “He has brought us forward in discussions and outcomes pertaining to campus diversity, in large part by being a tireless mentor and friend to many students, faculty and staff.”

Citing his advocacy for and involvement with Centre’s Posse program, the Diversity Student Union, and the Diversity and Community Committee, to name a few, Fabritius concludes, “J.H.’s impact will continue to be felt on campus and beyond for years to come.”

Centre alumnus and current admission counselor Gregory Chery ’11 couldn’t agree more.

“J.H. made students of color want to be here,” Chery says. “He has also made Centre feel like a second home, and he and Artie have been like our parents.”

Chery grew up in Tabarre, Haiti, later moved to the small town of Bensalem, Pa., and then to Boston. He came to Centre through Posse, the New York-based program that recruits outstanding young leaders in urban school systems, preparing them for entrance into some of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges. Centre’s partnership began in 2005 and is through the Boston office.

Echoing Fabritius, Chery also believes that the impact of Atkins’ efforts will continue to be seen over the next 10 to 15 years.

“He’s opened so many doors here,” Chery says, “and has built such a strong foundation, which may be the greatest component of his legacy.”

Atkins’ retirement will bring to an end a remarkable career. He began as a teacher at Danville’s Bate Middle School, was principal of Toliver Elementary School and later held an administrative role in the Fayette County Public School system overseeing all elementary education.

Along the way, he’s also been elected to three consecutive terms on Danville’s City Commission and provided leadership for the Citizens Concerned for Human Relations, including direction of its annual Heritage Festival for 15 years.

When he came to Centre in 2001, Atkins was charged with teaching Introduction to Education and Social Studies Methods, along with strengthening diversity among the student body and faculty ranks. This has involved counseling and advising minority students, assisting with admissions recruiting and activity programming.

“My goal has been to provide leadership opportunities,” Atkins says, “and to be a role model by promoting fairness.” Humble to a fault, Atkins is insistent on not taking credit for himself, but he says he’s most proud to see the relatively significant increase in campus diversity.

“Lots of people have been involved in this success,” he says, “and I’m glad to have been a part of it.”

He says that “seeing kids exceed expectations” has been the most rewarding, especially when it’s the journey from first-year student to teacher.

While he admits it will be difficult to slow down and enjoy his retirement, Atkins says spending more time with his four grandchildren is at the top of his to-do list. As well, he and his wife, Artie, plan to travel. Vacationing in all 50 states is on his bucket list, as is foreign travel to Australia and the African continent, where he hopes to visit Ghana and see the pyramids in Egypt.

by Michael Strysick