The American Association of Community Colleges recently selected former Pratt Community College student Joseph Searles III to receive the 2014 Outstanding Alumni Award.
The award is given annually to former students from community colleges who are making outstanding contributions to their chosen career fields and to their communities. Searles and the other five Outstanding Alumni Award recipients will be recognized during the AACC 2014 Annual Convention in Washington, D.C. next April.
Searles was nominated for the award by Dr. William Wojciechowski, president emeritus of Pratt Community College, before he retired as president in August 2013.
"Searles is a prime example of how focus, determination and hard work can shape a young person's future throughout his or her lifetime," said Wojciechowski when Searles was named PCC's 2012 Outstanding Alumnus. "He was a pioneer who helped pave the road for success for minorities during those turbulent times when many others were ready to give up hope."
Searles came to what was then Pratt Junior College from Ft. Hood, Texas in the fall 1959 on a football scholarship. He became the All American and All Conference football player at the half back position in 1960 under Coach Floyd Huggins, and was named to the PCC Hall of Fame in 2013.
After his graduation from PJC, Searles went on to Kansas State University and later attended George Washington University Law School where he obtained his Juris Doctorate degree. His accomplishments include becoming the first African-American floor member and floor broker in the New York Stock Exchange in 1970 and playing professional football for the New York Giants.
To my many friends and extended family in Pratt and Southwest Kansas.
Dear Sisters, Brothers, Aunts and Uncles:
Although much time has passed; more than fifty years in fact, I have never in all those years forgotten, dismissed or marginalized your love, support or prayers in helping me achieve the many plateaus of a bountiful life. As a young seventeen year old I came to Pratt to pursue a college education and to play collegiate football.
This was my first time away from my parents for more than three weeks; thus, I did not know what to expect. I tried to hide my anxiety but my new roommates, Earl Brown and Arthur Bentley, from Pennsylvania readily felt how uncomfortable I was and sought to allay my concerns.
I asked a thousand questions that I repeated a thousand times, about food, shelter school, people, jobs, money, travel, and of course, girls. There is no doubt in my mind now that I was about to get tossed out of 123 West 10th Street as a worry wart.
Over time; however, they were able to quiet my anxiety. What I should say is even though I barely knew them they also said they had gone through a similar period of adjustment and anxiety when they first came to Pratt.
My first job was at Trout Motors on Main Street where I met an elderly man of color who worked there, his name was McKinley Johnson. "Mack" became my new found uncle. He gave me history, racial attitude and awareness of local, current events from Pratt to Kansas City. He truly steadied my hesitancies and further calmed me by inviting me to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner with his family.
My second year I worked at Pratt General Hospital where I was a general handyman and gardener. My primary function consisted of removing the vast amount of leaves that flooded the hospital grounds and never seemed to stop falling whether winter, summer, or fall. The need to move these leaves off the premises necessitated that I have access to an old blue Air Force truck that was my constant companion until I graduated in 1961.
Much can be said for this job. Such good, clean dirty work can cleanse and settle a man's soul.
As I reflect even further, I remember Professors Carmichael, French, Black, Telleck and Brown along with so many other instructors that applauded my efforts and my commitment to contribute an equal amount of time to my educational pursuits as I had committed to athletics.
I was not looked upon as a single faceted "jock" but a multi-talented student that made many contributions to the Pratt Community College educational system. I was a whole student that participated and took inspiration from my many instructors.
To the many kind and loving faces of all colors of Southwestern Kansas which strongly impacted my decision to attend Kansas State University rather than Nebraska; I am forever indebted for your love, comfort, courage and friendship that you bestowed on me from 1959 to 1961. Thank you one and all.
Joseph L. Searles