Legacy Lives On
Jack F. Owens, the man who has arguably had more impact on education in Sussex County than anyone else, was remembered this week for his warmth, his perserverance, and his belief in others.
As the first administrator of Delaware Technical and Community College's first campus, Owens gave thousands of Sussex Countians a chance to further their education without traveling to Newark or to Salisbury, Md.
No one understands that better than Owens' daughter, Lord Baltimore Elementary School principal Jacquelyn Wilson, a distinguished educator in her own right after earning Delaware's Distinguished Principal award this spring.
Wilson said one of the people who eulogized her father on Wednesday, July 10, 2002 was a prime example. Everett Moore, now chairman of the Delaware Republican Party, was a farm boy whose parents were pushing him to go to college -- which for years meant the University of Delaware or Salisbury State College (now Salisbury University).
Instead, Moore flourished at Del Tech, becoming the school's first student council president. "He was not only a student, but he became a friend," to Owens, Wilson recalled -- and eventually Moore became Owens' attorney.
Wilson said her father grew up poor, around South Carolina cotton mills, and that he got his chance at an education through a football scholarship at Furman University.
She said his own beginnings made him keenly aware that education is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. "His whole life, he was adding programs to meet the different needs of people," she said, whether it was 18-year-olds seeking a trade or 40-year-olds who still were searching for their niche in the world.
Wilson said her father was proudest of the fact that through parallel programs with other colleges, students in Sussex County can now receive not only bachelor's degrees, but also master's degrees and doctorates. Owens was always searching for more ways to serve students in Sussex County and found unique ways to do it.
"He really liked community partnerships," Wilson said. She added that her father "probably changed Sussex County forever" by helping to provide a more educated work force.
Although Owens was not a native to Sussex County, Wilson said he came to love it after moving here in 1967 -- when he was hired by Gov. Charles Terry to help open Del Tech.
"He had an opportunity to leave here to be president of all three campuses," Wilson said, but Owens chose to stay here.
She said she has heard many people say over the years that the Georgetown campus, named for Owens when he retired in 1995, had a different feel than the other two. For Wilson, the explanation is simple. "That's because it was Jack's house," she said. "He loved that school and the staff."
She said her father exuded friendliness and warmth, and that he "empowered the staff to use their creativity. "His philosophy was that you hire good people and then you step back and let them do their job," she said.
Wilson has clearly taken her father's words to heart. Anyone who has visited her school in Ocean View knows that it is "Jackie's house" and has felt the energy exuded by both Wilson and her staff.
Last year, Wilson led her staff through the rigorous review process that led to Lord Baltimore being named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. She said determination was a key trait she learned from both her parents.
"I grew up in a house where the word 'can't' was never [uttered]," Wilson said. Obstacles meant only one thing: "Find a way -- over it, around it, under it or through it," she recalled. "He always taught me to challenge myself."
Wilson said she learned at her father's funeral this week that hundreds of others were inspired to further themselves by Owens' encouragement. "My dad was always telling people 'you can do it. I have faith in you,' " she said.
If all of those who benefited from that encouragement pass it on to someone else, just imagine what the impact could be.
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