Larry Story has come a long way in his 50 years as a Tarrant County College faculty member, but he just hasn’t gone very far. His first office, when TCC South opened in 1967, was in what is now a breakroom in a faculty office building. His current office is just down the hall. “So, in 50 years, I’ve progressed about 50 feet,” he said.
Story’s career, however, is not measured in distance, but in decades of service to students—generations of them who have passed through his history classes. So, when he accepts his 50-year award in August, it will doubtless be a moment of solemn reflection.
Or will it? Beneath Story’s easygoing exterior, described by former faculty colleague
David Clinkscale as “unrufflable,” lurks a puckish sense of humor that tends to erupt
at Service Award time. On one such occasion—he thinks it was his 25th—he showed up
in a tuxedo. “I guess maybe I thought I might
not be doing this again,” he said, “so I decided to do something memorable.”
Then there was 2007. Forty-year awardees were asked to submit a photo of themselves taken at about the start of their TCC careers. Story sent in a photo of a youthful Robert Redford. When it went up on the big screen, audience reaction was zero. Same thing after the ceremony until a colleague finally asked if that had really been him up there. “I’m glad someone was paying attention,” he said.
Story is not sure what he will wear to accept his 50-year award, but it won’t be pajamas, something he once considered but has dismissed as out of keeping with the occasion. He will be recognized as the first TCC employee or board member to log half a century of active service.
I had no notion of staying this long. I really didn’t. I would have been really surprised if someone could have shown me I’d still be here in 2017.
Story was 23 years old, fresh out of The University of Texas at Arlington with his master’s degree, when he interviewed with TCC South CEO Chuck McKinney. It was a time when junior colleges were popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm. “I had several offers,” he remembered, “but when I interviewed here, I thought, ‘If they offer me a job, this is the one I’m going to take.’”
He admits to some nervousness that first semester, understandable in that he was only five years older than most of his students, but was soon swept up in the excitement and sense of adventure that characterized the new college. “It was so new and unique and everything was so promising,” he said. “Everything was possible. It was like there was nothing we couldn’t do.”
As the years have progressed, he said, the pioneering flame has ebbed, but still flickers. “Things are still being done,” he said. “People are still coming up with ideas. But there are a lot more levels of administration. More people have to sign off on things.”
Some faculty colleagues have moved into administration over the years, but Story has remained wedded to the classroom. The headaches of administration outweigh the rewards, as he sees it, and he is pretty much his own boss in front of students. “When I’m in the classroom, I know what I’m doing. I’ve got control,” he said. “I know what I’m teaching, and I enjoy what I’m teaching. So, it’s kind of a self-contained unit.”
His laid-back demeanor doesn’t necessarily hold true when teaching. “He’s really kind of no-nonsense,” said Clinkscale, who as a student had him for a class in fall 1968. “It’s, ‘We’ve got some important material to cover. We’re going to cover it.’ And he stayed with that.”
Not that Story has anything against administrators. Some of his best friends have been department chairs… No kidding! “All of them have been really good,” he said. “Bob Abels, Bill Hewen, Denny Riley, Martin Mattingly, Wanda Hill and now Brian Johnson. I’ve never had a bad boss. That’s one of the keys to me working here 50 years, because if you don’t like the people you’re working for, it’s a pretty miserable life.”
All of which begs the question of how many more years he’ll teach. He and former TCC South Dean Anita Barrett convinced one another, having hit 40, that they could make it to 45. Then, when he got to 45, he thought, “Why not 50? That’s a nice, round number.”
He negotiated with his wife Judy, who wanted him to retire earlier, to hang it up after number 50, but everything changed last September when Judy passed away. “I was going to retire at the end of last spring,” Story said, “but now this is a lifeline for me. I have a place to go every day, doing something I’m comfortable with and that I like to do.”
In addition, staying at least through 2017-18 has special significance because the campus will celebrate its 50th birthday with a year-long party. “There’s going to be lots of stuff going on,” he said, including a fundraising gala on April 7 that might mean donning another tuxedo.
After that, his tenure is an open question. “I really don’t know,” he said. “I like history. I like to tell people about it and hope they get excited. I can sit around reading history and it’s not wasting time. It’s working. I don’t think you can beat that.”