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Dr. Gail Thaxton, Outgoing OTC President, Honored at Reception

Dr. Gail Thaxton, outgoing president of Okefenokee Technical College, was honored March 26 with a “fond farewell” reception. Community leaders and OTC faculty and staff attended the event to express appreciation for her leadership of the College and to wish her well in her new appointment as president of North Georgia Technical College. Her last day as president of OTC is March 30.

She has selected by Commissioner Ron Jackson of the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) to be president of North Georgia Technical College in Clarksville.

The farewell tribute featured a program in which presenters named numerous accomplishments attributed to Thaxton’s leadership abilities and commitment to excellence. OTC Board Chair John Pharr and OTC Foundation Chair Larry Paulk thanked her for contributions to the College, Foundation, and community.

“She’s the queen of 1sts,” noted Cindy Tanner, director of PR and the OTC Foundation. “We had our first Starry Night Festival, donor appreciation dinner, Foundation retreat, gala, and Taste of Technical College, among other firsts. Dr. Thaxton constantly looked for ways to improve and promote the College.”

When away from the College and not attending Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) workshops and meetings, Thaxton was quite often serving the Waycross community through civic organizations. She was an active member of the Rotary Club, serving as president in 2008 - 2009; the Waycross-Ware County Development Authority, currently serving as chair; and the Waycross-Ware County Chamber of Commerce, serving as vice chair in 2011 and chair for 2012.

Following the speakers, Margaret Fairley and Danita Cannon presented Dr. Thaxton with gifts of appreciation from the senior staff and OTC faculty and staff. The program ended with comments by the guest of honor. Dr. Thaxton spoke of her first experience at OTC, the evening she was interviewed for college president. She praised the people of Waycross and surrounding area for their hospitability and kindness.

“When we came to Waycross in 2005,” stated Thaxton, “we didn’t know anyone…but now, the room is filled with friends and colleagues who have made Waycross and this area more than a work place. It’s a friends and family place that we have come to love.”

“Thousands have come through the doors [of OTC],” continued Thaxton, “and what makes this job so fulfilling is that everywhere you turn, you encounter a person who has been touched by OTC. What a ‘kick’ to be part of it. Just know that you have one of your best cheerleaders living in North Georgia.”

During her nearly seven year tenure at OTC, Thaxton renovated and upgraded facilities on both campuses, improving the College’s image and capacity. She led the renovation of the Alma Campus, which began with a block breaking ceremony and ended with a ribbon cutting celebration and open house. She accepted the allied health building baton from Dr. John Pike, past president of OTC, and ran to the finish line with the $10 million capital outlay project that now houses over 12 medical programs. The ground breaking ceremony took place July 19, 2007.

She upgraded or renovated numerous spaces on the Waycross campus, including the Miller Lecture Hall foyer, the adult education building, the student commons areas, the restrooms in Building 100, the old forestry classroom, the drafting classroom, and the child care center. She recognized the need for a board room and renovated vacated space in Building 300 to create a comfortable meeting room for trustees and board members.

The most recent redesign is the vacated space in the Rodney Moore building, where, in a few months, a much more functional office space will hold the administrative services staff and IT staff. Not only did Dr. Thaxton update facilities, but she also updated the college insignia. Under Dr. Thaxton’s watch, the College obtained a new logo, …one that incorporates elements of the old logo, yet reflects what the community actually calls Okefenokee Technical College - OTC.

Thaxton piloted the College through a number of more challenging charges, as well. When she arrived in 2005, the decision had been made for OTC to work toward Commission on Colleges (COC) accreditation. So in 2006 she steered the initiative, leading to a candidacy visit, approval for COC candidacy status in December 2007, a full accreditation visit February 2009, and most importantly, COC accreditation acquired from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges December 2009.

Once the College was accredited, Dr. Thaxton began working with other colleges and universities to secure articulation agreements for transfer of credits from OTC to partnering institutions, eliminating or reducing course duplication for OTC graduates.
Thaxton promoted the College at every turn. She presented business and industry outlook programs at service clubs in the service area, attended recruitment activities, toured community leaders on campus, appealed to legislators and government officials on behalf of the College, and made presentations to the state board.
She executed the Tobacco-Free Campus initiative and enhanced college security by hiring a campus police chief, holding emergency preparedness drills, and purchasing security equipment.

She directed the College through the Q2S initiative. She implemented the cosmetology program on the Alma campus and worked to offer more online courses and programs. With her support and that of area utility companies, OTC began the Electrical Lineworker program April 2007.

During her tenure OTC secured a number of grants, met or exceeded almost all benchmarks every year, and managed to maintain sound fiscal management with a dwindling budget. The four-day work week was just one of the many cost-saving strategies Thaxton implemented in order to save money and jobs.

She supported and helped strengthen the Foundation, as well, leading by example. She was in the 1% Club and gave more than 1% of her salary to the Foundation each year. She opened her home to 1% Club members twice a year in appreciation for their generosity. She gave additional money to the Foundation for things that others may take for granted as a right and privilege of a college president.

Every year since 2005, the faculty and staff have supported the Foundation with 99% to 100% participation. The Foundation added a number of student scholarships during Dr. Thaxton’s presidency and became a TCSG role model board, receiving an award at the TCSG Leadership Conference in October 2011.
Also, during her presidency, the OTC Foundation has gained three endowed scholarship funds: The Jones Company Endowed Scholarship, the Charles Eames Endowed Scholarship, and the Satilla Auxiliary Presidents Scholarship.

Thaxton was named the third president of Okefenokee Technical College July 1, 2005, succeeding Dr. John Pike (1998 – 2005) and Joseph Ray Miller (1973 – 1998). She leaves OTC having made a distinctive impression of quality, spirited sophistication, and excellence on the College, the staff, and the community.

Dr. Thaxton and her husband, Billy, look forward to spending more time with family as a result of relocating to North Georgia. “To be able to continue in this wonderful job as a technical college president and be close to children and grandchildren is really a blessing beyond measure,” said Thaxton.

Photos by Jim Fairley

Photo 1

Photo:
Dr. Gail Thaxton (left), outgoing OTC president, and her husband, Billy, greeted guests and reminisced.

Photo 2

Photo:
Dr. Gail Thaxton has been selected by Commissioner Ron Jackson of the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) to be president of North Georgia Technical College in Clarksville. She and her husband, Billy, will reside in Mount Airy, Georgia.

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