Norman C. Parsons Jr., director of the 120,000 square-foot Wellness Center at the University of Miami, remembers when the only campus recreation and fitness facilities consisted of a teeny, tiny building not even twice the size of his current office.
“You have to paint a picture of UM back then; there was hardly even a tree on campus,” Parsons, 58, recalls. “It was just a big dust bowl.”
That was 30 years ago. Today the $14 million center serves the UM community with three floors of courts, pools, equipment, multipurpose rooms and a variety of services.
“It has far exceeded our expectations, not only for working out. We wanted the facility to be a hub for students and faculty to interact without shirts and ties on,” Parsons said.
A graduate of West Virginia University, where he received both his bachelor and master’s degrees in Physical Education and Recreation, Parsons came to UM after spending two years in the army in Alaska and then working at University of Michigan.
“You can imagine my relief when I saw a job opening in Miami,” Parsons said. “I snatched it right up and trekked down south with my wife and baby in tow.”
Besides the weather, another thing that attracted him to UM was the amount of room for growth in the department. He also liked the fact that the department was a division of Student Affairs, a detail he says is important for student’s needs to be heard and granted.
At the time, the entire department consisted of six staff members, compared to 22 professionals today, with one office in the University Center where the Bank of America ATM is now found.
Parsons credits the persistent efforts of students for the present facilities on campus. In the spring of 1992, students voted to asses themselves an $85 fee to go towards building a fitness facility as their contribution to future Hurricanes.
Dealing with and helping the students, Parson said, is the main reason he enjoys his job.
“I love people. The chance to interact with individuals and know that I am contributing to their better quality and longevity of life is a pretty good feeling,” Parsons said.
One way he gets directly involved is through the Hey Norm! campaign that was implemented last year. The campaign consists of posters placed around the center with Parson’s picture and suggestion cards, which he reads personally.
“The campaign started as a marketing tool to solicit input from the center patrons about the facilities and services. People like to have an outlet to voice their opinions and we like to hear from them,” Parsons said. “It has actually been really well-received and I think we will continue to use it in the future.”
This September will mark Parson’s 30th anniversary at UM and although his job title has basically stayed the same, he says he has seen tremendous changes all around him.
“If I could offer one piece of advice to students, especially incoming freshman, it would be to take advantage of the facilities offered to you. Definitely enjoy your college time, but be aware of your health as well,” Parsons said. “Watch your alcohol consumption and don’t stuff your face with bacon double cheeseburgers.”