Enthusiastic employee leaves legacy

Norm Parsons poses for a portrait in front of the Wellness Center on Wednesday morning. Parsons is retiring from his position as Wellness Center director in October. Monica Herndon // Photo Editor
Norm Parsons poses for a portrait in front of the Wellness Center on Wednesday morning. Parsons is retiring from his position as Wellness Center director in October. Monica Herndon // Photo Editor

When former Vice President for Student Affairs William Butler was hiring his staff in the early ‘70s, he knew he had his work cut out for him.

“We didn’t have any residence colleges; we didn’t have the high rise towers; we didn’t have any cafeterias. All the students would run across the street for their lunch and so there was a great opportunity to hire new staff with new visions and new energy and new directions because so much had to be done,” he said.

Intramural sports was one such position Butler was charged with filling. He says that while they had a great program, there were no indoor facilities for students to use.

His search to find a person to develop fitness aspects on campus led him to Norm Parsons.

“One of the young men who came to the campus for an interview was Norm Parsons. And he made an  immediate hit,” Butler said. “He had a great vision about the future, wanting to build and construct new facilities on the campus and so I invited him to come to the campus in 1972.”

When Parsons first arrived at the university in 1972, the only athletic space was the Lane Recreation Center, which had two basketball courts, two saunas and two small weight and locker rooms.

Parsons saw the need for something more. He says he got the idea to build the Wellness Center after attending a national wellness conference.

“We were trying to build a building to replace the old Lane Recreation Center, which was a very small building that sat on the site of the current Wellness Center,” he said. “I always thought there had to be something else besides just recreation, and the term ‘wellness’ wasn’t even in the dictionary yet.”

The center has come a long way since then. In 1996, Parsons commissioned the help of graduate and undergraduate student governments to write referenda to increase the activities fee to add $85 a semester to build the center. Then in 2011, Parsons headed an 18,000-square-foot expansion of the Wellness center thanks to the $8 million donation from Patti and Allan Herbert.

“I like to say you get an education at the University of Miami, but you get a life at the Wellness Center,” he said.

He is now directing the development for the 60,000-square-foot Miller School of Medicine’s wellness center.

After 43 years of service, Parsons announced his retirement through a memorandum released by Pat Whitely, vice president for student affairs.

Though Parsons will not officially step down until October 2014, students and faculty say they will be sad to see him go.

Senior Meghan Doyle, who has worked at the Wellness Center for three years, described her experience working with him.

“Since I started working there, he was so friendly and made me feel welcome,” she said. “It’s going to be really hard to fill Mr. P’s shoes. He has set an example for us.”

Whitely expressed similar sentiments.

“His leadership and vision not only ensured that the Herbert Wellness Center became reality, but he also has played a critical role in fundraising for the division of student affairs over the last ten years,” she said. “Personally, I will certainly miss Norm, but he is deserving of a terrific retirement. I will always be grateful for his leadership and dedication.”

One of Parson’s first projects at the university was a campus beautification initiative. He and two others earmarked oak trees and moved them to campus.

But Parsons quickly shifted his attention to equality in sports.

The first program to allow women to participate in intercollegiate sports in the United States began under Parsons’ leadership here at UM. His efforts were key in creating the first women’s intercollegiate athletic program in the country.

“We were the first school in the United States to give any scholarship for women’s athletics and that’s something that we all can be very proud of,” Parsons said.

He went on to coach the women’s golf team from 1973 to 1978.

But this was not originally part of Parsons’ plans.

He was asked to coach because there were only three people in the intramural department, and after they filled the positions of swimming and tennis coaches, they found themselves missing a golf coach.

“I said, ‘Well, you know I sort of know which end of the club to hold and maybe I’ll do it on an interim basis,’ so from 1973 to 1978, I coached the women’s golf team,” he said.

Parsons helped the women’s golf team succeed.

“We ended up winning two national championships in 1977 and 1978. So after doing that, I figured I’d better get the hell out before anybody expected anything more.”

Parsons then went on to coach the men’s team in 1980. For eight years, he led the team to amass top accolades. In 1986, the team was ranked 6th in the nation, and Parsons was titled the NCAA District 3 Coach of the Year with Honors.

Parsons’ efforts extend far beyond the wellness and sports. He also serves as the chair of the Board of Publications. According to a press release issued by UM, he has been the lead fundraiser for the Division of Student Affairs since 2004.

“He spread out his duties and he represents the Division of Student Affairs in raising money for needed programs and whatnot,” Butler said. “Norm has been involved in so many different things and I’m very proud that I was able to hire him back in 1972.”