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President Walter Winfield Parker

President Walter Winfield Parker
Special Collections & Archives, Southeast Missouri State University
President Walter Winfield Parker

The ninth president of Southeast Missouri State Teachers College – Walter Winfield Parker – served from 1933 to 1956, navigating the unique series of economic upheavals, dislocation, contractions, and expansions that challenged higher education during the Great Depression, World War II, and early Cold War.

Walter Parker, a former English professor, chair, dean, and college president before arriving from Oklahoma in 1933, emphasized vocational training during the depression when unemployment reached 25 percent and the fierce competition for jobs left many questioning the value of a college degree. Initiating several scholarships – including the Regents Scholarship – to help families afford the $15 per semester tuition, Parker took advantage of New Deal student-worker programs to provide financial assistance and public works projects to fund campus construction.

During World War II, Parker accelerated degree programs, allowing students to graduate within two-and-a-half years and opened a Civilian Pilot Training center. The president also pursued a relationship with the Pentagon, securing for Southeast a vital training role with the US Navy and Army Air Forces to rapidly prepare freshman and sophomore cadets as officers. 

After the war, as Southeast enrollments rebounded to 1,715 students and 80 faculty, Parker oversaw the completion of five new buildings to meet the demands of post-World War II growth: Kent Library, Cheney Hall, Myers Hall, Memorial Hall, and a rebuilt Houck Field House.

Walter Parker retired for health reasons in 1956, passing away in 1957. The Parker Physical Education Building opened in 1960.  

Joel P. Rhodes is a Professor in the History Department of Southeast Missouri State University. Raised in Kansas, he earned a B.S. in Education from the University of Kansas before earning his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.