Article By Hannah Keller Flanery, UACCB communications and marketing coordinator
Deborah Frazier never intended to work in higher education, but in reflecting upon her 34-year career, it’s hard to imagine how her path could have led her anywhere else. Being grounded in a firm Christian faith, Frazier said it is amazing to her how God has directed her path.
“I always think about how God has set my life up and how I would not have been prepared to step into the role of chancellor at UACCB if I had not had the specific life experiences that I have had,” she said.
Frazier grew up in a military family, and like most military families, moved frequently throughout her youth. She graduated from high school in Laredo, Tex., and the first step on her path to becoming a community college chancellor began as she tried to determine where to pursue her college education.
“I always knew I would go to college because it was the expectation,” Frazier said. “I was planning to attend Arkansas State University in Jonesboro because a friend from middle school was also going to go there. She decided to attend ASU-Beebe instead, and so I changed as well.” Frazier laughed at the irony that she wound up at a community college. “I could have gone to Laredo Junior College, but I told my father, ‘I’m not going to go to a community college.’ But ASU-Beebe was my blessing in disguise.”
She graduated in May 1973 with her Associate of Arts degree in Business Technology. Frazier married her husband, Lanny, that spring and over the next 10 years the couple would live in Utah, Texas, and have three children before returning to Arkansas. She worked a variety of jobs including at Great Salt Lake Minerals Corporation in Ogden, Utah; White Rodgers; Walmart; and National Welding Supply.
Frazier said she had no intentions of continuing her education after graduating from ASU-Beebe. “I had decided I wasn’t going to go back to school, but I came to realize finishing my education would provide opportunities for my children.”
Having moved back to Arkansas, Frazier again considered attending ASU-Jonesboro but her path turned to Arkansas College, now Lyon College. Frazier was working part-time at National Welding Supply when a co-worker, Sue Rider, put her in touch with Carla Smith, the financial aid director at Arkansas College. “I thought there would be no way I could afford to attend Arkansas College. Carla said if I would give her just one semester, she thought she could help me secure financial aid.”
Frazier enrolled and went on to earn her Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting in December 1986, and in the spring of 1987, she completed the teacher education program.
“I can look throughout our community and see several leaders who were developed through programs at Lyon,” Frazier said. Steven Green, superintendent of Cave City School District, and Roger Ried, former principal at Southside High School and current director of the secondary career center for UACCB, were her classmates at Lyon as well as Michelle Reesor, executive vice president/director of risk management at First Community Bank.
“Getting to know Ms. Frazier in college and becoming lifelong friends has been one of the greatest blessings of my life,” Green said. “She will always be one of my favorite people that God has placed on this earth. She has a kindness and compassion for people that I feel is rare. She loves her family, her friends, her college, and her community. Debbie is one of a kind. She has been a tremendous influence on me, and I wish her all the happiness in the world.”
As an accounting major, Frazier said her instructor at Lyon, Cassie Creighton, was a driving force that kept her moving toward her goal. “Cassie Creighton was my hero. I was a mother with three children working two jobs. Whenever I would start feeling sorry for myself, she was the one that would bring me back to reality. She kept me grounded and reminded me I was not the only one who had ever faced these challenges and assured me that I could do this,” Frazier said.
Frazier learned of an opening for an accounting instructor at Gateway Vocational Technical School through Lyon’s Career Services division. She applied and interviewed with President Don Tomlinson. “During the interview, Mr. Tomlinson joked with me and said, ‘If I hire you, you have to stay at least five years,’ and I said, ‘Yes, sir, I can do that.’” Frazier said. “I thought I would teach in the public school setting. About two or three weeks after I started here, I was offered a position at Newark where I student taught, but I didn’t take it because of the promise I had made Mr. Tomlinson.”
Frazier began as an accounting faculty member at UACCB on July 12, 1987. She did eventually find her way to ASU-Jonesboro, earning a Master of Science in Education with a Business emphasis in 1991, and pursued post-graduate studies in Higher Education Leadership at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
During her career, Frazier has witnessed the institution’s evolution from a vocational school to a technical college to a community college. One of her fondest memories is the night the quarter-cent sales tax passed and paved the way for Gateway Technical College to become UACCB. “We were all at the courthouse that night. We were so excited for that last box to come in,” she said.
After serving the community college as an instructor, lead faculty member, division chair for business, technology and public service, vice chancellor for academic affairs, vice chancellor for learning and student services, and finally chancellor, she will retire on May 31, 2021.
“As Gus said to Woodrow, ‘It’s been one hell of a ride,’” Frazier said smiling. “It has been the greatest honor and blessing to have been a part of this institution. It’s like being married to someone. You invest your life into it. I’ve never dreaded pulling into that parking lot. I love what I do, and it’s because we change people’s lives.”
While she is looking forward to simply having time, a luxury hard to come by as Chancellor, Frazier said she will miss the people that have become such an integral part of her life.
“I will miss the stories the most. I will miss meeting people and learning who they are and where they are coming from. It is my hope that when people think about my time at the college, they will remember that I cared about who they were as individuals. I hope that I helped create pathways that allowed them to succeed. My leadership philosophy is defined by hiring great people, giving them the tools they need, and getting out of their way. By providing a work environment where they can be successful and achieve their very best, we create opportunities for our students to succeed.”
In reflecting on her career, Frazier said there was one key element of her success. “I could not have done anything I’ve accomplished without my husband, Lanny. He has been my cornerstone. I would not be where I am without his constant, steady support, and that’s the bottom line.”
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