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Seminar Room in Jennings Hall Pays Tribute to Longtime History Chair’s 35 Years of Service to MC

MC President Blake Thompson, left, visits with Dr. Kirk Ford, chair and professor emeritus of history, in the seminar room named in Ford's honor.
MC President Blake Thompson, left, visits with Dr. Kirk Ford, chair and professor emeritus of history, in the seminar room named in Ford's honor.

Members of the Department of History and Political Science at Mississippi College expressed appreciation for one of their most venerable former leaders by dedicating seminar space in Jennings Hall in his honor.

A Homecoming reception in the Jennings courtyard Oct. 20 marked the renaming of Room 206 as the Dr. Kirk Ford Seminar Room. Ford, chair and professor emeritus of history at MC, served 35 years with distinction on the Clinton campus as a professor, department chair, and mentor to countless students. He retired in 2015.

Steven Patterson, associate professor of history and political science, said renaming the room was a fitting way to honor his former professor, chair, colleague, and friend’s tireless dedication to the department.

“Dr. Ford had a profound effect on so many students,” Patterson said. “He is a well-known and well-loved professor and former chair. He’s someone you could always reach out to if you needed anything. He knows MC very well and is a sounding board for a lot of us in the department.

“We’re proud and happy to honor Dr. Ford’s legacy by naming this conference room after him. There’s no one better for us to name the room for.”

Mississippi College President Blake Thompson joined dozens of Ford’s former colleagues and students to congratulate the accomplished professor emeritus. Attendees heard tributes from those influenced by the Clinton resident’s superior instruction and leadership.

Ford said seeing his former students and colleagues at the reception was gratifying.

“To have them come back here for the ceremony is special,” he said. “Through the years, I came to regard the faculty and the people in the department I worked with as not just colleagues, but friends.

“When I was on faculty, I always felt any recognition from one’s peers was special. This is no exception. To know the faculty in the department, the ones I worked closest with when I was there, the ones who know all your shortcomings, wanted to do this makes it very special.”

Although unable to attend the reception, Sherrie Ottis, a history teacher at Clinton High School, provided a moving tribute to her beloved former professor. Her essay, read by Zachary Osborne, an instructor in the department, credited Ford for changing her life.

“I see his influence on me every day in my classroom, whether it is in my relationships with students or how I write test questions,” Ottis wrote. “I hear myself speaking to my students in the ways he spoke to me and my classmates.

“You don’t work with someone for six years without picking up some of his style.”

Ottis spent those years as an undergraduate student, student worker, graduate student, and graduate assistant in the department. She had returned to school as an adult and found every hour spent in class was like opening a gift.

“How fortuitous to find myself in Dr. Ford’s history classes where every class period was the continuation of a wonderful story of our history,” she wrote. “I observed his style of teaching and mentoring students over the years. Throughout that time, he guided, encouraged, and taught us in ways that helped us grow as people, teachers, and historians.”

Among Ford’s many attributes that made a lasting impression on Ottis was his willingness to discuss historical questions (“He never felt threatened when I challenged him . . . he asked us questions that allowed us to answer our own challenges.”), his unmatched patience and generosity towards his students (“He was never too busy to help a student untangle whatever research or writing snags they were dealing with.”), his zeal for research (“When we found something new or unexpected, he was as thrilled as we were over it.”), and his personable approach (“When we struggled, he shared his own experiences with those same struggles when he was in our shoes.”).

“His integrity in educating, leading, and studying history was unmatched, not only in working with students, but other faculty members,” she wrote. “He was a conscientious leader, a good listener, and a dedicated faculty member of this school.

“I can’t think of anyone – student or faculty member – who didn’t have great respect for Kirk Ford in all of the different roles he played on campus.”

Patterson said the department had needed a smaller space for seminar-style classes that could also serve as a student-oriented common area for study groups. It will also be convenient for faculty and staff or student meetings.

The room features a nice conference table with original art from late Christian master artists and legendary MC Art Department faculty members Dr. Samuel Gore and Dr. Kenneth Quinn. Mary Margaret Freeman, a current student, donated a watercolor of Jennings Hall that hangs on one wall. A handsome bronze plaque designates the space as the “Dr. Kirk Ford Seminar Room.”

“The room has a Mississippi College theme, which seems fitting for the History Department,” Patterson said.

The furnishings were primarily provided by donations from Ford’s former colleagues and students. Patterson is raising funds to add a sofa and table for student use.

“Dr. Ford is one of those professors that makes it easy to raise funds,” he said. “When I say we’re collecting donations for his room, his former students step up.”

Since retiring from MC, Ford has kept busy assisting researchers from across the country investigating the Office of Strategic Service (OSS), the U.S. intelligence agency during the Second World War. Traveling back and forth to see his grandchildren in California has also taken up much of his time.

Patterson said the reception and naming ceremony was well received by those in attendance.

“Everyone said it was a profound, touching, and lovely event that was proportional to what Dr. Ford meant to the institution,” he said.

That included the honoree himself.

“It was a day that I will forever remember,” he said.

Donations are being accepted to help obtain the remaining furnishings. For more information or to donate, visit the MC Foundation website and designate the funds for the Dr. Kirk Ford seminar room.