Outstanding Alumnus of the Year: Don Parker

Don Parker

1976 graduate taught speech and communication courses at Inver Hills for 16 years

Don Parker, a 1976 graduate, has been named the 2024 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year at Inver Hills Community College. Don earned an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree at Inver Hills before transferring to Minnesota State University, Mankato, where he completed a B.A. and B.S. in Business Administration and B.A. in Economics.

Don went on to serve as speech, journalism, and communication faculty at Inver Hills for 16 years (1983–1996) (2018–2020). He also coached the college’s Speech Team and advised editors and writers on the student newspaper, the Forum.

“Winning this award is an honor, especially as someone who had the privilege of not only studying at Inver Hills, but of teaching here, too,” Don said. “Inver Hills instructors really propelled me into my careers by drawing more out of me than I knew I had.”

Don Parker: Teaching Philosophy

Don Parker’s technique teaching public speaking classes was usually to dispense with a textbook and focus on experiential learning to master the skill.

“Theory was taught through lecture, but students grew as speakers—and grew in confidence—because in addition to the usual major speeches assigned in public speaking courses, I would have students often (about once a week) give additional short one- or two-minute topical speeches to keep in practice and keep improving from week to week.

“Almost invariably, after a student gave six speeches—whether major or short speeches, it didn’t matter—you’d see a breakthrough where their style, smoothness, and confidence would shoot upward.

“I was probably an easy grader, but my philosophy, like that of my instructors when I was a student here, was to set the conditions for students to succeed, and when they did succeed, they certainly earned high grades.”

Don Parker
2024 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year
1976 Graduate
Speech, Journalism, and Communication Faculty
Inver Hills Community College

Thanking his Inver Hills instructors…

Don reported that some of his best Inver Hills instructors fit into two categories. Dave Martinson, political science and journalism, and Larry Wright, history, took subjects that already interested him and showed him how to delve much deeper into that subject matter. Don would earn a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, later in life.

But his greatest growth came from the second category—instructors who taught subjects that didn’t come naturally to him, but who presented course curriculums in ways that were clear and understandable.

“It’s probably common for students right out of high school to think there are subjects they’ll never be good at,” Don explained. “But if a teacher helps you overcome that sense and opens up understanding or skills that make you think you can succeed at something difficult, it’s one of the greatest lessons in life. Then you start to believe you can achieve other, harder goals, and eventually, anything you set your mind to.”

Don credits Paul Nyhuis, physics, and Tom Helget, biology, as two Inver Hills instructors who helped him believe in himself.

“Like a lot of young students, I didn’t think I was good at science,” Don recalled. “And that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But Paul Nyhuis had a tremendous knack for making the complex simple in layman’s language. Decades later, when I was helping grandnephews with their studies, I found myself using some of his explanations for science phenomena.”

Don related how Tom Helget took his students into the field to make biology and environmental coursework come alive and become real.

Cornerstone, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Speaker & Gavel, Volume 14 Issue 3 Spring 1977

“One of the honors of my career is that I got to work with some of those instructors later as colleagues,” Don said, “and Tom was one who always shared information with me about interesting resources the Biology department had for students and the public. Even though I was a colleague by then, Tom never stopped teaching.”

The biggest impact on Don’s career path was made by the Inver Hills Speech Team coached by Jon Larson, speech and philosophy instructor. After Don gave a humorous speech in a required speech class, Jon asked him to join the Speech Team.

Don had friends on the team, so he joined, handling the Humorous, Persuasive, and Informative speaking categories. Don’s contributions to the team helped Inver Hills Forensics win its first Minnesota State Community College Championship in 1976.

That team was strong enough to be ranked in the top 10 in the nation for community colleges. After Inver Hills, Don competed in speech at Minnesota State Mankato, where he was the National Collegiate Interstate Oratory Champion and National Student Speaker of the Year for his honorary speech society. He won seven other awards for national finals, semifinals, and quarterfinals, and was the fourth person in U.S. forensics to win more than 100 awards.

Cornerstone, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Speaker & Gavel, Volume 15 Issue 3 Spring 1978

“Again, here was a skill I didn’t think I had,” Don said. “I was fairly quiet and shy, but Coach Larson saw something nobody else did. I joined the Speech Team even though I wasn’t sure I would be successful, but with good coaching and good support from teammates, we had a great season.”

Don added that years later he used some of the same techniques he learned on the Speech Team in speech classes he taught at the college.

“It was always rewarding seeing people with limited confidence grow in skill and belief in themselves after giving a few speeches,” he said. “That was the real reward of teaching.”

One word that best describes your experience at Inver Hills as a student:


Service to the community…

While a student at Inver Hills, Don performed in the college’s concert and jazz bands and also played intramural sports. He worked as a writer and columnist on the student newspaper, the Forum. He later leveraged his work at the Forum to co-found Good Age, a newspaper that served older Minnesotans for nearly four decades.

Don served as development director for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) for 20 years and is the current co-executive director for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. He also served on the New York State Right to Life Committee and the Virginia Society for Human Life. He has given speeches, workshops, and presentations professionally in 24 states and Canada.

Don Parker

Don’s volunteer work and civic engagement are extensive. He currently serves on the Dakota County Historical Society Board of Trustees. He has served on the Dakota County Child Abuse Prevention Council, Dakota County Human Services Advisory Commission, and Inver Grove Heights Environmental Commission Board of Directors.

He has served as a reader for Radio Talking Book, a food server for the poor at St. Louis Church, and a volunteer with Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly. He has served twice as a Republican Party national delegate and as a vice-chair on the State Executive Committee of the Minnesota Republican Party.

“Don has stepped in to help family and others, donating a kidney to his diabetic sister, and helping several fatherless grand nephews and nieces for years with their studies, sports, activities, cultural enrichment, and travel,” reported Doug Hanneman, Inver Hills 2020 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year. “He is a highly principled individual and is respected and appreciated in his professional life and among friends for his honesty, hard work, compassion, and terrific sense of humor.”

Doug noted that Don has illustrated his commitment to Inver Hills by writing about the college’s opportunities for older adults for a statewide magazine, and by speaking to local seniors groups.

“Many of his community volunteer activities have melded with Inver Hills goals, such as supporting the development of a one-mile, native prairie trail on campus as part of the proposed Unity Trail Spur Loop,” Doug continued. “Don is also highly skilled as a networker who connects people and groups with mutual interests and goals. Whether he’s involved in a community or college project, or a national cause, Don consistently works earnestly with deep humility to do what’s best for the common good.”

More about Don…

Originally from Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, Don graduated from Simley High School, Class of 1974. Along with his bachelor’s degrees, he is ABT on a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Liberal Studies at Hamline University.

In his free time, Don enjoys playing and watching hockey. “Although I haven’t played a real game in a couple years, I still get on the ice to train my kid relatives—until they pass me in skill level, that is!” he said. “I need to do more of that to stay in shape, and the Gophers need to win more national championships!”

Don also likes getting outdoors. “We’re lucky here because we have all these hills left by the last glaciers that make it beautiful to walk or jog to the river or to our parks,” he said. “I enjoy learning about history and the practical and ethical lessons it teaches us about life. History teaches that you have to stand for your beliefs.”

Another favorite hobby Don enjoys is serving on the board of the Dakota County Historical Society.

“Check out their museum in South St. Paul,” he recommended, “and the historical buildings they manage in Mendota and Hastings.”

Don resides in Inver Grove Heights.

One word that best describes your experience at Inver Hills as an instructor:


Don Parker Q & A

What advice would you give students who would like to focus more on civic engagement and public service?

Public service is an honor, and you want to use your time wisely. So, I would say look for causes where you can make a lasting impact. There are fad causes that might not seem so important in a few years with some perspective.

But if you do something that actually helps a person’s life, that will last in that person and maybe in those who follow in profound ways. That approach not only helps others, but can be among the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.

What advice would you give students thinking about entering the communication field?

Your voice as a communicator is important. So you want to protect your reputation for accuracy with solid research, and documentation when appropriate. Give others a voice when you can—fair and open debate is the lifeblood of a democracy.

Four words that describe you as an educator:

What person has influenced your life the most and why?

My father gave me the belief I could do anything, and also the perspective that most of us are very fortunate compared to those living in poverty, ill health and with injustice around the world. Put those two lessons together and a child will grow to confidently approach and attack problems, and has a good chance of making a difference.

If you could make one thing happen on Earth right now, what would it be?

Hubert Humphrey said a society is judged by how it treats those at the dawn of life and at the twilight of life.  We live in a time when neither of those are very respected, the unborn and the elderly. If I could change one thing, it would be to have a redefinition of “peace” to include a protectedness of every human being, not just the relatively young, healthy, and well-off.

My Inver Hills sociology instructor, Mr. Voorhees, expanded our knowledge of peace as applied to every individual by having a practitioner of Buddhism, a philosophy that honors the elderly, speak to our class.

And of course, Western and other traditions speak of peace and the need to respect every human life, from the earliest to the latest, but we don’t have it right yet. That’s what I’d change.

Outstanding Alumni of the Year Award

Inver Hills Community College seeks nominations from alumni, faculty, staff and Foundation Board members to recognize an individual with the annual Outstanding Alumni Award. The Alumni Association Board selects the awardee each spring. Nominations are welcome throughout the year.

An alumna or alumnus is selected based on professional achievement or distinguished community service. Eligible nominees have completed at least 30 semester credits or a certificate program at Inver Hills.

Learn more about the Outstanding Alumni of the Year Award and the Inver Hills Foundation by contacting:

Amy Countryman
Foundation Development Director
Inver Hills Community College

Learn more about Inver Hills Community College by contacting:

Admissions Team
College Center

2024 Outstanding Alumni Honorable Mention Nominees

Daniel Vujovich (1976–1978)
Elizer Darris (2013–2016)
Josie Neveau (2017–2019)
Lucinda (Cindy) Greenseth (2010–2011)
Dr. Matt Simoneau
Naomi Janz (2016–2019)
Pao Houa Her (2003–2005)
Shane Hallow (2011–2014)
Sheriff Joe Leko (1992–1993)
Spencer Schramm

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