Bud Kennedy

After 30 years, a quiet change at the top: Appleman retires, Barr takes seat at TCC

Louise Appleman is leaving the county college board after 30 years, and Kenneth Barr is taking that seat, and let me tell you why that’s important.

Fort Worth-based Tarrant County College is as big as UT Austin. To Leon Bridges, Wendy Davis, Post Malone and three current reporters at the Washington Post, TCC was “starting college.”

Right now, it’s where 57,000 students are starting college, some while they’re finishing high school.

We’re going to need those 57,000 brains and more in a city that’s trailing Austin and Dallas in education and barely keeps up with San Antonio.

“If Fort Worth is going to grow and thrive, we’re going to need students getting the education and specialized training at TCC,” said Barr, a former Fort Worth mayor and now a 76-year-old rookie college trustee.

In the college’s 50-plus years, Barr is only the third trustee in the seat that serves mostly west and southwest Fort Worth. Pioneer physician Dr. May Owen, elected in 1965, left the seat to Appleman, a community do-it-all volunteer and owner of a relocation business, in 1988.

“I told Ken I didn’t want just anybody to take this seat,” Appleman, the board president, said last week.

“We threw some names back and forth and he said, ‘You know what? I think I’ll do it.’ “

Barr joins the TCC board after eight years as chairman of the North Texas Tollway Authority board.

He carried every box in the May 4 election, winning 79% of the vote to defeat Arlington candidate Hunter Crow.

Tollway authority Chairman Kenneth Barr will leave that board to join the junior college board. NTTA

“There’s a lack of appreciation for how important this really is to Fort Worth.”

The college is low-profile, except when something goes wrong.

Something went wrong 20 years ago, when a past chancellor proposed a lavish new downtown campus flanking the Trinity River, part of it on the river bluff and part on what is now called Panther Island, with a connecting bridge.

Headlines called it the “Taj Mahal on the Trinity.” Canadian architect Bing Thom’s modernist dream was too extravagant, and tougher river levee standards after Hurricane Katrina kept the college from bridging the river.

“That was not a pretty chapter,” Barr said.

Instead, the college bought the former RadioShack headquarters that it now shares with Tarleton-Fort Worth, and the handsome campus has helped draw more students.

“When people say, ‘What happened?’ — well, Katrina happened,” Appleman said.

“You live and learn. It’s great the way it has worked out.”

The college has been the signature work of Appleman’s career. Born in Corpus Christi to immigrants who fled Nazi Germany, she came to Fort Worth 55 years ago when she married lawyer Gordon Appleman.

Louise Appleman not long after taking office on the TCC board in 1988. TCC

Pete Geren of Fort Worth, a former congressman and now president of the Sid W. Richardson Foundation, praised her.

“Over the last 30 years,” he wrote by email, “TCC has become the most impactful higher education institution in our region. It is a game-changer for countless people and families. No one deserves more credit for that than Louise Appleman.”

Appleman said she leaves the board with work ahead, beginning with repairing and updating the older campuses in south Fort Worth, northwest Fort Worth and in Hurst.

“We do so much now — it can take hours just to look through the list of programs,” she said, listing TCC career fields such as nursing, surgical technicians, physical therapy, paralegal studies, first responders, cooking and culinary arts, drama, dance, music and more.

“We impact 100,000 lives a year,” she said.

That’s not only counting students, but also the education professionals and staff that help raise Fort Worth’s IQ.

“What has impressed me most is the quality of our faculty and administrative staff,” she said.

“Sometimes I don’t think we do a good job of telling our story.”

Nothing else so big in Fort Worth works so quietly, and so well.

Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.