Former councilman, educator Flannery remembered

Published 5:21 pm Saturday, October 8, 2011

A conversation about the history of Austin’s education would drum up thoughts of many influential people. One name people remember is James Flannery. He dedicated his career to local education on multiple levels.

James (Jim) Dunbar Flannery, a longtime resident of Austin, passed away from a heart attack Sept. 21 in Kailua, Hawaii.

He was born Dec. 3, 1929, in Austin, to Leonard and Margaret Flannery. Flannery was interested in education early on, and his career was long.

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Through his years in Austin, he was a public schools student, community college student, teacher, community education director, city councilman, dean, and president of Austin Community College.

His years in teaching and administration at Austin Community College spanned many instructors, some who remember Flannery as a well-respected leader.

“What really tied him into the community and college was his leadership in the community education program,” said Roger Boughton, who was dean of students when Flannery was dean of instruction (Boughton later moved up to Flannery’s position when Flannery became president).

Flannery’s role as community education director was during the time the public school system was tied to the technical college. The community college was separate and funded by the state. Though the state eventually merged the community and technical schools, Flannery was always pushing for the two schools to work together.

“He really did work to establish good relationships between the two colleges,” said Terry Dilley, an instructor at the college during part of Flannery’s administration. Dilley also remembers how Flannery was influential in getting student housing built between the east and west buildings.

However, most staff and faculty remember Flannery as a professional leader who seemed to be on good terms with everybody.

Charles Jahren’s career as an instructor briefly crossed paths with Flannery’s time as an administrator. Like others, Jahren said most people held a positive image of the longtime administrator.

“I think that would be pretty much the general consensus,” Jahren said.

Dilley agrees.

“I think in general, he was regarded as a good administrator,” Dilley said.

Boughton agreed, too, and said, “he was a great gentleman. (He) let you do your job (and) didn’t interfere.”

Many thought highly of Flannery’s body of work, too. For all his efforts at the Austin Community College, which encompassed much of the 1970s through the 1980s, Flannery received the institution’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1990.

After a stroke in 1995, Flannery spent more time in Hawaii where his wife, Joanne, owned a home. Though the stroke affected some of his motor skills, his sister, Mary Johnsen, said he was still sharp witted, and could play bridge with the best of them.

“You wouldn’t believe that he could go play bridge all the time,” she said.

Though Flannery increasingly spent more time in Hawaii, he made a point to come back each year. The last time many Austin residents saw Flannery was when he returned for a gathering of friends last year at the Austin Country Club.

Flannery is survived by his wife of 24 years, Joanne; children, James (Cecilia), John (Nancy) Cyndi Myers (John), Peggy Swanson (Bill); sisters, Mary Johnsen (Michael Bell) Nancy Pedersen (Kenneth); stepchildren, David and Doug Pertz and Cathy Carter; along with many other family members and friends.

Among all Flannery’s work with the young, he served the seniors well, too. On the back of a scrapbook at the Mower County Senior Center, one can find a poem dedicated to Flannery, who was instrumental in starting the center back in 1975.

Even people who never knew Flannery or perhaps aren’t born will learn about him, too. Flannery’s family set up The Jim Flannery Scholarship Fund at Riverland Community College in his memory. More important, it’s for the future students — the way Flannery would have wanted it.