The marriage between former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes and Park University began with an 11-year courtship and is set now for Barnes to become the Northland institution's new public face.
Park named Barnes its senior director for university engagement. That means, she said, that she will be the person moving around the Kansas City area and the state telling the story of the nearly 150-year old school.
Barnes, who lives in the Plaza area of the city and has been teaching at Park, gets to use connections she made as a city leader to promote an institution she feels passionate about.
"I am really delighted to take every opportunity I have to represent Park University," Barnes said on Monday. "It's a very exciting story that I think a growing number of people in the Kansas City area are aware of, but I'm sure there are a lot of people who are not aware of its scope."
With 16,933 students, "there are Park students living all around the world," Barnes said. In addition to the school's main residential campus in Parkville, Park has 40 campus centers in 22 states, many of them on military bases. Park has repeatedly been named one of the nation's top military-friendly colleges.
The new appointment comes at a good time for Park, said Erik Bergrud, vice president for university engagement.
"We want to make a more public commitment to the community, and we believe that Kay Barnes is a great representative of that commitment," Bergrud said.
Barnes said she asked for the job of representing Park. It's a job, she said, that given her background in city leadership and in education, she is well suited for.
Barnes served as Kansas City's first female mayor from 1999 to 2007. Then she became a professor of public affairs at Park's Hauptmann School of Public Affairs, teaching graduate courses in leadership and working as an ambassador for the university. She founded and directed the university’s Center for Leadership.
In her new position Barnes will continue to represent Park as an ambassador in its government relations and business development initiatives. She also will be responsible for delivering public presentations and connecting university leaders with the community.
"I have maintained many connections and relationships " said Barnes, referring to the civic work she's done over the years. "I'm rooted in Kansas City. This adds me in a more structured way to Park University, adding my name and more importantly my involvement in spreading the word about Park."
Last week KC Mayor Sly James, along with other civic leaders, honored Barnes in a ceremony naming the grand ballroom at the Kansas City Convention Center for her. The ceremony paid tribute to Barnes, 80, for her commitment to the city and for her work in revitalizing downtown during her tenure as mayor.
In mid-June she was recognized by the University of Missouri-Kansas City Alumni Association as its Alumna of the Year. She was also honored as a champion for women in the city and the state.
Before she was mayor she was founder and president of Kay Waldo Inc., a human resources development firm from 1976 to 1998. She was a Jackson County legislator from 1974 to 1978 and served on the Kansas City City Council from 1979 to 1983.
At UMKC she earned master's degrees in public administration and secondary education. At the University of Kansas she earned a bachelor's in secondary education. In 2006 she received an honorary doctorate from Park.