UNO Alumni Association honors two graduates
with Achievement Award at commencement
The UNO Alumni Association bestowed its Citation for Alumni Achievement upon UNO graduates James W. Freeman and Penny Parker during the university’s Fall Commencement ceremonies Saturday, Dec. 15, on the UNO campus.
The citation, inaugurated in 1949, is issued at each UNO commencement. The association’s highest honor, it encompasses career achievement, community service, involvement in business and professional associations, and fidelity to the university. UNO Alumni Association President Lee Denker presented the awards to Freeman and Parker, who became the 159th and 160th Citation recipients, respectively.
Freeman is director of UNO’s Office of Multicultural Affairs and Parker is executive director of Completely KIDS in Omaha, will be recognized at the 2 p.m. ceremony, also in the fieldhouse.
“Jim and Penny have made deep, meaningful contributions well beyond the Omaha community, especially by fostering positive change as advocates for youth and underrepresented peoples,” Denker said. “They have distinguished themselves in their fields while inspiring others to join the noble cause of service. We are proud to count them as UNO graduates.”
James Freeman earned a master’s degree in education from UNO in 1968 and an administrative endorsement in 1970. He came to UNO from Alabama, where he had earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Tuskegee University (1966). Through Tuskegee he was active in the civil rights movement, specifically with voter registration. He also participated in several marches with Martin Luther King Jr., including the famous Selma march.
In Omaha, Freeman became part of the first National Teacher Corps, a federal program that trained teachers for service in the inner city. He joined Omaha Public Schools and spent 38 years with OPS as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and director of recruitment. Redbook magazine twice recognized Fontenelle Elementary, one of several schools where Freeman was principal, as one of the best schools in the nation and the best in Nebraska. In 2000 he was one of four individuals from Nebraska invited by President Bill Clinton and Secretary of Education Richard Riley for the signing of the “Goals 2000: Educate America Act.”
Freeman joined UNO in 2003 as interim director of Multicultural Affairs and became permanent director in 2005. He focuses on the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students and works in collaboration with faculty, staff and the greater Omaha community to provide students with knowledge and skills needed for success. The office provides scholarship aid, academic and personal support, counseling and mentoring.
In the community, Freeman is a sought-after public speaker, mentor, advisor and volunteer. He has served on various boards, most recently for the YMCA of Greater Omaha and the Urban League of Nebraska. He has received nearly a dozen awards for his work and service, including the Norbert & Charlene Schuerman Outstanding Principal Award, the Lifetime Service Award from Metro Community College and the UNO Chancellor’s Medal.
Freeman’s wife, Barbara, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from UNO. The couple has two sons.
Penny Parker earned a master’s degree in social work from UNO in 1980. She also has a bachelor’s degree in social welfare from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (1972). She has served as executive director of Completely KIDS since 1991, leading an organization that provides out-of-school time and violence prevention programs for more than 8,000 boys and girls in Douglas, Sarpy and Pottawattamie (Iowa) counties. The Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce named it Nonprofit of the Year for 2012.
Parker’s responsibilities include board, staff and resource development, fundraising and grant writing, strategic planning and community relations. She oversees a budget of $3 million, 30 full-time and 80 part-time staff, and 1,300 volunteers.
Prior to joining Completely KIDS Parker was director of Community Health Services for the American Red Cross, Heartland Chapter. For six years prior to that she was a social service administrator for the Nebraska Department of Social Services. She previously spent seven years in various roles with the Child Saving Institute and has worked for Douglas County Social Services.
Her professional involvement is extensive, including board or committee representation for more than three dozen organizations over several decades. That includes current membership on the UNO American Humanities Community Council, the Omaha Chamber of Commerce and the Nebraska Human Services Association.
She also has volunteered extensively, to more than a dozen organizations. That includes Big Brothers-Big Sisters of the Midlands, the Girls Club of Omaha, Clarkson Hospital, Suburban Rotary and others. She also has provided extensive service to the UNO School of Social Work as a part-time instructor and practicum committee member.
Project Harmony, the Nebraska Commission on the Status of Women, the YWCA, and more than a dozen other organizations have honored her with awards throughout her career.
Parker lives in Omaha with her husband, Steven Parker.