Former South Bend Mayor Roger O. Parent reflects on leadership
Roger O. Parent is a former mayor of South Bend. If you’ve been around a while, you know this. For those keeping count or not following the news, he’s been in office before Joe Kernan, Stefan gap and Pete Buttigieg.
Good. A book by the former mayor is new. Getting Things Done was recently released by Filibuster Press. The book can be purchased at filibusterpress.com.
The two-year mayor served from 1980 to 1987. Much has been done in these years. For example the construction of Coveleski Stadium, the East Race and New Energy Ethanol. Roger wants to share success stories and what he learned from growing up in Maine and his family’s strong work ethic. Then there was his time in the Peace Corps. Then there are other chapters about coming to South Bend and its need to work in the public service from city council to mayor and later on the school board.
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Then there are new stories about how to get involved in social action.
He said he likes to tell stories.
So let’s hear what he has to say. What is a good place to meet the author? How about downtown South Bend? A good place to be in a city he cares about. Time for a little coffee and talks.
Each story in the book is short, a few pages. Most have a lesson to share. “I started making notes about leadership.” Then the notes were cleared away. Then it was time to bring them out. “The teaching hasn’t changed from then to now.”
The lessons can in many cases boil down to truthfulness, listening, positivity and action.
He said the most important thing is to be open to what can be done. Listen to everyone. “I had learned that excellent ideas come from many people and places,” he said in the book. The East Race and Coveleski Stadium sprang from the fertile imagination of local people.
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To get things done, a staff of brilliant people is essential to get anything done, he said. It’s not about “I”. It’s more about the collective “we”.
Those of the grandstand Jack Colwell wrote the foreword to the book. Jack said Parent laid the foundation for many later urban developments. A number of mayors, including Mayor Pete, have been able to deliver more to the city thanks to Roger.
Roger grew up in Maine in a large family. They spoke French before English. He spoke of his parents with reverence. His father was a carpenter and could build anything. “He taught me to take the first step and not worry.” Just do it and be honest.
Prior to South Bend, Roger received a bachelor’s degree from St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia. From 1961 to 1963 he served in the Peace Corps in Thailand. In 1964 he arrived in South Bend with his wife, Rolande. On the first day they were impressed by the shops and streets of South Bend. They were both from northern Maine and he was in Thailand. That looked big in comparison.
He did his Masters in Education and was working on his PhD. However, he needed a job to support a growing family. There were four children. Today they are spread all over the country. With the help of the internet, no one is too far away.
Roger remembers writing Rolande in Maine. Write letters on paper. Nothing electronic back then. Communication would take weeks. The sweetness of waiting for a letter.
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Okay, back to what happens next with the parents. He needed something to do. “I’ve worked in neighborhood development and poverty reduction programs,” he said. He faced poverty and racial discrimination.
Roger wanted to do more for the city he now called home. He ran for city council and served as council president for five years. “I’ve always been interested in politics. It was a way to do something for the city. I’ve always had a public service mentality.”
Later he felt he could achieve more as mayor. “I enjoy getting things done.”
Roger’s book describes what happened along the way. There was bumpiness and short-sightedness among some citizens when it came to developments like the ballpark. There were the strange events like a python roaming Jefferson Boulevard and finally leaving this world.
He writes about the importance of increasing the number of African Americans and women in city government.
After leaving the mayoralty, he again served in the Peace Corps in Haiti and several other countries. He later served on the South Bend School Board. In 2006 he and Rolande founded a non-profit organization called World Dignity, Inc. It funds scholarships in Thailand, India and Bangladesh. “There are at least 60 great success stories” of the grants, he wrote.
Are there 25 more lessons to share? He stopped. “Probably not.”
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