Vignettes about Events & People
Virgil Watson Jr.
In 1999, Cowley County voters elected Virgil Watson Jr. as the first African American to the Board of Trustees of Cowley County Community College.
The Arkansas City native and 1972 graduate of the college is administrator of Sumner County Hospital District 1 in Caldwell, a position he’s held since May 1996.
After Cowley, Watson went on to the University of Kansas, earning a bachelor of science degree in education in 1974. Two years later, he earned a master’s degree in public health and administration, also from KU.
Watson, a 1970 graduate of Arkansas City High School, earned a scholarship to play basketball at Cowley. During his freshman year, Watson was coached by Tiger Athletic Hall of Famer Del Heidebrecht. Despite being competitive in the majority of the contests, the Tigers suffered through a 4-18 season. During that season, Cowley lost four games by nine total points, and only three sophomores saw considerable action. Watson was a small but quick guard on the team.
During his sophomore year, Watson played basketball and was a member of the Black Student Establishment. The BSE sponsored several activities, including Cultural Minorities Week, guest speakers, art displays, and a food drive at Thanksgiving. Lyle Rutter replaced Heidebrecht as basketball coach, but the Tigers didn’t fare much better, winning six games and losing 18. Once again, Cowley was competitive throughout most of the season, losing three games by a total of six points. The highlight of the season was a third-place finish at the Barton County Tournament during the Thanksgiving break.
Before earning a master’s degree from KU, Watson taught one year, fourth- and fifth-graders at Pinckney Elementary School in Lawrence. After earning his graduate degree, Watson served an internship at Winfield State Hospital and Training Center as well as Arkansas City Memorial Hospital for one year. He then stayed at ACMH, now known as South Central Kansas Regional Medical Center, until 1985. He then worked for ServiceMaster Corp. for three years, then went back to ACMH as director of human resources. He has held a variety of jobs at ACMH, including business office manager, in collections, as director of environmental services, human resource director, and safety officer.
Watson and his late wife Jacqueline had three daughters, one son, and one grandchild. Watson’s community service is extensive. He has worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People when it was in operation in Arkansas City, has served as secretary for the Human Relations Council, was secretary for the Northwest Community Center Board, has worked with the educational committee for the Church of God in Christ, and is currently on the Caldwell Area Hospital and Health Foundation Board of Directors.
Four years ago, he said this about his decision to run for a spot on the Board of Trustees: "I think I always get inspired the same time we have our Martin Luther King Celebration. He was an activist and involved in community affairs. To help make changes and make your community grow and prosper, you have to be active. I can’t preach, I can’t sing. But I have a gift in working with people in providing organizations leadership."