GARDNER — Community leader and long-serving volunteer James O. Garrison is the recipient of Mount Wachusett Community College's 2015 Service Above Self Award. The award, which recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions within the 29 cities and towns that make up the college's service area, will be presented during MWCC's 50th Commencement on Wednesday, May 20. In addition, Mr. Garrison will be awarded an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters.
“We are proud to present this year's Service Above Self Award to Jim Garrison for the tremendous impact he has made on our college, in the lives of so many of our students, and in the greater community,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino.
“Mr Garrison's spirit of generosity and willingness to share his time, talents and resources epitomize the essence of what it means to be a caring, engaged citizen in a democratic society,” President Asquino said. “His philanthropic endeavors have resulted in countless improvements and changes to MWCC that have enhanced the learning environment for college students and children and the vital role the college plays in the community.”
A member of MWCC's Board of Trustees from 2001 to 2014, including four years as chair, the Philadelphia native developed a passion for education and helping others while earning an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
The Garrisons moved to North Central Massachusetts in 1990 when he purchased the company H&R 1871, and immediately became involved in community service.
“The thing that struck me about Gardner was the dedication of the people in the community,” Mr. Garrison said. “Within the first week of arriving, I was visited by a number of business leaders, including President Asquino.” The first program launched by the company and MWCC focused on helping high school graduates get back on track. The program was not successful, Mr. Garrison said, due to a high rate of homelessness among the participants. However it raised awareness of underlying issues, and correlation between the importance of early childhood education prior to kindergarten, and academic success later in life.
With this in mind, in 2005, he and his wife, Peggy, donated $1 million to the MWCC Foundation to support stipends for MWCC students in need of child care, as well as scholarships for students studying early childhood education. The Garrisons also provided additional funding to build the child care center and preschool on the Gardner campus, which is named in their honor.
Mr. Garrison, now a resident of Acton, continues to volunteer as a member of the MWCC Foundation. In addition, he currently serves as chair of the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts, chair of the Greater Gardner Industrial Development Corporation and Foundation, chair of the GFA Federal Credit Union Supervisory Committee, and on the Heywood Hospital Board of Trustees. Previously, he served on the board of directors of the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of North Central Massachusetts.
A former president and CEO of Instron Corp., in Canton, which manufactures and services materials testing instruments, system and accessories, Mr. Garrison retired from the U.S. Naval Reserves with the rank of Commander. He earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Miami University in Ohio, followed by an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Recognized for his dedication promoting education, health and economic development, Mr. Garrison is a recipient of the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year and Business Person of the Year awards; the MWCC Foundation Harold E. Drake Jr. Citizen of the Year Award; Gardner Visiting Nurses Association Make a Difference Award, and Community Health Connections' Community Health Champion Award. Earlier this year, Mr. and Mrs. Garrison were recognized with the Heywood Healthcare Community Health Hero Award.