October 18, 2017
Former Tuskegee Airman, Education Pioneer to Speak at Clark State
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Former Clark State Community College Vice President, Marsha Bordner, will appear at Clark State alongside her husband, Tuskegee Airman Harold Brown, this month to discuss their autobiography, “Keep Your Airspeed Up: The Story of a Tuskegee Airman.”
Colonel Brown graduated from Tuskegee in 1944, was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group and flew 30 missions as a bomber-escort fighter pilot before being shot down on a strafing mission. Captured, Colonel Brown became a German POW, all before the age of 21.
Colonel Brown was liberated by General George Patton’s forces in 1945. After the war ended, he continued to serve in the U.S. Air Force, retiring in 1965 as a lieutenant colonel with 23 years of active duty service.
Clark State associate professor of history, Dr. Melinda Mohler, said the Tuskegee Airmen deserve our gratitude, not only because they rose above racial discrimination and segregation to serve as America's first black military pilots, but also because they served with such distinction in that role. “More than 900 pilots successfully completed the pilot training program at Tuskegee, and their service to their country became an integral part of America's success in World War II,” she said. “In 2007, the Airmen received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their outstanding record.”
Building a new career after his retirement, Colonel Brown joined a small technical college in Columbus, Ohio. While a teacher and educator, he earned both a master’s degree and Ph.D. in vocational-technical education from The Ohio State University. He eventually became a vice president. Over the two decades he worked there, he helped the small college grow from 500 students to close to 9,000. Brown also served as interim vice president of Clark State in early 1987.
“Keep Your Airspeed Up” covers Brown’s early years in Minnesota, his time during World War II and the Strategic Air Command and his experiences as a respected Ohio educator.
“Most people only think of Harold’s life in terms of World War II, but he served in the Strategic Air Command during the Cuban Missile Crisis and then helped form what is now Columbus State Community College,” said Bordner. “He was a friend and colleague of past Clark State President Al Salerno, both of whom were pioneers in two-year college education in Ohio.”
At 93, Brown keeps active by traveling and speaking about how he overcame adversity in a segregated America. He encourages young students to make wise decisions about their future, to study hard and to take subjects leading to interesting, well-paying careers. He remains a Tuskegee Airman and an American patriot.
Bordner started collecting oral histories, interviews and articles about Harold more than 25 years ago. She said one of the best oral transcripts came from a court reporting student at Clark State.
“When I first met Harold at Clark State, I was amazed at his stories,” said Bordner. “I’ve always been a lover of words and stories, and when I found out the Tuskegee Airmen had changed the course of history through their unwillingness to be labeled as ‘lesser than,’ I was hooked.”
Bordner said the Air Force was the first organization to desegregate in America largely because of the performance of the 332nd Fighter Group: The Tuskegee Airmen. “They had to fight for the right to fight in World War II, and in the process became living legends,” she said.
Bordner holds a Ph.D. in English from The Ohio State University and served in education at Clark State. She started at Clark Technical College in 1979 as a faculty member. She said Clark Tech was her first “real job.”
Bordner taught a variety of courses at Clark Tech, became the chair of general education for about eight years and then served as the vice president for academic affairs another eight years. She was heavily involved in the transition of the college from a technical college to a community college.
“Coming back to Springfield means the world to me,” said Bordner. “I spent most of my adult life in Springfield and Urbana. I was president at Terra State for almost ten years and loved that job, but my real beginning was in Springfield. There are many people there that I still hold dear.”
"We are very pleased to have Marsha Bordner and her husband Harold Brown coming to Clark State,” said Naomi Louis, dean of arts & sciences at Clark State. “This is an opportunity to hear directly from a Tuskegee Airman what it was like during this time in our country. It brings to life the stories of an airman’s journey and his passion to fly. I encourage everyone to come and experience his life first-hand and the impact his actions have had on changing the course of history."
Brown and Bordner will speak at 3:30 p.m. Monday, October 23 at the Hollenbeck Bayley Creative Arts and Conference Center, 275 South Limestone Street in downtown Springfield. The event will include a 15-minute video followed by a question-and-answer session and book signing. The community is invited and admission is free.