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Janet Purnell

Educator and minority advocate Janet Purnell was born in Akron, Ohio on August 30, 1936 and has been a life-long resident. She studied education at the University of Akron, where she earned both her B.S. (1959) and her M.S. (1971).

For twenty-two years, Purnell worked for the Akron Public Schools as both an elementary school teacher and principal. In 1967, she led alumni in successfully lobbying for the establishment of an anti-segregation policy on the University of Akron campus. In 1982, she became the Executive Director of the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority. In this role, she oversaw the public housing for 20,000 residents and served as a lobbyist on behalf of the 40 largest housing authorities. She later entered the private sector, acting as the CEO of Navic & Associates, where she served as a local and national consultant on establishing diversity in the workplace. In 1990, she returned to her alma mater to sit on the president's cabinet, overseeing all minority initiatives on campus. This position led to her subsequent role as the first Executive Director of Minority Development at the University. Purnell was responsible for securing funding to support minority initiatives and distributing annual scholarship funds to minority students. In honor of Purnell's appointment to chair the University of Akron's Board of Trustees, the Zeta Theta Omega Sorority established the Janet B. Purnell Project Self-Sufficiency Endowment, which annually awards a scholarship to a single mother.

Since 1985, she has provided leadership to historic preservation efforts in Akron. She designed and implemented the Dr. Shirla R. McClain Gallery of Akron's Black History and Culture program and spearheaded the establishment of the Gallery's endowment fund and curriculum guides. She has been a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority for over forty years; has acted a Trustee for the Akron Urban League and Akron Musical Association; serves as the Secretary of the Akron Chapter of the NAACP; is the Vice-Chairman of the Akron Black Women's Leadership Caucus and Chair of the Mt. Olive Baptist Church Trustee Ministry. In 2001, Purnell was honored as one of 100 outstanding women of Summit County. She is the mother of two sons.

Accession Number

A2002.131

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/2/2002

Last Name

Purnell

Maker Category
Marital Status

Widow

Schools

University of Akron

North High School

First Name

Janet

Birth City, State, Country

Akron

HM ID

PUR01

Favorite Season

Winter

State

Ohio

Favorite Vacation Destination

Houston, Texas

Favorite Quote

Do Not Go Where The Path May Lead. Go, Instead, Where There Is No Path And Leave A Trail.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Ohio

Birth Date

8/30/1936

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Akron

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Broccoli

Death Date

11/30/2008

Short Description

Academic administrator, elementary school principal, and elementary school teacher Janet Purnell (1936 - 2008 ) was the first executive director of minority development at the University of Akron. She also taught in Akron Public Schools for twenty-two years before becoming executive director of Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority and CEO of Navic & Associates.

Employment

Akron Public Schools

Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority

University of Akron

University of Akron Shirla R. McClain Gallery

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Janet Purnell's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Janet Purnell lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Janet Purnell describes her parents' family backgrounds

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Janet Purnell talks about her maternal great-grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Janet Purnell talks about the traditional family stories that were passed on to her

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Janet Purnell describes why her parents moved to Akron, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Janet Purnell describes the sights, smells, and sounds of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Janet Purnell describes the role of Mt. Zion Baptist Church during her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Janet Purnell describes her mother's involvement with the Republican Party

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Janet Purnell describes her upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Janet Purnell describes her childhood interests and activities

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Janet Purnell talks about her favorite childhood holidays

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Janet Purnell describes her mother's strict personality

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Janet Purnell describes her parents' civic involvement

Tape: 1 Story: 15 - Janet Purnell describes her experiences in school

Tape: 1 Story: 16 - Janet Purnell describes her parents' educational backgrounds

Tape: 1 Story: 17 - Janet Purnell describes the first black teachers in the Akron Public School system

Tape: 1 Story: 18 - Janet Purnell talks about her experiences attending Jennings Junior High School in Akron, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 19 - Janet Purnell talks about her parents' involvement with Freemasonry

Tape: 1 Story: 20 - Janet Purnell talks about her parents' care for others

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Janet Purnell talks about her parents' civic involvement

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Janet Purnell describes her childhood chores

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Janet Purnell talks about growing up in Akron Metropolitan Housing

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Janet Purnell describes her experiences attending North High School in Akron, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Janet Purnell describes her social life as an African American student at North Senior High School in Akron, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Janet Purnell talks about the teachers that influenced her at North High School in Akron, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Janet Purnell describes why she enrolled at the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Janet Purnell talks about attending the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Janet Purnell describes volunteering with the Akron Urban League as a youth

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Janet Purnell talks about police checkpoints in Akron, Ohio in the 1960s

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Janet Purnell talks about social unrest in Akron, Ohio during the 1960s and 1970s

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Janet Purnell describes her early teaching career

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Janet Purnell describes the dynamic between teachers and parents during her early teaching career

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Janet Purnell talks about developing partnerships with parents in the classroom

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Janet Purnell describes the "integrated learning experience" she helped develop in the 1950s

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Janet Purnell talks about helping her students develop a sense of cultural identity and self-sufficiency

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Janet Purnell describes why she ended her career as an elementary school teacher

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Janet Purnell talks about trying to integrate "private" parks with the National Urban League in Akron, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Janet Purnell talks about developing programs and services to encourage voter registration

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Janet Purnell talks about being active in Republican politics

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Janet Purnell comments on being a Republican in an era of declining black Republican involvement

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Janet Purnell describes her Republican ideology

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Janet Purnell talks about arranging an interview between her students and Alex Haley, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Janet Purnell talks about arranging an interview between her students and Alex Haley, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Janet Purnell describes addressing discipline in schools during her time as a school principal

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Janet Purnell shares a story of a teacher disciplining a student without context

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Janet Purnell describes how a partnership with Akron Children's Hospital transformed the way she and her teachers approached students

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Janet Purnell talks about being the Vice Chairman of the Summit County Republican Party

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Janet Purnell talks about being hired as the Executive Director of the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Janet Purnell describes the challenges she faced as Executive Director of the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Janet Purnell talks about developing a formal pest control system for the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Janet Purnell describes the challenges she faced when hiring staff for the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Janet Purnell compares public housing developments in large cities

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Janet Purnell talks about the services offered to tenants during her time as Executive Director of the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Janet Purnell talks about gang violence in Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Janet Purnell talks about retiring as Executive Director of Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Janet Purnell talks about serving as interim Director of Minority Affairs and Executive Director of Minority Development for the University of Akron

Tape: 4 Story: 13 - Janet Purnell talks about serving as Regional Coordinator of Leadership Development Training for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority

Tape: 4 Story: 14 - Janet Purnell talks about curriculum design

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Janet Purnell talks about working with every day people to acquire historical materials

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Janet Purnell comments on what it takes to contribute to history

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Janet Purnell describes the effects the Dr. Shirla R. McClain Gallery of Akron's Black History and Culture has had on the public

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Janet Purnell talks about her plans for the future

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Janet Purnell talks about how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Janet Purnell narrates her photographs

DASession

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DATape

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DAStory

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DATitle
Janet Purnell describes the challenges she faced as Executive Director of the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority
Janet Purnell talks about developing a formal pest control system for the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority
Janet Purnell describes her mother's strict personality
Janet Purnell describes the "integrated learning experience" she helped develop in the 1950s
Transcript
Okay. Now, tell us about that. I mean, what was that like? Because I think the previous administration was Democratic or whatever, and you came in. And what kind of issues did you have to face?$$Well, not only the issue of blackness, but the issue of being a female. Because not only on a local level was it interesting to be received in that setting. I would run into situations because I... It called for a lot of traveling on a national basis to affiliate with the Council of National... large public housing authorities, etc., etc. And generally, I would travel with at least one other administrator. Like, it might be legal counsel or the vice president of finance. And there would be two of us who would come into a setting. And someone would say, "I'd like you to meet the new Executive Director of AMHA [Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority]." And say, if you and I were together, the person would immediately reach for your hand. (Laughter). This happened to us all the time that no one ever guessed that it could possibly be the tall black woman. No one ever guessed. And so, that happened throughout the whole six and a half years. When I first arrived even on the national scene at a conference, someone made the joke... made the comment, "Why would a little schoolteacher think that she could succeed in public housing?" Now six and a half years later by the time I was retiring, then they were angry because I was leaving because I'd become one of the leading lobbying voices before the Congress. Then they were upset, and I said, "Well, this little old schoolteacher is moving out now. Remember you thought this wasn't going to work." So, on all fronts--on the front of sexuality, on the front of race--from many perspectives there was the challenge. Because it is an autonomous political sub-division, and that was the climate in which I came in that could not be changed suddenly. And so, the fact that I had the ability to make multi-million dollar decisions day to day, and to really have the authority to run the Housing Authority, notwithstanding that the board was, you know, a governing board. As long as I was producing... as long as I was attracting the millions of dollars that were needed to run it, and producing the proper profits and enhancing the image of just what that housing authority was, then the board was pleased. And so, we were able to have a successful administration.$Okay. What kind of changes did you feel compelled to make in the administration of public housing here in the City of Akron? I mean what had it come to since you, since the days that you lived in public housing as a child? And what did you have to change to try to make it better?$$Well, one of the first things I had to do was to establish a system for our... a formal system for pest control. We had a very informal system for that. And that was major, in that we had something like 9,000 units of housing in six cities and two townships. And so, we did develop a full-scale program of that. One of the things--$$I'm sorry. The scope of what you were doing was not just in Akron [Ohio] then. It was in other cities?$$Right.$$Okay.$$Right. They were all in the county. But it was six cities and two townships.$$So it was Canton--$$Most of the others were smaller.$$Smaller.$$Were smaller than Canton [Ohio]. They were some of the smaller townships and villages, but it still made up nearly 10,000 units of housing.$Okay. So, you were a pretty happy child then, I suppose? I guess what you're describing is pretty--$$Yes. We felt our parents [Millard Walter and Nannette Victoria Johnson] were too strict, because we had a life where folks did care where you went and who was supervising. And like I said, in terms of the time curfew, in terms of things we wanted, you had to wait longer. But really, that was by virtue of the fact that there were six kids. And so, for your name to come up in the hat for a Schwinn bicycle, you had to be patient. They got you a Schwinn bicycle. You got a new one when you got it, but it had to be in the context of paying the family bills and everybody sharing the resources. And so, we came to learn that if we would prevail in terms of being patient, that our parents really extended themselves to a reasonable extent to see that we had the major things that we wanted in life that were important to us.$$Did any of you all ever rebel against your parents, in terms of the rules and--$$Oh, yes. We were very normal. (Laughter). I was probably one of the best children, because my mother [Nannette Victoria Johnson] could anticipate, before I even got into doing something that was out of order--she could sort of read my eyes and she would predict that I had in mind doing something. So, that cancelled it out. But no, we were normal children who had to be spanked and who had to be grounded. I even got as far as college days, and dating my husband. And no one in my family had ever gone to a drive-in movie. And we came home after 1 o'clock in the morning, and my mother would not believe there was such a thing as a movie theater open after that time. And so, she grounded me for thirty days. But my eldest brother got me bailed out, because he had a talk with her. We had a young adult club that met on Sundays at the Urban League. And he talked with her and explained that if she took me out of circulation, I might be with her forever. And I didn't what conversation had transpired; I just know that she called me upstairs and said, "Get dressed and go to your meeting." (Laughter). And she subsequently told me about this conversation, and reflecting on as much as she loved me... having me forever... (Laughter).$Okay, alright. So, what other things did you do, I guess, and were involved in (unclear)--?$$Well, we had the first bussing for integrated learning experience when I was yet in the classroom. I taught fourth grade. And a colleague of mine, Dr. Patricia Stewart, taught fourth grade. She taught at a predominantly white elementary school, and I taught at a predominantly black elementary school. We secured permission to transport my class to spend the afternoon with her class once a month, and we alternated months they would come to us. And we would have a social studies experience. We'd also have a time when they teamed up with specific buddies that they would look toward every month... find out what their hobbies were. They would take something... If Joe was interested in kites, then I might take a kite or something that I had found related to kiting on my next visit, to exchange. So, we had the social studies experience. They would have sack lunch together so that they could interact informally. And at the end of the school year, we had an international buffet luncheon that was more like a picnic, in which we had them bring dishes that related to whatever nationalities were reflected in the group. Some folk got to know what potato pie was for the first time. And by first, in terms of other dishes reflecting other cultures. And what we found was not only was it an excellent experience and they learned to work extremely well together--they fashioned such close bonds that at the end of that first summer when it was time to say good-bye, they were hugging and in tears, as though they had a summer camp experience and had been inseparable for many, many months instead of coming together once a month. And many of them to this day have relationships that have continued to go on into adulthood. But we were able to do that. The public schools provided public transportation for us to--$$Approximately when was this?$$This would have been in the late 1950's.