Thomas Parr, Upper Iowa University-Madison Center

IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Thomas Parr, center director, Upper Iowa University-Madison Center.
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What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job and why?

I have spent the last 32 years of my professional career in the public sector. I started that phase of my life in the U.S. Army where I took lessons learned on leadership as an enlisted soldier and commissioned officer to help my future career goals. I turned those experiences into a career in law enforcement. I just recently retired from the Madison Police Department as a crime scene investigator after 24 years of service.

Transitioning into my current position has had many rewards. Meeting and making new connections at the many local chamber events and at this year’s IB Expo has really made me feel like a part of the business community. Those activities have given me opportunities to explore new collaborations for Upper Iowa University, which is very exciting.

Who do you look up to or admire in business and why?

One of my first contacts in my role at Upper Iowa University has been Mr. Terry Murawski, the business development officer for Starion Bank. Terry immediately put me at ease upon our first meeting. He genuinely cares about our community, discussed some of his thoughts on business issues, and gave me very good information on how to help Upper Iowa University continue to assist our students. I cannot underscore how important it was to develop a rapport with Terry, who actively listened to me and gave me guidance. That was a defining moment starting my new career at UIU.

What has been the high point of your career so far?

I have had the opportunity to attend a career expo which focused on high school students. Asking open-ended questions allowed me to really get to know what our younger generation feels about the economy, job prospects, schooling, and several other things about the current state of the human condition in the United States.

I have heard a lot of the same information from my children. It was reaffirmed by my contacts at the career fair. There is much to be learned by them that we should not discount going forward as business and educational leaders.

Thinking back on your career, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Public service was the best thing I could have done to help me be successful in my life. I would tell my 21-year-old self to continue to “stay the course.” The leadership lessons learned by personal and practical experience cannot be taught in the classroom.

What would you say are the best things about living and working in Dane County?

I have lived here almost all my life. I grew up on the east side of Madison. I graduated from La Follette High School and UW–Madison. I left for the Army but returned here several years later with my wife to start our family. Both my boys graduated from La Follette as well. We have a house three blocks from my childhood home. Madison has an eclectic feel to it. I have been to other cities like Austin, but none of them can replace the “feel” of Madison. I get that feeling every day when I wake up. It is something else!

Do you have any secret talents or abilities that people would be surprised to discover?

I can still water ski at my age. I had not tried getting up on skis since I was 15, but I’m over 50 now and can still kick one heck of a slalom.

What are your guilty pleasures?

I love kayaking. My wife and I started that during COVID to get away, if only for a moment in time. My wife lost her kayak on one of our day trips. There are weight limits to these vessels. She decided that the “limit” was a suggestion. We sank. As I stood up in the river, having been totally submerged, my wife smiled and pointed. I looked over to where she was pointing only to notice her kayak had run aground 40 feet in front of us. There was no need to try the “tandem kayak” that day.

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