Travel & Tourism Instructor Leaves Powerful Legacy

Judith Sparrow retires after nearly 35 years of doing what she loved best.

Judith Sparrow

Judith Sparrow

Judith Sparrow started teaching at Dakota County Technical College in 1973, only three years after the college was founded. In 2008, Sparrow retired from her job as a travel and tourism instructor after making sure that more than 1,000 students earned certification as professional travel agents.

“Teaching travel and tourism has been my passion,” Sparrow said. “I could not possibly imagine a more rewarding career.”

For Sparrow, helping her students pursue their career dreams was an honor and a privilege. She taught them to “know their products” and “know their destinations” so that they could provide clients with truly wonderful travel experiences.

Terry Amundson, a 2006 graduate of the program, regards Sparrow as perhaps the best teacher she ever had. A highly successful computer programmer with an MBA from the University of Minnesota, Amundson decided one day to switch careers so that she could do something she really loved. The difficult decision was made easy by Sparrow’s genuine enthusiasm for travel and tourism and her instant commitment to Amundson’s future success. Today, Amundson works out of her home as an independent Disney-only travel agent.

“I love my job,” Amundson said. “I work with people who are thrilled about going on vacation to Disneyland or Disneyworld. Bottom line, I wouldn’t be where I am today without Judith.”

A 2004 graduate of the program, Darlene Mongoven also counts Sparrow as a person who made a huge difference in her life. Mongoven founded a travel agency called Book It! shortly after graduating, but has since become a successful independent contractor with Carousel Travel.

“I was a stay-at-home mom when I made the daunting decision to go back to work,” Mongoven said. “I talked to Judith on the phone and explained my situation. She told me to come down to the college, saying, ‘I’ll meet you at the front door.’ And that’s exactly what she did.”

Mongoven recounted how Sparrow always went the distance to help her succeed. Sparrow’s love for travel and tourism was something she shared with her students. “Our industry attracts a unique group of people,” Mongoven said. “We are all travelers.”

In fact, only days after retiring Sparrow went on a bird-watching trip to the Dominican Republic, the Latin American country on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. A lifelong birder, Sparrow brought along her spotting scope with a new and untested camera attachment.

“We’ll be visiting many different habitats on the island,” she said. “I’ve got a field guide with the birds of the West Indies. With some luck, I hope to see all 30 species that are endemic to the area.”

Mongoven can attest to Sparrow’s zeal for bird-watching. “She even got me into it,” she said. “One day I was outside between classes and spotted some birds that I had never seen before. I went and found Judith, and she identified them right away as cedar waxwings.”

Employing knowledge and skills learned through their coursework, students enrolled in DCTC’s Hospitality Careers are producing a retirement celebration for Sparrow called “Passport to Tomorrow.”

The event will be held Thursday, January 31, 2008, from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. at the Partners for Higher Education Building at 14200 Cedar Avenue in Apple Valley, Minn. Dr. Ron Thomas, DCTC president, will give a brief presentation at 5 p.m.

Rosealee Lee, a meeting and event management instructor, noted that students and alumni regard Sparrow as a living legend. “It only seems natural that our students are the ones producing the event,” said Lee. “I can’t think of a better way to practice what we teach in our programs.”

Current students, alumni, faculty, staff, and industry partners will attend the event, which recognizes Sparrow enormous contribution to DCTC and her community. The event will also showcase developing opportunities in Hospitality Careers, including prospective courses in casino management, destination management, and resort operations.

Alumni and friends are conveying their best wishes and Sparrow anecdotes to the college by e-mailing or calling 651-423-8600.

People who know Judith Sparrow know that she always ends her e-mails with a famous quote from St. Augustine of Hippo:

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”