Josh Bartlett among those honored as ‘distinguished alumni’ by SPC

Local News

Josh Bartlett, image from SPC

LEVELLAND, Texas — South Plains College honored three distinguished alumni for 2021 – including a posthumous recognition of Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office SWAT Commander Sergeant Joshua Bartlett.

The other two were John Duff, Executive Vice President of National Sorghum Producers and Derrell Edwards, NASCAR pit crew member.

The three were honored Thursday evening during a scholarship banquet at the Mallet Event Center in Levelland.

Bartlett lost his life in the line of duty July 15. The LCSO SWAT team responded to Levelland to help police with an armed and barricaded suspect.

Omar Soto-Chavira was arrested later that evening and charged with capital murder. Sergeant Shawn Wilson with Levelland PD was also critically wounded. He later recovered was able to be released from a local hospital on July 29.

Even before July 15, Bartlett was a Purple Heart recipient, having served in the United States Army after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Bartlett graduated from SPC in 2012.

“Bartlett built a career on the foundation of serving those in need,” SPC said. “On foreign soil in the darkest of places, or in his own backyard in West Texas, Bartlett was at the ready to answer the call and serve those in despair.”

The following is a statement from SPC concerning all three honorees.

South Plains College has honored 3 individuals as Distinguished Alumni for 2021. John Duff, executive vice president of National Sorghum Producers, Sgt. Joshua Bartlett Posthumously, Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office SWAT Commander, and Derrell Edwards, NASCAR pit crew member were recommended by the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Recommendation Committee and selected by South Plains College president Dr. Robin Satterwhite. The 3 recipients were presented at the college’s annual Scholarship Banquet Thursday November 4th at The Mallet Event Center in Levelland and were guests of a Presidential Reception on November 5th on the SPC Levelland Campus.

SPC 2021 Distinguished Alumnus: the late Sgt. Joshua Bartlett

The spouse of a first responder knows the dangers that are inherent with the job. Each day, both husband and wife, live with the realization that the responder might not return home at the end of his or her watch.  

Growing up in Crosbyton, Joshua Bartlett always knew he wanted to be at the ready for those in need. As a teen, his older brother Jeremy attended the law enforcement program at South Plains College, and after graduation, received his peace officer license. Josh was homeschooled, and whenever he finished his coursework, Josh would go with Jeremy to his classes at SPC. He took full advantage of the opportunity to meet the instructors in the program because he knew that one day he would be back. 

When he returned as an official student in 2001, Bartlett went straight to work, representing a pillar of dedication, determination, and perfection.

“He was a part of the Honor Guard at SPC and it was really important to him, and he wanted to make sure that everything was perfect,” said Rebecca Bartlett, his wife.

The pair met during the summer following their eighth-grade year. Rebecca’s grandfather was the pastor of the Assembly of God Church in Crosbyton. Her father moved their family to Crosbyton. She said she was riding on a four-wheeler with a friend, and they zipped past two boys who threw rocks at them. The boys, Bartlett and his friend also named Josh, later went to the church’s youth group where they officially met.

Bartlett’s stay at SPC was interrupted following the September 11 attacks. He left to enlist in the United States Army and serve his country. He completed two tours in Iraq. It was during his second tour as the team leader with the 10th Mountain Division that Bartlett was wounded. He received a Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Ribbon, and Combat Infantryman Badge.

“It was during his second tour that he grew up from a boy into a man,” Rebecca said. “This time, he was responsible for his team. He knew their families, wives, and children.”

She said their relationship worked so well because they were both passionate and motivated people.

“We had lots of goals and were probably hardest on ourselves, and that’s what we bonded over,” she said. “We were never okay with just mediocre. We were never okay with just settling. It was like that feeling of being stagnant – it was just terrible. So, we were always trying to push ourselves, and each other, to be better and to achieve more, and mostly for our kids.”

She said the military shaped Josh into the man he became. It really helped him grow up, she said. During his first tour, she saw his youthful exuberance. However, the second tour changed him. It helped him grow as a leader, husband, and father.

“It was difficult being as young as we were and having kids and then getting married,” she said.  “When he was deployed, me and the kids moved to New York where we were thousands of miles away from family.

“All we had was each other,” she said. “It helped us grow stronger in our relationship and it made us depend on each other more.”

Bartlett was 21 when the couple married in August 2003. They had three sons, Zachary, Christian, and Logan. Josh was a proud papa and he and Rebecca were known for “adopting in” other kids that needed love and support. He was a Father first, despite his work responsibilities. He loved life and going on trips with his family. Their family trips were often out of town because it was important to him to give his undivided attention to his family.

Bartlett completed his service and returned to South Plains College. Although Rebecca would have been who he credited for the man he became, Jimmy Richey, his favorite instructor from SPC, would have been a close second. Richey was a graduate of SPC, and he served as a police officer for the City of Littlefield prior to joining the law enforcement faculty. Rebecca recalled how he was a big influence on Bartlett.

“Even after Josh joined the military, he and Jimmy still kept in contact,” she said. “And then when we moved back, they didn’t see each other every day but they would text each other when something happened that reminded them of each other. Jimmy was his idol, and Josh hung on his every word. They were friends.”

Bartlett graduated from SPC in 2012 and immediately enrolled in the 2012 Summer Law Enforcement Academy. He applied for a job with the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Department. However, Bartlett decided he would bypass the requirement to work in the jail for first-time employment and he applied directly for a patrol position. He received a call from the division chief to come in for a visit. Fearing that his bold move may have caused him to be rejected, Bartlett was offered a full-time position with the SWAT/Warrants team.

He attended SWAT school in South Texas and within three years of employment with the Lubbock Sheriff’s Office, he was promoted to sergeant and assistant SWAT commander. Bartlett volunteered many hours coming back to SPC to help train students in the police academy. Just earlier this year, he spoke with his friend, Kenny Burns, department chair of professional services and energy and professor of law enforcement, about the requirements to lead the college’s police academy.

“He was the best unpaid recruiter for SPC, says Kenny. He was passionate and selfless, he couldn’t say no. Whether it was volunteering his time here at SPC or at area schools with Skills USA or coaching a T-Ball team, all he ever knew was serving people.”

Two weeks before Josh’s passing, Kenny spoke with his dean about his plans for Sgt. Bartlett to take over the law enforcement academy. Education was important to him. So much so that he reserved his military funds for his sons, and he encouraged Rebecca to go back to school for her master’s degree. He even talked to her about the possibility of her teaching at the college level and then they could work together! It was his dream for them to work together at SPC.

“He wasn’t a planner when it came to vacations or weekend plans, he had a spontaneous personality. But when it came to our family and our future, he knew his adrenaline would run out one day and he still wanted to be young enough to make a difference somewhere, so he was preparing for that,” said Rebecca.

Joshua Bartlett had the heart of a servant. It’s this quality that Rebecca admired most about him. He was ready to assist, lead, and put himself in harm’s way at a moment’s notice, for the good of those around him, every day. On July 15, 2021, Bartlett chose to assist fellow law enforcement officers in the neighboring town of Levelland as they responded to reports of gunshots being fired by a barricaded subject. Shortly after arrival, gunfire was exchanged, and Sgt. Bartlett was severely wounded. Sgt. Bartlett was transported to the local hospital with life-threatening injuries where he was later pronounced deceased.

Bartlett built a career on the foundation of serving those in need. On foreign soil in the darkest of places, or in his own backyard in West Texas, Bartlett was at the ready to answer the call and serve those in despair.

In addition to his wife of 18 years, Rebecca, Bartlett is survived by his son Zachary and his fiancé Logan Kasidy Laws; his sons Christian and Logan Ryon;  his honorary son, David Hagood; his parents Mike and Freda Bartlett of Crosbyton; and his brother Jeremy and his girlfriend Nicole Price and her daughter Jalie Jenkins.

SPC 2021 Distinguished Alumnus John Duff

It’s uncanny when a person recalls a conversation that influences his or her career choices. While some choose to continue in their family’s business, others, like John Duff opted to build a career that fulfills his deepest love.

John Duff, image from SPC

The Levelland native grew up on his family’s farm outside of town. He said his dad still farms and he has crop number 45 in the ground currently. Duff said this year’s crop will be his third. He was able to buy back into the family operation in a small capacity in 2019.

Duff graduated from Levelland High School in 2007. While at LHS, Duff took is first dual credit class in 2005. He enrolled in SPC full-time in 2007 and completed his Associate’s degree in 2009.

“It was always the plan when we were growing up that we were going to South Plains College for two years and Texas Tech for two years,” Duff said. “Mom and Dad put that plan in motion in the early 1990s when they did the Texas Tomorrow Fund and they chose two years at a community college and two years at a university option. I feel like if parents are really effective then their will becomes their kids’ will.”

Duff went on to earn his Bachelor of Science degree in Agribusiness in 2012 from Texas Tech University and his Master’s degree in Business Administration in August 2021 from Texas Tech’s Rawls College of Business Administration.

“South Plains is just a way of life for anybody that grew up in Levelland, and I’m sure that’s the same for any small town with a community college,” he said.

While a student at SPC, Duff credits his former instructors for helping him on his path. He said Ann Gregory, professor of accounting, had a phenomenal passion for students and South Plains College. Duff said he served as a tutor in accounting for Gregory, in addition to being in her class.

Duff also credits agriculture instructors Ron Presley and Dave Cleavinger, having classes with both. They continue to be great teachers and strong assets for the college. He mentioned the late Jim Jenkins for being a great giant for the college and the Agricultural Program as well.

Duff said Larry Norris, former government professor, is the reason Duff is at this time and place in his career. Norris served as the chair for the Democratic Party in Hockley County. Duff, a Republican, said he admired Norris because he never let politics get in the way while teaching his students to respect the government and its processes.

“My love for politics started in Norris’ class in the fall of 2007,” Duff said. “In 2008, the epic campaign that Barack Obama ran cemented my love for politics and for the process and how it works. I ended up doing five internships while I was an undergrad – two of which were in D.C., and all of which were in politics. The last of which was here at National Sorghum Producers which was 10 years ago now.”

Presently, Duff serves as executive vice president of National Sorghum Producers and United Sorghum Checkoff Program. He is recognized internationally for his work during a trade dispute between the United States and China. In 2018, in response to the Trump administration steel and aluminum tariffs, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Commerce self-initiated an investigation into imports of U.S. Sorghum. This was the first of such a self-initiation that they had ever undertaken. China uses sorghum as feed for their livestock such as ducks and pigs. In recent years, about 75% of U.S Sorghum has been exported to China for this use. The Chinese accused the USA of unfair sales and subsidization. Duff and his team organized and successfully executed a large-scale legal effort to defend U.S. sorghum farmers. As a result, the sorghum industry was able to reopen a $1.1 billion per year market for U.S. sorghum. These types of cases usually take 18 months, start to finish, good or bad. Duff and his team were able complete this trade deal in 106 days.

“It was an extraordinary 106 days!” says Duff. “There’s trade precedence in the World Trade Organization that will be set based on that case. It was a cool thing to be involved in and sort of a watershed moment in my career!”

When asked the question if he ever saw himself in this type of leading role, Duff said he would play Board of Directors on the playground in 3rd grade. Leadership is something that has always come naturally to him, and he always hoped he would have the opportunity to make a difference in the world. Duff credits his team and many others for the success in the China trade case. Without the help of nine local farmers who were willing to provide receipts, and basically open their books to John, he wouldn’t have been able to gather the necessary documentation to support their trade case.

“God puts desires in our heart and then he fulfills them,” Duff said. “Being a part of something landmark like this was a promise that He made many years prior and used me to lead the charge to fulfill it.”

Duff served as an exhibitor at the Agriculture Career Symposium at SPC from 2018 to 2019 and has supported an SPC scholarship since 2019. In the community, Duff serves as a volunteer counselor, mentor and liaison for ActNow for Lubbock at the Grace Campus; speaker and table leader for New Horizon and Llano Estacado Chrysalis and Emmaus Communities; member of the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce; Agriculture and Natural Resources and Government Relations committees; and serves as a collections volunteer for Operation Christmas Child.

“I’m pretty involved in a NASCAR partnership called American Ethanol Racing which uses biofuels to show the reliability, performance capabilities, and affordability of American-made ethanol,” he said. “The American Ethanol racer is Austin Dylan and that is the team Derrell Edwards made history on.”

Edwards is also being recognized as a 2021 Distinguished Alumni. Duff and Derrell both attended SPC within just a few years of each other and now they’re both being honored at the same time.

“Just the fact that there’s that common connection between us is such an awesome connection,” he said. “The three of us [Derrell Edwards, Sgt. Joshua Bartlett and John Duff] may be the youngest alumni to receive this award. It’s pretty humbling to be a part of that group. It’s a real honor to be part of the SPC legacy now.”

Duff and his wife Amanda are the parents of two children.

SPC 2021 Distinguished Alumnus Derrell Edwards

Throughout life, opportunities, some greater than others, will come and go at a moment’s notice.

Derrell Edwards seems to have a niche for recognizing said opportunities and capitalizing when they arise.

Derrell Edwards, image from SPC

Raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Edwards was like most young athletes, dreaming of one day playing in the professional ranks. In his case, the National Basketball Association. As a student at Dunbar High School, Edwards was a standout on the hardwood, attracting several four-year schools. His path, however, would take a slightly different route, making a pit stop in Levelland, Texas.  

“When my teachers would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was always an NBA player, Edwards said. “I signed with Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi out of high school but didn’t quite clear the NCAA clearinghouse to make it down to Corpus Christi. I got a call from Coach (Steve) Green who told me he was interested in coming out to Baltimore to see me play. Coach flew in the following week and watched me play, and told me he had seen enough and offered me a full scholarship.”

Following a conversation with his high school coach, Edwards decided to take Coach Green up on that offer and make the trek down to West Texas.

Great decision.

Edwards arrived on campus in 2010 and instantaneously became a leader for the Texan basketball program. Admittedly, Edwards became frustrated with his play, and the performance of the team as they went 17-12 during his freshman stint. Nevertheless, Edwards was adamant about raising the level of his game, and of those around him during his second year at South Plains College.

“I was a typical inner-city tough kid, and I think that’s why Coach Green came to Baltimore and found me,” Edwards said. “He knew I would give it my all and run through a wall for him and the program. Once he got to know me when I arrived on campus, we made a lot of memories. In my opinion, choosing to go to South Plains College was the best decision of my life.”

What would unfold during Edward’s sophomore season is a testament to his selflessness and relentlessness to make the most of the opportunity at hand.

Edwards was a catalyst for the Texans as a freshman, scoring in double figures in 17 games and was second on the team in total scoring with 12.1 points per game. During his second season, Edwards would make his name as a role player for the Texans, a position Edward’s was more than willing to fill to get the Texans where they ultimately wanted to be.  

“I was a key guy for our team my freshman year,” Edwards said. “I went from a leading scorer to more of a support role my second year. That was hard for me to do after the success I had my first year, but being selfless helped us win a national championship. I was a leader, and I could have easily chosen a different route to be a problem for our team. I didn’t do that, and I made a sacrifice to help the team.”

Edwards would average 4.4 points per game as a sophomore but made an impact on both ends of the floor as the Texans went wire-to-wire, becoming just the sixth team in the history of the NJCAA to go unbeaten, as South Plains College won the program’s second national title, with an unblemished record of 36-0.  

“We went to Dallas to compete in a jamboree before the season started, and were down at the half during one of those scrimmages,” Edwards said. “At halftime, we were in a classroom, and I stood up in front of the guys and was almost in tears talking to them. I told them these scrimmages matter, and we need to set the tone for the rest of the season. We went out in the second half and kicked their tails.

“After the game Coach Green looked at us and told us we’re going to run the table, which means go undefeated. And that’s exactly what we went out and did that year.”

Edward’s success in Levelland would once again attract a number of four-year schools. Edwards would make the move to High Point University in North Carolina, where he led the Panthers to back-to-back conference titles, including their first-ever regular-season conference crown at the Div. I level during his junior season.  

“While I was at High Point, there was a man named Richard Payne who would come to our games and talk to me all the time,” Edwards said. “One day he told me he worked at a NASCAR company and I should come check it out sometime, but I just kind of brushed it off. During my senior year, I realized how hard it was going to be to play professionally or go overseas and play.”

“So, one day I realized I should probably take this guy up on his offer. I went over to Richard Childress Racing, and I was blown away. I’ve always been a guy willing to try things and step out on faith, so I did an internship there my senior year and basically put my head down and got to work. I got along with everyone there and met a lot of great people. One day at work, right before I graduated from High Point, they wanted to meet with me and ended up offering me a job. That’s how I got into NASCAR.”

It didn’t take long for Edwards to find success on the track after his hiring in 2014. Some four years later, during the 2018 season, Edwards made history, becoming the first African-American over-the-wall pit crew member to win the Daytona 500 as part of Austin Dillon’s iconic No. 3 Chevrolet car.

“That experience was super divine, and I knew at that moment I was right where I belonged, in the NASCAR world,” Edwards said. “Fast forward to today, I’ve been a part of winning 20 plus races, an Xfinity Championship, I won the Drive for Diversity Pit Crem Member of the Year award, and have won 14 races this year alone at Joe Gibbs Racing.

“Working for Joe Gibbs is a dream come true. Gibbs was an NFL coach in Washington and won a Super Bowl with them. I always wanted to work for him because I knew he was a winner and he knows what it takes to be a winner. I want to be around winning mindsets, and I started with Joe Gibbs Racing this year and have already won 14 races.”

Currently residing with his wife Emily in North Carolina, Edwards remains adamant his time at South Plains College helped him reach his current destination in professional racing.

“Baltimore is a tough place to grow up as a kid,” Edwards said. “It’s easy to get caught up in the streets and go down the wrong path, and Coach Green coming down to Baltimore and offering me a scholarship was a big deal for me. I just want to thank Coach Green and South Plains College for everything they have done for me.”

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