Janet Purnell served the Akron Public Schools for 22 years — 11 as a teacher and 11 as a building administrator. From 1982-88 she worked as first woman executive director of the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority (AMHA), administering the multi-million dollar operations of 9,300 units of subsidized housing on behalf of 20,000 residents in six cities and two townships.
Purnell was born in Akron on August 30, 1936, and has been a lifelong resident. She received a BSE in Elementary Education in 1959 and a Master’s degree in Administration in 1970 from The University of Akron. She was awarded an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters in 1987 upon retirement as the first woman chairman of the university Board of Trustees.
In 1967, she led The University of Akron alumni in successfully lobbying for the establishment of an anti-segregation policy on campus. Following her time with the AMHA, she entered the private sector, acting as the chief executive officer 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. She has also been involved with Akron’s Black History and Culture program, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the Akron Urban League, the Akron Musical Association, the Akron Chapter of the NAACP, the Akron Black Women’s Leadership Caucus and chair of the Mt. Olive Baptist Church Trustee Ministry. In 2001, Purnell was honored by the YWCA as one of 100 outstanding women of Summit County.
She is married to Norman Purnell (she worked on his campaigns for Fourth Ward Council and Judge of Akron Municipal Court) and they have two sons.
Photo courtesy of the Beacon Journal.