WEST PLAINS, Mo. – Thanks to a generous donation to Missouri State University-West Plains, a privately funded scholarship honoring former area educator Naomi McKee has now been endowed.
First established in 2005 shortly after McKee’s death, the Naomi McKee Memorial Restricted Current Scholarship is now the Naomi McKee Memorial Endowed Scholarship. It will continue to be awarded to a graduate from a high school in Howell or Ozark Counties who is planning to pursue a degree in elementary education.
“This is a wonderful way to honor Mrs. McKee, whose dedication to education was paramount to who she was,” said Assistant Director of Development Joe Kammerer. “Mrs. McKee impacted countless lives during her years as a teacher, and this scholarship will continue that legacy by aiding future educators.”
A 1941 graduate of Bakersfield High School, McKee spent over 45 years in area classrooms. She began her teaching career at a two-room school in Elijah in Ozark County shortly after graduating high school and passing the state’s examination for a two-year teaching certificate, the only requirement needed at the time. After spending two years there, she taught one year in the one-room Lone Pilgrim School, followed by a 12-year tenure at Oak Mound, another one-room school in Ozark County. She then took a teaching position at Fair View School near West Plains and spent the remainder of her career in that district.
McKee renewed her teaching credentials by taking classes periodically at Southwest Missouri State Teachers College, now known at Missouri State University, in Springfield. By 1966, she had accumulated 130 hours and was able to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in education.
In 1990, McKee was one of six educators in the state honored by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as a Pioneer in Education. She received the award for having the longest active career at that time. In 2002, she received the Howell County Retired Educator of the Year Award from the Missouri State Retired Teachers Association.
McKee was profiled by former student Matthew Stephens in an article in West Plains High School’s Ridgerunner magazine, which was later republished with permission in the March/April 1990 issue of Something Better magazine offered by the Missouri National Education Association (MNEA). In the articles, McKee described her early years in the classroom and the changes that occurred to the teaching profession over her career, touting some of the benefits students and their communities reaped from those one-room schools.
She also talked of her love of children and teaching in the article and explained she was inspired to teach by her aunt, Matty Trump, who had a 40-year career as an educator, and her mother, Gladys Exline, who taught nine years.
It was that love of teaching and the children that kept her in the classroom for over 40 years, according to Martha Garrett Tucker, a friend and colleague of McKee’s from Fair View School. “She was dedicated to her job, she loved teaching, and she loved the children,” Tucker said. “Many might say her teaching style was ‘old-fashioned,’ but she was very practical. She required her students to be disciplined, but she always made her classes fun by sharing her own experiences with the students. She traveled a lot and always had interesting stories to tell.”
Although the environment in which she taught changed through the years, the impact McKee’s teaching had on her students did not. “Naomi McKee was a one-of-a-kind teacher,” recalled Stephens. “One of the things I appreciated the most about her was her ability to keep me laughing and enjoying her class, yet ‘giving me the eye’ in order to keep me productive. Her countless funny stories kept me engaged in my work, and her strict, orderly classroom environment kept me motivated.”
McKee’s impact on Stephens was such that he, himself, pursued a career in education. After graduating from West Plains High School and later receiving his Associate of Arts in General Studies degree from Missouri State-West Plains in 2001, he transferred to Missouri State University in Springfield and obtained a Bachelor of Science in Education, with an emphasis in elementary education, in 2003. Stephens spent several years teaching in the public school system before establishing his home-based business, Essentials in Writing, in 2010. Essentials in Writing provides a writing curriculum for grades one through 12 via DVD to homeschool students, according to information on the business’ website and Facebook page.
“I enjoyed visiting with her from time to time during high school and afterward, and there was always something intriguing about our discussions about education, something that made me want to pursue education as a career,” he said.
Tucker said that was typical of McKee. “She always was willing to mentor new teachers and share what she knew,” Tucker said. “She would help anyone who needed it.”
As for the scholarship, Tucker said, “she’d be tickled to death. She’d be 100 percent for it.”
Funds from the endowed scholarship will be awarded for the first time during the 2013-2014 academic year, university officials said. The scholarship’s guidelines stipulate that eligible students must have maintained a grade point average of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale in all previous educational programs and demonstrate community involvement. Financial need also will be a factor considered when awarding the scholarship, the guidelines show.
Additional funds may be contributed to the account by family and friends, university officials said, pointing out these funds will be added to the principal balance unless otherwise indicated by the donor.
For more information about the Naomi McKee Memorial Endowed Scholarship and other financial aid opportunities available to students at Missouri State-West Plains, call the financial aid office at 417-255-7243 or visit office’s website, wp.missouristate.edu/FinAid/.
To find out how you can contribute to this scholarship or establish a scholarship of your own, contact the Missouri State-West Plains development office at 417-255-7240.