WEST PLAINS, Mo. – Thayer resident Virginia (Jenny) Underwood will receive this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award during Missouri State University Alumni Association’s annual spring picnic for alumni and friends at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at the West Plains Civic Center exhibit hall.
The award recognizes a Missouri State University alumnus who has made extraordinary achievements in his or her personal and professional endeavors and has shown notable success in his/her profession or business, loyalty to the university and outstanding contributions to society.
“It’s been a pleasure getting to know Jenny, and, as you get to know her, you understand why she was chosen to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award,” said Joe Kammerer, director of development at Missouri State-West Plains. “She has proven herself to be a lifelong learner, both in and out of the classroom. She is still an active member of the community, continuing to serve in areas of need. We are delighted she is this year’s award recipient!”
Underwood was one of the 111 students who attended classes at Missouri State-West Plains when it opened its doors in the fall of 1963 as the West Plains Residence Center. She spent three semesters taking classes at the new campus before transferring to the University of Missouri in Columbia, where she completed a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1967. She began working with computers and eventually found a job as a junior programmer at McGraw-Hill’s California Test Bureau in Monterrey. She spent 40 years working in the computer departments of various companies and eventually completed a master’s degree in business administration from Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., in 1977.
After moving to various cities around the country, she returned to her hometown of Thayer to begin taking nursing classes at Missouri State-West Plains in 2002, a decision prompted by the illness of a family member. She successfully completed the program in 2004, earning an Associate of Science in Nursing, and enrolled in the online bachelor’s in nursing program offered by the University of Missouri-Columbia. A year later, she completed that degree.
She has since worked as a nurse at Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mtn. Home, Ark., the University of Missouri Medical Center, and Riverways Home Health in West Plains. Currently, she works as a private duty nurse for residents in the Thayer area.
Underwood also has taken time to serve her community through a variety of other causes. She founded and organized the first Go Green Festival in Thayer in 2009, served as an officer of the Repertory Theater of the Ozarks, worked as coordinator of the Boren Community Center (also known as the Oregon County Country Music Theatre), which unfortunately was destroyed by fire in 2013, and served as a member of a local history club.
In 1999, she made a generous donation to start an endowed scholarship at Missouri State-West Plains to honor the Class of 1963. This challenge gift inspired other classmates to donate, as well.
“Jenny exemplifies how access to an affordable, quality education in south-central Missouri opens opportunities for area residents,” according to her nomination information. “She used the education she received on the West Plains campus as a stepping stone to pursuing a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree that led to a successful career. … After nearly 40 years, she also chose to return to Missouri State-West Plains to pursue a degree in nursing. … She is a role model for life-long learning and pursuing a college education at any age. As the 50th anniversary celebration of the West Plains campus comes to a close, awarding the Distinguished Alumni Award to a member of the original Class of 1963 recognizes the importance of those individuals who were instrumental in the opening of the campus.”
The annual picnic is free and open to all Missouri State University alumni and friends; however, reservations should be made prior to the event, organizers said. For more information or to make reservations, call the Missouri State-West Plains development office at 417-255-7240.