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State Officials Honor 'Pioneer in Education' Danforth

Dr. William Danforth among the honorees.

Four individuals will be honored Monday as Pioneers in Education for their commitment and contribution to public education in Missouri.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will formally recognize the Pioneers as part of its 51st annual Cooperative Conference for School Administrators at the Holiday Inn Executive Center in Columbia. 

"Each year we recognize individuals who dedicate themselves to PK-12 education and who are much deserving of this award," said Missouri Commissioner of Education Chris L. Nicastro. "Our state is very fortunate to have great leaders focused on the best interest of Missouri's children."

The 2012 Pioneers in Education are:

  • William H. Danforth, St. Louis, who began his career in medicine, joined the medical faculty at and eventually was named Chancellor Emeritus after he had become one of the longest-serving university chancellors in the country. After retirement, Danforth served on a committee which studied the troubled St. Louis Public Schools and whose recommendations influenced the state in its decision to put control in the hands of an appointed board, which remains in power today.
  • Martha Fennewald, Westphalia, who began teaching in a one-room school house when she was just 17 and went on to teach for 60 years. In 2011, she received an honorary Bachelor of Science degree in education from the University of Central Missouri. Currently 101 years old, Martha continues to be an active member in her community and values spending time with her family and friends.
  • Frankie Muse Freeman, St. Louis, who spent more than half a century as a practicing attorney and civil rights activist. She was the first woman to serve on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission where she remained a member for 16 years. One of Freeman's passions is supporting education and city school issues. She co-led a committee with fellow Pioneer in Education, William Danforth, which provided recommendations on how to handle the troubled St. Louis Public Schools.
  • Russell V. Thompson, Columbia, who was born and raised in Iowa, moved to Missouri to launch his teaching career. He eventually became superintendent of Columbia Public Schools where he served for 18 years, the longest tenure as superintendent in the district's history. During his time as superintendent, Columbia was recognized as one of the nation’s 16 model school districts by the National Governor’s Conference on Education. Thompson also served numerous terms on the State Board of Education and held the office of president.

State education officials have presented the Pioneer in Education awards each year since 1974, honoring teachers, school administrators, citizens and lawmakers for their distinguished careers and contributions to public education in Missouri.

Commissioner of Education Chris L. Nicastro and State Board of Education President Peter F. Herschend will present the awards.

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