Jean Whitaker at her graduation in 1970 from Southeast Missouri State University.
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Feb. 8, 2011 — The College of Education at Southeast Missouri State University announces the naming of the Jean Whitaker Demonstration Classroom in the Scully Building on the University campus.
The Whitaker family has pledged a major gift to the Southeast Missouri University Foundation to establish the classroom in the name of the late Jean Whitaker, who passed away in 2009. Participating in the gift are Ron Whitaker, widower of Jean Whitaker, their son, Steven Whitaker, and daughter-in-law, Karen Whitaker, of Chaffee, Mo., and grandchildren Bret Whitaker of Blacksburg, Va., and Stefanie Whitaker of Jonesboro, Ark.
Ron, Steven and Karen Whitaker have been owners and operators of Whitaker Hardware in Chaffee, Mo., for 50 years.
The new Jean Whitaker Demonstration Classroom will be developed with the assistance of regional educational leaders over a period of five years to honor Mrs. Whitaker, who was a long-time educator and taught first grade for 32 years in Chaffee, Mo. The classroom will honor the legacy of her outstanding teaching by perpetuating deep study into the art of teaching and the process of learning.
Dr. Margaret Noe, dean of the College of Education, said, “I wish to express my sincere thanks to the Whitaker family for their desire to honor Jean in this way. With their support, we will be able to design and develop a state-of-the-art classroom that will link the art and science of teaching in preparing and sustaining effective teachers and educational leaders.”
Jean Whitaker (Fuge) graduated from high school at Hartville, Mo., and received a college degree from Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University), where she was a member of Alpha Sigma Alpha Sorority.
She began her teaching career in Springfield, Mo. After marrying Ron Whitaker, they moved to Albuquerque, N.M., where she taught for three years. They moved back to Chaffee in 1960, where Mrs. Whitaker began her more than three decades of teaching.
Former Chaffee Elementary School Principal Bill Bradshaw remembers Mrs. Whitaker as an exceptional teacher. “I remember Jean taking her class roster in the summer, and getting to know as much as she could about every child before the first day of school. She had a knack of making every student in her class feel special from day-one.”
He said he also remembers that while teaching at Chaffee Elementary School, Mrs. Whitaker led many of her peers to return to college for advanced training. Mrs. Whitaker earned a master of arts in elementary education degree from Southeast Missouri State University in 1970.
Mrs. Whitaker’s daughter-in-law, Karen Whitakerᾰa former first-grade teacher, current district librarian for Chaffee R-II Schools, and a student of Mrs. Whitaker’s first grade classᾰrelated this insight into Jean’s teaching philosophy:
“Jean delighted in teaching her students to read. Until 1967, Chaffee did not have kindergarten classes; consequently, Jean initially taught them the sounds letters made. Next she helped them memorize the sight words like “the” and “is” – the way she learned to read. Jean felt very strongly that new readers must “possess” a readily available knowledge quickly connecting letters and sounds in order to “unlock” new words they encountered every day. The final premise she practiced involved providing great amounts of reading experience on first grade leveled books. Jean believed that in order to read “well” students had to read often. She used her classroom supply money each year to purchase first grade level fiction books so she could send them home for reading practice. She loved to teach first grade so much that she taught it for 36 years.”
In addition to teaching, she also served as a Cub Scout leader, participated in the Chaffee P.T.A., and supported extra-curricular activities for Chaffee youth. As a Chaffee Park Board member, Mrs. Whitaker planned weekly sports camps in the summer and planted flowers in the parks. She worked at Circle Park to plant trees, and maintained the downtown planters at Main and Yoakum. She also helped to build and beautify the Downtown Park. She later enlisted the help of the War Child Riding Group in maintaining the Downtown Park. She was proud to be an honorary member.
Mrs. Whitaker studied to become a Master Gardener and wrote a weekly column for many years in “The Scott County Signal.” She was a member of the First United Methodist Church in Chaffee, Mo., and for many years worked to decorate the sanctuary for the seasons.
Mrs. Whitaker strived to help other women fighting breast cancer as she volunteered with Reach to Recovery. She also had a Relay for Life team for many years.
“The Jean Whitaker Demonstration Classroom will combine new technologies with artifacts of effective teaching strategies utilized by successful teachers and help us to continue the legacy of learning and leadership to which Jean contributed so much of her time and efforts,” Noe said.