Monday, August 08, 2011
Remembering Terry James
During the time I spent as a newspaper reporter, I covered hundreds of school board meetings and had a chance to see elected officials at their worst.
Many times the boards included members whose sole reason for getting elected was to work for some program that would benefit their own children. Others came with the specific intent of getting rid of some administrator or teacher.
Board meetings involving those people took longer and many times failed to accomplish much.
And then there was the Webb City R-7 Board of Education.
From midway through 1990 when I was hired as area reporter for The Carthage Press until 1999, I covered dozens of Webb City board meetings. During that time, I don't recall ever writing about anything controversial or ever seeing anything that resembled friction between the board members.
I actually was able to write stories about education and there were a lot of positive stories coming out of the Webb City School District.
Much of that stability and continued progress was due to Terry James.
When Terry James, who died Thursday at age 81, entered the library for the board meetings, people took notice. He was a tall, distinguished,silver-haired, courtly gentleman, seemingly a relic of a bygone era, but more attached to the future of education than any board member I have ever seen.
Though he was not always the board president during those years (Webb City alternates that role among its board members), whenever there was any question about what direction the board would take on an issue, people waited to see what Terry James had to say.
His tenure on the board lasted 35 years, from 1973 to 2008, a time of unprecedented growth and stability for the school district. Mr. James and his fellow board members chose their adminstrators wisely, including the long stewardship of Dr. Ron Lankford, who now works for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Anyone who wants to see what Mr. James accomplished during those three and a half decades can simply take a tour of the Webb City schools. New classrooms, gymnasium, auditorium and football field at the high school, the creation of first and second grade centers, new elementary school buildings (included one named after Mr. James' mother) a middle school, and a reputation for getting one bond issue after another for these projects approved at a time when other school districts failed repeated attempts to get bonds passed for building projects.
Terry James did not do these things alone. He had the good fortune of working with solid board members all the way, but for anyone watching those meetings, there was no denying, he was the glue that held a successful operation together.
Funeral services for Terry James were held today, with Dr. Lankford delivering the eulogy.
I am sure at some point, a building will be named after him or an award and it will be a richly deserved tribute, but the greatest tribute is the educational institution that he left behind.
As I was growing up and during my newspaper days, I would hear people running for school board and giving their greatest qualification as having children in the school system.
Some might think that during much of his tenure Terry James had no children attending school in the Webb City R-7 School District, but that would be faulty thinking.
When he cast his votes, he cast them for all of his children- every child who was enrolled in the Webb City schools. And they owe him their gratitude for a job well done.
(The following information is taken from the Hedge-Lewis Funeral Home website.)
William Terry James, age 81, of Webb City, Mo., passed away at 4:25 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011.
Terry was born June 9, 1930, in Webb City, and had lived in Webb City most of his life.
Following graduation from Webb City High School Terry attended the former Joplin Junior College and at the same time held employment with the Webb Corporation. He was employed there from 1947 to 1968, when he accepted employment with Cardinal Scale Manufacturing Company. In 1972, he became a certified engineer. In 1976, he graduated from the former Missouri Southern State College with a bachelor degree in management technology. He retired in 1995, from Cardinal Scale with 27 years of service. Terry was also a 25 year member of the Missouri National Guard, and seven year member of the U.S. Army Reserves, retiring in 1979, with the rank of colonel.
Terry was a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Joplin and was a long time member of the First Presbyterian Church of Webb City. He served as a lay minister, deacon, elder, Sunday School teacher, and choir member. He was a former member of the City Council of Webb City, the Webb City Public Library Board, the Jane Chinn Hospital Board, the Missouri Southern State University Board of Governors, the Webb City R-7 Hall of Fame Committee, and the Jasper County Association of Social Services. He was a 50 year member and past master of the Oronogo Lodge No. 471 A.F.&A.M. In 1973, Terry was elected to the Webb City R-7 School Board and served continuously until 2008. His 35 year tenure is the record length of service for any board member in the history of the school district. One of his proudest moments was when the Board of Education voted to honor his mother and her family by naming the new kindergarten facility the Madge T. James Kindergarten Center in 1998, where one of his daughters is the principal. In 2008, Terry received the Distinguished Citizen Award from the Webb City R-7 School Foundation.
Terry married Rosemary Woodard Feb. 23, 1952. She preceded him in death on Sept. 20, 1995. He married Mary Jane Walls Oct. 3, 1998, in Webb City and she survives.
Additional survivors include a son, Christopher James, Olathe, Kan.; two daughters, Jennifer James, and Amanda Green and husband, Roger, all of Webb City; three stepsons, Chris Walls and wife, Mary Jane, Kansas City, Mo., James Walls and wife, Katy, Kansas City, Kan., and Patrick Walls and wife, Sandy Macedonia; two brothers, Walt James, Topeka, Kan., and Bob James and wife, Sandy, Lake St. Louis, Mo.; two sisters, Janet Stults and husband, Bob, Joplin, and Mary Curtis Browning, Leawood, Kan.; four grandchildren, Sarah, Tyler, Samuel, and Hannah Green; and four step grandchildren, Noah, Cora, Charlie, and Nathan Walls.
The family will receive friends from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday at the Hedge-Lewis Chapel, Webb City. Private burial will be in Webb City Cemetery. Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. Monday at the First Presbyterian Church, Webb City, with Rev. Dave Burgess officiating. Bob James will deliver a tribute to his brother. Dr. Ronald Lankford will deliver the Eulogy.
Memorial contributions are requested to the Webb City R-7 School Foundation in care of the funeral home.
Arrangements have been entrusted to the Hedge-Lewis Funeral Home, of Webb City, Mo.
Online condolences www.hedgelewis.com