In the email I received, Dorothy was described as “the wind beneath so many people’s wings…. a hero to those less fortunate and in need of help.” When I met with her in person and asked her to tell me what that meant, she just glanced at the ceiling, gave a little grin, and said, “Oh…I don’t know.”
Dorothy has been in residence at Tiger Place in Columbia, Missouri for about 8 years. A friend invited her to dine at Tiger Place and that was it. She looked around, liked what she saw, and decided to downsize from a large condo and move there.
When asked what advice she would give to those considering downsizing and moving to a senior living community, she said, “Get rid of stuff you haven’t used.” Looking around her living room she gestured and said, “But I still have a lot of stuff here.”
As I looked around, I could see that her “stuff” represented a lifetime of professional accomplishments, travel to distant lands, an active office area in the next room, and various treasures, the type we all tend to keep with us. “But it’s stuff that’s still meaningful to you,” I said.
During her time at Tiger Place, Dorothy has enjoyed making new friends with folks from varied backgrounds…an artist, a married couple who were physicians, retired educators, a farmer who tells wonderful stories, and more.
As a retired MU professor of Education and world renowned whole language advocate, scholar, and activist, Dorothy and some Tiger Place friends took an active interest in expanding the library. “The library started with a collection of romance novels, but we have expanded it. It’s starting to spill over into the pool room.” And so it is. There’s a large and varied offering of reading materials across many genres.
When asked why she chose education as a career, Dorothy said she had always wanted to be a teacher. Her parents were not teachers; she just knew that’s what she wanted to do with her life – teach and learn.
During our visit, Dorothy mentioned that she always learned from her students. Although she did not speak of her travels or accomplishments, information sent to me spoke of her days as a teacher in the inner-city of Kansas City, Missouri…her travels to Sierra Leone, Kenya, Ireland, Southeast Asia, the People’s Republic of China, and Australia… and her long career as a professor of Education at MU. She found “little difference between teacher and learner.”
The background information also mentioned Dorothy’s leadership positions in the International Whole Language Umbrella and the Center for Expansion of Language and Thinking. She founded Mid-Missouri Teachers Applying Whole Language and the Mid-Missouri Student Reading Association.
She also served as director of the National Council of Teachers of English Commission on Reading in the mid to late 80s, and over the years has received numerous honors for her lifetime devotion to education.
Well, no wonder the library at Tiger Place is overflowing into the pool room area! Literacy has been Dorothy’s lifelong passion.
Her passion has included numerous articles, six books written alone or with others, and the opening in 2003 of a literacy center in her name at Park University where she received her bachelor’s degree.
While we sat together and chatted, Dorothy never mentioned her accomplishments included in the background information sent to me. She spoke about keeping in touch with former colleagues and students, keeping busy at Tiger Place, enhancing the library area, and having good friends and neighbors.
As I prepared to leave, Dorothy offered me some candy. “Would you like a piece of candy…some chocolate?” I said, “No thank you.” “Are you sure?” she asked. “I’m fine.”
I left knowing that the sweetest thing to happen to me that day was getting to meet Professor Dorothy W., a gifted scholar and literacy advocate, a contributing member of Tiger Place Independent Living, and a wonderful model of modesty.
About the Author:
Jenny Mummert, M.Ed., has a career background in higher education. She lives in mid-Missouri and has managed the care of her elderly parents, both of whom had dementia and lived 400 miles away. Her personal blog, “Drifting Toward Planet Elderly,” serves as therapy, a family history, and a case study of her family’s journey with dementia. Jenny’s mother now lives in Mid-Missouri where they enjoy daily morning coffee and chat time with friends at The Arbors at Mill Creek Village.