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Bea Southard, Legendary Educator

Vikki Deuel takes photo of Bea Southard at the 2013 Legendary Educators event

A quick visit to the GIPS Foundation website tells you that the Legendary Educator Award was inaugurated in 2009 to recognize outstanding educators who have made a difference to the thousands of students who have attended Grand Island Public Schools.

I have the privilege of calling one of Grand Island’s Legendary Educators my mentor. I met Mrs. Bernice Southard in 1971 when I was a first-year teacher assigned a homeroom that met in Bea’s classroom.  During those early years of teaching, there were no formal mentor/mentee programs for teachers new to the district. It didn’t take me long to realize how very fortunate I was to be assigned a homeroom that met in Mrs. Southard’s classroom. I could always count on being warmly greeted by Bea when I walked into her classroom. Her smile set the stage for the day. Her concern about how things were going for me and her offer to help with anything she could made a positive difference, not only for me but especially for my students! I’ve always attributed a great deal of the success that I experienced as an educator to the support that I received from Mrs. Southard.  

Bea Southard in her classroom

Later in my career, while teaching in the College of Education at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, I continually required my students to reflect on the quote, “Kids don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care!” It was Bea Southard who was the epitome of caring when it came to meeting the needs of young people whom many others considered unlovable. I have to add that, for teaching me this very valuable lesson, I will be forever grateful!

I watched Bea bond with students who were facing a number of personal hardships, whether it be poverty, neglect or abuse, Mrs. Southard was someone who truly cared about the welfare of “her kids”. Because Bea and her husband, Bill, did not have children of their own, they became surrogate parents for countless Walnut students.

Bea Southard speaks at the 2013 Legendary Educator event

Mrs. Southard began her tenure at Walnut in 1965 and retired from there in May of 1987. It was her twenty-two-year career consisting of hundreds of classes which often set the stage for her loving the “neediest” of young people. Her love of students prompted Mrs. Southard to make sure, once she was no longer at Walnut, those Wildcats were taken care of and never had to miss out on educational experiences that they could not otherwise afford. In 2008, Mrs. Southard gave over $100,000 to establish the Bill and Bea Southard Endowed Fund. AND, if that wasn’t enough, Mrs. Southard purchased a concert grand piano for Walnut Middle School music department as a tribute to her beloved husband, Bill, and his love for music. 

Was Bea Southard a master teacher? Without a doubt her instructional skills helped her students gain a foundation of knowledge needed to be successful adults. However, I truly believe, it was not only her instructional skills in the classroom, but also her legacy of caring for students who were facing hardships in their young lives that made Mrs. Bea Southard a legendary educator!

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