Students to honor special teachers in ceremony at University of Kentucky

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comApril 26, 2013 

In 2001, when Roger Brady was a freshman at Woodford County High School, he was behind in school because he couldn't grasp some academic concepts as quickly as other students.

Brady said he was struggling with hearing loss, and he wasn't living with his mother the year he enrolled in a math class taught by Pam Duncan. To this day, he said, the teacher helps him as a parent might.

Brady nominated Duncan to be honored Saturday with 155 others through the University of Kentucky College of Education's Teachers Who Made a Difference program.

Now in its 15th year, the program gives people a way to thank a teacher, a professor, a coach or a mentor.

Brady said Duncan checked to make sure he did all of his schoolwork in the afternoon and gave him a ride when he missed the bus. When the time came, she helped him fill out college applications. After he graduated from high school, she lent him money so he could attend Bluegrass Community and Technical College, and she put him on a payment plan so he could feel the accomplishment of paying her back in full.

"One summer, we signed up for the Bluegrass 10K race," said Brady, now 26. "She was at the finish line cheering me on. The whole crowd was cheering 'Roger, Roger,' and the announcer was even cheering my name. I may have been the last to finish, but I finished. She was my cheerleader then and has been my main cheerleader ever since I knew her."

With Duncan's help, Brady said, he was able to move into a college dormitory. She taught him to manage his money so he could become financially independent, he said. It was Duncan who bought him the three-wheel bike that he rides to his job bagging groceries at Kroger in Versailles.

Brady's story is similar to others who are honoring teachers Saturday. The ceremony is open to family and friends but not the general public.

"None of us get to where we are on our own and I bet you can trace it back to a teacher," said Mary Ann Vimont, an associate professor in the College of Education. She started the program.

Each year, all teachers who are nominated — there is a predetermined limit — are honored. Those who are honored don't have to be from Kentucky, Vimont said.

Danette Wilder, an engineer and owner of a Lexington manufacturing firm, credits Delois Wynne, her biology teacher at a high school in Detroit, with showing Wilder by example how to overcome a disadvantaged background.

More than 20 years have passed since Wilder was a teenager who found common ground with her teacher. But "when I have a problem," Wilder said, "I reflect on her. ... It's really driven me to be the person I am."

Roger and Pam

In Pam Duncan, Brady said, he found a teacher who "cares about all of her students and not just a certain few. She gets goosebumps when she sees a student do good on a test. She tutors everyone. She loves to go to work every day."

Duncan, however, said that soon after Brady enrolled in her class, she realized that "the lessons were coming from Roger."

She said that he had perfect attendance, that he "would give his last dime to anyone in need," and that he didn't say mean things about people.

Everyone who knows Roger is better off knowing him, she said.

"A lot of people say we are kind of like the movie The Blind Side," the story of a woman who mentored future NFL player Michael Oher. "It's really weird to say that about myself and, well, Roger isn't in the NFL ... but I can really relate," she said.

"Roger attends my family get-togethers at Natural Bridge and family square dances in Western Kentucky. When my family does volunteer work, he always comes along. ... We celebrate Roger's birthday, and somehow Santa always finds his way to Roger."

Danette and Delois

As a sophomore at a high school in Detroit, Danette Wilder was usually late to her morning biology class. She sometimes had to ride as many as two buses and walk more than a mile to get to school.

Delois Wynne, her teacher, didn't know the difficulty she was having, and one morning, in front of Wilder's classmates, Wynne "went off on me," Wilder said.

She said "coming into my class late is unacceptable; don't come back here unless you can be on time."

Wynne said she knew that employers would expect punctuality from her students, and she was trying to prepare them for adult life.

But Wilder said the admonishment "devastated" her because she admired Wynne for having come from humble beginnings and wanted to emulate her.

The next morning, Wilder left home earlier than usual, and Wynne saw her standing at a bus stop about 5:30 a.m. The teacher stopped and picked her up, and she soon learned about the trouble Wilder had just getting to school.

"That kind of taught me something about my students," Wynne said. "I wasn't looking at where they had to come from to get to school and what they had to go through."

From then on, Wynne gave Wilder rides to school, let her help mark papers and "made a huge impact on me. She created a solution for me," Wilder said.

"I always tried to show the students that you don't have to have anything or be from anyplace to have something in life," Wynne said. "I didn't know I was making an impression on students. I just wanted to let them know ... that I started with nothing."

Wilder graduated second in her high school class, and she earned a degree in electrical engineering from Old Dominion University in Virginia. After working for Toyota, Corning and Siemens, she started SealingLife Technology, a Lexington manufacturing and distribution company.

Wilder said her parents were supportive, but they didn't have the educational background to propel her to higher learning.

"Ms. Wynne filled in those missing pieces for me," she said.

"She taught me the impact of first impressions, the importance of being on time, and that being different or standing out doesn't make you odd — it makes you a leader," Wilder told UK spokeswoman Jenny Wells in a statement for the recognition ceremony. "She really changed my life."


To nominate next year

Submissions for the 2014 program will be accepted beginning in December 2013 at www.education.uky.edu/Community/TWMAD.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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