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Friday, Oct. 05, 2012

Olathe school group honors seven for service to community

Special to The Star

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The Olathe Public Schools Alumni Association this week put six exceptional alumni and one distinguished person on the school district’s Wall of Honor.

The alumni were nominated for outstanding work in their communities.

“They have to have really done something above and beyond post graduation,” said district spokeswoman Heather Schoonover. “It is very critical that we are looking for someone who has made a difference in the community that they live in.”

The alumni must have been graduated for at least 20 years. Schoonover said that requirement makes this year’s awards different because this is the first year that graduates from Olathe South are eligible.

This year’s honorees are:

Robert J. Enright

Robert Enright of the John P. St. John Memorial High School Class of 1947 was a lifelong Olathe resident who was passionate about the city. Enright spent 36 years working as a line foreman at Kansas Power and Light, but he found his real love in the history and people of Olathe.

“He loved Olathe,” said Enright’s daughter Lynda Allenbrand. “He could tell you everything about the city.”

Enright died in March 2009. Afterward, his family donated a large portion of his collection of Olathe memorabilia to the city.

“He was just a great lover of history, both Olathe and Johnson County,” Allenbrand said. “He was a lifelong resident of Johnson County and had a vast knowledge of Olathe that he loved to share with anyone who would listen.”

Thomas Payne

Thomas Payne of the John P. St. John Memorial High School Class of 1948 found himself most at home in Olathe. His daughter Missy Schaffer said several generations of Paynes lived in Olathe, where Thomas’ father started the family law firm, Payne & Jones. Payne eventually worked there for many years before becoming city attorney from 1960-61.

Schaffer said her father was an incredibly active student both in high school and at the University of Kansas. He was a fraternity officer, head cheerleader, member of the debate team, member of the varsity swim team and joined other extra curricular activities.

“Education was a top priority for my father,” Shaffer said. “It meant a lot to him. He just loved education and I think he felt that was very important for him and for other kids to do well land be active in school.”

Nancy Millbern Schulz

Nancy Millbern Schulz of the John P. St. John Memorial High School Class of 1952 was determined to make a difference in young girls’ lives. She did so through coaching softball. Schulz created a softball league for girls from 13 to 15 years old after realizing there was not an interscholastic or city team for girls in Gardner to play on. The league grew to include more sports as well as be open to girls and boys.

She also was a school bus driver in Johnson County, where she was the first driver trainer by the R.W. Harmon bus company. She also wrote training manuals for the company.

Schulz has been honored with distinguished service awards from both national and state transportation associations.

Gregory Sheffer

Gregory Sheffer of the Olathe South High School Class of 1989 attended Mid-America Nazarene College after his time at Olathe South. He received his degree in secondary education and social studies and then returned to the Olathe schools as a student teacher and substitute teacher.

After teaching for a few years, Sheffer pursued a master’s degree religious education at Nazarene Theological Seminary.

Later, he combined his interests in history and film making to create Inversion Productions, a studio that develops short documentaries including “Olathe: The City Beautiful,” which won three 2011 Mid-America Regional Emmys.

Rhonda Lynn Reist

Rhonda Lynn Reist of the Olathe North High School Class of 1984 is a passionate science teacher at her alma mater, Olathe North.

Besides leading high school students in the Faraday Society, Reist also works as a consultant for the Kansas City Museum and was named its Teacher of the Year in 1999.

Reist’s students won the Battle of the Brains competition in Kansas City,, in 2011. The group earned a $50,000 grant for Olathe North.

Donald E. Davis

Donald E. Davis Jr. of the Olathe South High School Class of 1991 began his football career at Olathe South, where he was awarded MVP honors in football and played basketball and ran track. Davis was also a three-year starter on the University of Kansas Football team.

Davis played professional football for the New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He played on the St. Louis Rams team in the 2001 Super Bowl XXXVI. The following season Davis signed with the New England Patriots and helped the team win Super Bowl XXXVIII and XXXIX.

“I never thought that I would be playing in the national football league when I was in high school, but the awareness about making it now it is something that they (Olathe South players) think about,” Davis said.

Since ending his professional football career, Davis took a position as the Patriots’ assistant strength and conditioning coach and team chaplain. In 2010 he became a regional director for the National Football Players Association.

Davis hopes he and the other honorees have left a legacy in Olathe.

“I hope that I can leave a legacy of thankfulness and hard work,” Davis said. “I hope that when they think of me, it will be in a positive light.”

Ralph Dennis

This is the first year that the Alumni Association has presented a Distinguished Person of Honor award for someone who has worked for the School District but did not a graduate from an Olathe school. The association selected former Olathe junior and senior high school teacher Ralph Dennis as the first recipient.

Dennis began working for the Olathe school district right after he graduated from Pittsburg State University. He remained working in the district for 43 years.

Dennis taught social studies while coaching football, basketball and tennis. He also worked with the Kansas Association for Youth and Future Teachers of America.

“I got to do some things that I thought I’d never be able to do, like be a coach, for example,” Dennis said.

Dennis said he feels thankful, honored and humbled by the honor. He is no stranger to receiving awards for his work as a teacher, having been named an Emporia State University Master Teacher, Kansas State High School Activities Association Hall of Fame member, Olathe Community Pride Award recipient and Olathe Citizen of the Year.

Dennis said he has received more accolades than he ever expected.

“I feel that having this honor now I want to be a representative on that wall for the past, present and future Olathe students and teachers.”

Dennis said as an educator he found the most joy in his students.

“Love the kids,” he said. “That’s the great secret in teaching. Teachers need to make sure that each kid knows that they are kind people, smart people and important people.”

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