Dale and Denise Wright
It’s a Family Thing!
“We are proud of the role Mineral Area College has played in the Wright Family legacy,” said Denise (Rowe) and Dale Wright. “Many of our family members have attended Mineral Area College and its predecessor Flat River Junior College, and as we look forward, we anticipate potentially more family members continuing the MAC tradition of pursuing higher education and service.”
The Tradition Begins
Like many local families, the Wright Family tradition started with Flat River Junior College. Denise explained: “My dad’s sister, Sue (Rowe) Turner, was the first in our extended family to attend college. After Flat River High School, she attended Flat River Junior College and then earned her teaching degree at SEMO. Neither of our respective parents went to college; both of our fathers served in the military, but they encouraged us to get an education. In my immediate family, my twin brother Darrell (Butch), my sister Cathy and her husband Steve Marler, my brother Randy and his wife Jennifer Sloan, and my sister Cindy all attended MAC. Dale’s sister Carol attended. Our five children attended. One of our granddaughters earned her associate degree while in high school. It is a tradition we are truly proud of.”
Flashback to the early 1970s when Denise and Dale enrolled at MAC. Denise said, “Since I was offered a Trustee scholarship, it made sense to attend MAC where many of my high school classmates and friends were also attending.”
“MAC was my only choice," Dale said. "For me, it was affordable and convenient because I was working full-time and a full-time student. I feel I received an excellent education. It was a brand-new campus when we attended. Many of the classes were basic: for example, computer classes were books only, and now there are full computer labs. The growth of technology is a huge difference. Two of my favorite teachers were Steve Easter and Don Nicholson. I remember when the DECA business club and MAC faculty members played a basketball game against the KXOK All-Stars as a club fundraiser. Coach Hal Loughary took the game very seriously and was all about winning.”
Denise recalled her transition from high school: “MAC opened my eyes to a strong work ethic. The first semester I thought I would continue to breeze through classes. Soon, I found myself thinking, I have to read HOW MANY chapters for my class the day after tomorrow?! We met students from other schools who shared similar interests, especially in MAC Singers. Students from different backgrounds gave us the opportunity to embrace diverse personalities. Dale and I got engaged, and as we met new friends, married couples, and non-traditional students who had been in the military, we felt like we were taking natural steps into adulthood. We knew we had to find a balance between work and school and still make time for ourselves and our families. That is still true today. Though we are not in school, he is still employed, and I am active in community organizations. We are heavily involved in our church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, where we both have served in leadership positions for the past 50 years. We make it a priority to make time for us as a couple as well as time to be involved with our extended family of three children, their spouses, eleven grandchildren (six of whom are married), and four great grandchildren – with four more due this year!”
After earning an Associate in Secretarial Practice, Denise got married in June 1973 and worked until they started their family. She explained, “After all five children were in school, I decided I wanted to teach high school English. Back to MAC I went in 1999-2001. During that time, I had an amazing experience—being the Botany lab partner with my son Aaron!”
And teach, she did! Her teaching career included teaching English courses at Farmington High School, dual-credit classes for MAC and Missouri Baptist, and full-time teaching at MAC. Then, after retiring from MAC in 2017, Denise returned to Farmington High School to fill a critical-need position in the English department, a position that stretched into 2020, including a semester of online teaching during the COVID shutdown. She fully retired in May 2020.
Retirement isn’t exactly for Dale. Soon after his retirement from his career in business, Dale served on the Farmington City Council and was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives, where he is currently in his third term, serving on the leadership team as Chair of Administration and Accounts for the House of Representatives.
He stated, “The education I earned at MAC is the foundation of my whole career working in healthcare administration heading up hospitals and multi-million-dollar corporations. I credit MAC for most everything I did in the business world and in my personal life, dealing with my own personal finances, all the way to serving in the Missouri House of Representatives.”
In his legislative role, Dale – along with other local state-level elected officials – have been influential advocates for MAC.
“Today, MAC is a cornerstone of education for the entire Southeast Missouri region," he explains. "It has been critical to the economic and social growth of Southeast Missouri and is a stepping stone to further higher education. I recognize the need for a continuous flow of state funding to meet the ever-changing demands of workforce development and evolving careers. Additionally, as a state representative, I recognize the importance the state places on community colleges and the importance of community colleges receiving their fair share of higher education funding, alongside four-year institutions. More and more, state government recognizes the importance of community colleges as the conduit for technical training.”
Looking forward, Dale added, “MAC will continue to expand into more technical roles with the addition of the new technical center on campus. MAC will expand partnerships with regional businesses to meet specific needs, including manufacturing, engineering, biotechnology, health care, and other growing industries.”
The Tradition Continues
Family is paramount to the Wrights. Denise said, “We are a close family and love to have our children around us. So, when our kids graduated from high school, we encouraged them to choose MAC; however, if they wanted to attend other schools, we supported their choices. In addition to being financially appealing, the smaller class sizes were important. Because Dale and I had positive experiences, we could speak from experience.”
Mineral Area College is a family tradition for the still-growing Wright family--pictured are Dale and Denise, their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Several Wright family members took advantage of the dual-credit offerings. Elizabeth Felker Cox graduated with her high school diploma from Farmington High School and her associate degree from MAC in the same week in 2018. She earned her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from Brigham Young University in Rexburg, Idaho in 2022 and currently works as an apartment manager at the university while her husband finishes his degree and finds placement in a dental school. Joel Phillip Wright took classes at MAC during his senior year in high school in 2001. Benjamin William Wright took dual-credit classes at MAC and Missouri Baptist while in high school, was active in MAC theater during and after high school, and graduated in 2007. He then went to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah for a year and came back to earn an associate degree in 2009 before transferring to Mizzou.
Other family members also shared thoughts on their MAC experiences. Andrea (Wright) Waddell, who earned her ADN degree, said, “I wanted to stay close to home after high school, and MAC was only a few miles away. The nursing program was top-notch, and I became an RN, which has served me well for 30 years. I had phenomenal nursing and clinical instructors–Linda Montgomery, Susie Kohn, Jackie Kelly-Killian, Jessie Williams, and Kay Nicholson. As a family, we have strong values, and it was important to me to remain close to family while receiving a quality education. MAC allowed me to do both. MAC has also provided our children with fun activities growing up such as summer camps and classes. It really has been a great resource for our family, with so many different opportunities for education and fun.”
Son-in-law Tommie Waddell, Andrea’s husband, is a 1991 Arcadia Valley graduate who enrolled in MAC’s Radiology Technology program that fall. He earned the Mallinckrodt Award for outstanding student in the program and now works as a radiation therapist at Missouri Baptist Hospital. He said, “MAC’s convenience is great and offers opportunities for individuals to receive higher education close to home. MAC was my only choice to accept MARMC School of Radiology credits, and it helped me become a healthcare professional that I continue to do to this day. Rhonda Gamble was an excellent instructor. I was pleased to be invited back to MAC to share some of my experiences from radiology school with MAC students in the A&P classes. Concerning MAC’s future, I would love to see the radiology program back because I feel it is a great loss to the area.”
Aaron Carl Wright commented, “I knew I wanted to continue my education, but I wasn’t immediately sure what that path looked like. MAC was the right fit for me to explore my options. I gained a lifelong network of friends in addition to my education. Jerry Walters has always been among my favorite teachers. The transition from being a kid to being an adult can be a little rocky, but he always found ways to help me draw out my creativity and pour it into my projects, some of which I still have displayed in my house today.”
He continued, “The campus and curriculum have grown exponentially since my time as a student, with new fields of study and dorms, specifically. I’d like to see MAC’s partnerships with four-year schools expand and eventually see it become a full-fledged undergraduate program in its own right. MAC helps local students learn what they want to do with their lives. And, if they let it, MAC can put them on a path to becoming model citizens of the community. I appreciate what the college has done for me personally, but even more so for my family who lives in the area. It fosters a great sense of community and has helped my family achieve great things. I’m especially proud of my parents. My mom raised five kids and became a professional educator herself, with many of those years spent teaching English to future generations of MAC students. She also wrote a wonderful weekly column in the local paper for years and introduced me to my love of literature and higher ed in general. My dad began his higher education at MAC and went on to become a successful executive at a national level. He now serves his community in the state legislature. You won’t find a more selfless servant of the people in Jefferson City. I’m so proud of the example they both have set for me and my family. They have Mineral Area College to thank for a considerable portion of that foundation.”
Stephanie Ellen (Wright) Felker, MAC 1996-1997, said, “MAC was an easy choice for me since both of my parents and older siblings graduated from there. It was the perfect fit for me at that time in my life. I loved the small class sizes, the ability to have relationships with classmates and professors, and the smooth transition to Mizzou. I married my husband, Edward, after completing three semesters at MAC. We moved to Columbia to attend the University of Missouri. I graduated in 2000 with a degree in elementary education and have spent the last 23 years raising six wonderful children. As I have been blessed to be at home with them, I have had additional opportunities to volunteer in their schools and serve on various community committees. I am currently a substitute teacher in the Farmington School District.”
Why MAC? Stephanie explained, “I grew up understanding how valuable MAC was to our community. As a child, I loved attending basketball games with my dad and theater and art events with my mom. As my own family moved back to the area, I have been able to carry on those traditions with them. Edward and I were happy to have several of our children take advantage of the dual-enrollment program through MAC. Our son, Drew, transferred to Brigham Young University in Idaho with a jump start on credits, and our daughter, Elizabeth, earned her AA before transferring to and graduating from BYU-I. As parents of six children, we appreciate the money saved by going this route! Our youngest child, eight-year-old Reed, already tells us he will go to MAC. Last year when taking him to school, I mentioned something about MAC, and he asked, "What's MAC?" After describing it to him in a way he could understand, he was flabbergasted when he found out that his three oldest siblings chose to attend college in Idaho when they could have lived at home and gone to college at MAC! He told us he will graduate from MAC and then live next door to us where he will work as an author!”
Stephanie recalled several MAC memories: “My mom and I took several classes together. Not too many people can say they attended college with a parent. I loved having her as my classmate in our German and English literature classes. Once in my psychology class, the professor asked us to find a partner for an activity. One partner was to close his or her eyes while the other partner led this person around the second-floor hallway and back around to the classroom. I asked a young man whom I had never really spoken to be my partner. He told me I could go first. I closed my eyes, and off we went. A few steps ahead I felt him kind of bump us into a chair. He giggled and said, ‘Whoa.’ A few more steps ahead the same thing happened again, but this time he said, "How about I just open my eyes." I started laughing hysterically because apparently we were both walking with our eyes closed! When he offered to let me go first, he meant I could be the leader first, but I thought he was suggesting I close my eyes first! I'm thankful we didn't get too close to the stairs. This story was actually published in Reader's Digest many years ago!”
A Source of Pride
As parents, Denise and Dale share how it felt to see new generations of Wright family follow in their own MAC footsteps. “I am proud to see my own children in cap and gown, seated with their peers, and watch them receive their diploma covers as they shake hands with the college president. It brings to mind memories of my own turning of the tassel. I am not a particularly sentimental person, but I do love tradition, and this is a good one to pass along.” Dale added, “It brings back memories of my graduation 50 short years ago and reminds me of how important MAC is to the region. It is good to see graduates understanding that the education they received at MAC will springboard them to future success.”