Springfield Public Schools Hall of Fame 2012
Meet the inspiring men and women who have been named to the Springfield Public Schools Hall of Fame for 2012.
It’s time to meet the three new 2012 inductees into the Springfield Public Schools Hall of Fame. This is the third year SPS has pinpointed a few of its graduates for the honor. It all started with nominations of past graduates who demonstrate public service and have received accolades in the community. These nominees must have a strong belief in the value of education.
The school district narrowed this year’s pool of nominees, and those chosen were passed on to a committee of community members who made the final decision on which three men and women would be newly inducted into the Hall of Fame. Read on to meet the winners: Charles Armstrong, Betty Cole Dukert and Dr. Stewart Fulbright.
Watching men set foot on the moon was inspiring for young Charles Armstrong, to say the least. For the past 33 years, Kickapoo High School graduate Armstrong has played a central role in numerous projects at NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Before stepping into the rocket scientist role, Armstrong surrounded himself in math and science, beginning his career at Southwest Missouri State University while a senior at Kickapoo High School.
Looking back on his high school glory days, memories of farm parties, marching band morning practices and, of course, his crush on the beauty queen cheerleader all come to mind. As the president of the science and math clubs his senior year, Armstrong looked up to a number of teachers, including geometry teacher Bill O’Neal and science instructors J.W. Mount, Horner Askins and Jose Flores.
With his roots already planted at SMSU, Armstrong graduated in 1979, boasting bachelor’s degrees in math and physics. With an astronomy minor to boot, Armstrong immediately found himself interning for NASA. “Here I was a snot-nosed kid just out of college, and I was writing procedures they would use in space,” Armstrong said.
Today, Armstrong serves as a medium between universities and NASA in Houston, Texas, while working on the integration of Project Orion, an operation expected to launch humans farther into space than ever before. The Springfield Public Schools alum has received numerous awards for his work, including a NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal and a Silver Snoopy, which recognizes outstanding individual performance.
Eugene Kranz, a retired NASA flight director and major mentor to Armstrong, describes the professional problem-solver as committed, imaginative and hard-working. “He was stimulus,” Kranz says. “He would always find the way to get something going, he was very good at socializing and everyone enjoyed working with him. He was a delightful young man.”
When he’s not busy working to explore the final frontier, Armstrong can be found hiking, camping, snowboarding or working toward a black belt in kuk sool won.
With a mile-long list of job experience, Armstrong has done pretty much everything except fly a mission for NASA. The husband to Karen and father of Victoria and Nicholas attributes his success to the consistent support of his parents and an extensive math and science education.
“It’s not as much about math and science, but learning how to work through a problem,” Armstrong says, encouraging students to invest in their education.
Dedicated to exploration, Armstrong’s ultimate hope is to have people understand the economic value of the space program. “I want to do something that can clarify that for everybody,” Armstrong says. “I want to be in the fight.”—D.D.
Dukert attended the Democratic National Convention in 1988 (left). Spending an afternoon on the water, Dukert boats with friends near Springfield (center). Dukert meets Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (right).
“I didn’t realize, at the beginning, what a great opportunity I had. But when I think back on it, it was marvelous to see the developments.” These are the words of television-journalism pioneer and SPS Hall of Fame inductee, Betty Cole Dukert. Growing up, Dukert did not have a television in her home. In fact, she feels fairly certain there was not a single television in the entire town. A half-century later, Dukert looks back on her life and the experiences she had on the frontlines of technological innovations and breaking news, the likes of which are unlikely to ever be forgotten or repeated.
Her family moved between Missouri and Oklahoma several times during her adolescence, but she considers Springfield her hometown. She attended Rountree Elementary and Jarrett Junior High (now Jarrett Middle School), and after a stint in Oklahoma, returned to Springfield in the middle of her ninth-grade year. She went on to attend and graduate from Springfield Senior High, now known as Central High School. At age 13, Dukert knew what she wanted to do in life. “Career women in movies inspired me,” she recalls. She pursued an education and career in journalism.
Dukert attended Lindenwood and Drury Universities prior to completing her journalism degree at the University of Missouri. After working for KICK radio in Springfield, Dukert found her way to Washington, D.C. She worked as a secretary for an NBC executive who later helped her transfer into television. The bulk of her career was spent as producer of NBC’s Meet The Press until she retired in 1998, after some 41 years of service. Along with her husband, Joe, she now spends her time traveling. One of her favorite destinations is Italy—with history, food, scenery and culture all in one place.
A Trustee Emeritus at Drury University, Dukert returns to Springfield at least once per year. During high school, Dukert spent her Saturday afternoons scouting trends at Heer’s to report on in her column and radio segment, “Teen Talk.” Even now, when she visits Springfield, she tries to visit the square downtown. And before returning to her home in Maryland, she almost always makes a stop at Aunt Martha’s Pancake House.
Dukert is the recipient of such awards as the Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism from the University of Missouri, the First Amendment Service Award of the National Radio and Television News Directors’ Foundation and the Distinguished Alumna Award and an Honorary Doctorate from Drury University. She feels honored to be inducted to the Springfield Public Schools Hall of Fame. Declaring education to be one of her special interests, Dukert exalts, “After all my years at Meet The Press and learning about all the problems of the world, I feel that nothing matters much more than education.”—M.M.
Fulbright with his fellow Tuskegee Airmen (above). Fulbright dressed in his uniform for the Tuskegee Airmen (right). Fulbright enjoys some quality time with his family (far right).
French teacher, Tuskegee Airman, first Dean of North Carolina Central University’s School of Business—all of these notable positions have, at one time or another, described the late Dr. Stewart Fulbright.
Born and raised in Springfield, Fulbright first got a taste of business helping his mother with her catering jobs as well as working at a local clothing store. His work ethic and a couple nice suits in tow, Fulbright made his way through three degrees: a BA in French from Lincoln University, an MBA from University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in business administration from Ohio State.
In 1943 he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was trained as part of the “Tuskegee Experience” in Tuskegee, Alabama. The African American pilots trained there overcame segregation and adversity and played crucial roles during World War II. Fulbright, along with his Tuskegee comrades, was honored with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 in Washington, D.C. Among his other accomplishments, Fulbright was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to the advisory committee for the Commodity Credit Corporation and was named professor emeritus by North Carolina Central University.
Before retiring in 1982, Fulbright spent the majority of his professional career as a member of the faculty and later, the first dean of the School of Business at NCCU in Durham, North Carolina. His son, Edward Fulbright, spoke of his father’s commitment to education, saying, “It was key for him to always keep learning.”
When Dr. Fulbright was young, he mischievously tied his brother to a tree on a hot summer’s day. He went inside, opened a book and completely forgot to go release his brother from captivity. His mother knew that if a book could captivate him to the point of forgetting about his brother outside, he was surely a boy who would excel in academics. His parents made a commitment then to do all they could to make sure he went to college. He excelled during his high school years at the now dissolved Lincoln High School, graduating salutatorian of his class. His sister and his best friend remembered him as a smart and popular boy growing up and remarked that even in adulthood, Fulbright always sought opportunities to continually educate himself.
Fulbright passed away on January 1, 2012 at the age of 92.
While there were several years between them, Fulbright’s sister remembered eating dinner every night as a family while she was growing up. Gina, Fulbright’s daughter, says her dad was a family man and a supporter of education who was modest about his many achievements. So modest, in fact, that she says he would have been surprised by his induction to the SPS Hall of Fame. “Surprised but very honored,” she says.—M.M.