Dr. Wesley A. Deneke

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MAC to Honor Dr. Wesley A. Deneke With Scholarship
Former Flat River Junior College President Left a Remarkable Legacy
By Donna Hickman/Daily Journal Staff Writer
October 2, 2006

Dr. Wesley A. Deneke still lives in the minds and hearts of many Flat River Junior College and Flat River Schools graduates from the 1930s and ‘40s. They say his people skills were just as impressive as his accomplishments as an administrator.

“His job was to take a small school with a small student body and make it earn a big reputation,” said Gayle Simmons, a Flat River College graduate and former dean. “He did that by assembling a faculty that was remarkable.”

Deneke came to Flat River Junior College in the depths of the Great Depression. He was Dean of the Junior College from 1931-36, then superintendent of Flat River Schools - and that included the college - from 1936-48.

Mineral Area College wants to keep his legacy alive through a scholarship that honors his memory. The Deneke family has provided the seed money to endow the Dr. Wesley A. Deneke Scholarship and the fund-raising goal is $20,000. To contribute to the scholarship, contact Beth McFarland, MAC Foundation, at (573) 518-2322.

“As long as I can remember, education, church and family were very important things to my father,” said Dorothy Deneke Gerig, class of ‘46. “He would always tell people he wanted them to further their education and he could see to it that they could.”

Teachers were hard to come by during World War II. Deneke was creative in the way he found them. He explained to Robert Lee, class of ‘43, how he did it. When he received an application from a teacher, if he or she sounded good on paper, he would go to the town where they worked and go to the barbershop.

“He'd bring up the name of that teacher he was considering and find out what the people in the barbershop thought,” said Mildred Lee, class of ‘44, and Robert's wife. “If the teacher got a good report, he'd offer the job.”

On cold days, Gerig remembered how her father would go to school to help the janitor get the heat going before the students arrived.

Simmons said when Dr. Deneke was working on his doctorate at the University of Missouri, he drove to Columbia once or twice a week and, during those times, he docked his pay because he was taking a portion of his time away from the junior college. He was so concerned about teacher salaries in the time when money was tight, Simmons said he would give up his own raise to use the money to help a beginning teacher.

He knew his students by name and loved to come to the college on Saturdays to talk with the students playing pool at the student center.

“He helped me to understand to communicate with people, you have to establish a common linkage to them,” said Simmons.

Deneke always placed his students above anything else. He gave up his parking space so the parents of a handicapped student would have a place to park and get their son to class.

Some of his students knew him first at Taylor Avenue Methodist Church, as it was called then, where he sang loudly, played piano and was known to fill in for the preacher every now and then.

“Oh, he was very impressive to me,” said Davalee Bohnenkamp, class of ‘44. “He was charismatic.”

Mildred Lee called him, “warm, gracious and genuine.”

Rowena Simmons said he was like a second father to her.

“When I was a sophomore in high school, my dad died. My mom had died when I was 6,” she said. “Dr. Deneke came up to me and told me if I needed to talk to anybody, he and Mrs. Deneke were available. They were wonderful.”

At church, he would often seek out the parents of his students, just to brag on them.

“He would come up to my mom and dad and say, ‘Rosemary did this' or ‘Rosemary did that,'” said Rosemary Richardson. “They appreciated that and I did, too.”

Gayle Simmons said one of his favorite memories of Dr. Deneke involved an irate parent who stormed into his office.

“Dr. Deneke called and asked me to bring my notebook. ‘Take this down,' he said. Well the conversation became loud and rapid. I scrambled with my shorthand. Later I apologized for being unable to catch everything. Dr. Deneke laughed and said, ‘Tear up your notes. I just wanted him to think we had it all in writing.'”

Flat River High School had classes in French and calculus then, things that were not available in the college, much less in high schools in the area.

“I was not a good student,” confessed C.F. Sitzes, Flat River High class of 1944. “Dr. Deneke taught advanced algebra. He was a good teacher and I have never heard anybody say anything bad about him. He encouraged boys to become male secretaries because St. Joe needed them.”

Former Flat River Junior College Students who remember Dr. Wesley A. Deneke include, from left, Mildred Lee, Davalee Bohnenkamp, Robert Lee, Rosemary Richardson, C. F. Sitzes, Rowena Simmons, Dorothy Deneke Gerig, Mary Ann (Gerig) Turner, and Gayle Simmons

Rowena Simmons believes she owes her 38-year teaching career to Dr. Deneke who ushered her into a job just after her husband Gale was discharged from the Army in 1946.

“Neither Gayle nor I had a job and Dr. Deneke approached me at church and asked if I could substitute for another teacher whose husband had come home,” she recalled. “He had promised her she would be released from her contract when her husband returned. I went in to substitute and, by the next day, I had a contract to teach kindergarten for the rest of the school year.”

Dr. Deneke received a number of honors in his illustrious career that began with a B.S. degree in education from Southeast Missouri State College in 1926. He was named one of SEMO's Outstanding Alumni. He received his masters and doctor of education degrees from the University of Missouri. He left Flat River Junior College to serve as Dean of Student Personnel at Northeast Oklahoma State College from 1948-1963. After his retirement, he taught at SEMO and served as education consultant for the Farmington State Hospital. He moved back to the Parkland to live out his later years. He died on Aug. 29, 1979.

Mary Ann Gerig Turner admitted she was a little awed by what she heard from her grandfather's former students.

“I always had my grandfather up on a pedestal, but I didn't know everybody else did,” she said.

Dorothy Gerig added that her grandson and Dr. Deneke's great-grandson, Matthew Turner, is now a second year student at MAC.

The MAC Foundation hopes to award the first Deneke Scholarship for the fall semester of 2007 at Mineral Area College.

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