By AMY RICKER
Great Bend Post
In gratitude to USD 428 School Board members, January has been designated as School Board Recognition Month. In honor of the critical role school board members play in serving the district's students and community, Eagle radio will be featuring school board members during January.
Don Williams grew up in western Colorado and, like many kids, was heavily involved in 4-H and dreamed of working in the medical profession when he grew up. After graduating from high school, his future career track took a bit of a turn.
"When I was getting out of school, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do, and it just seemed prudent to get an education degree and go into teaching. I wasn't business-minded at all."
When it comes to education, Williams has been immersed for most of his adult life. After graduating from Kansas Wesleyan in 1970, Williams and his wife began teaching science in Hanston, KS.
"I taught everything in the sciences, and by everything, I mean I had six different class preparations every day. I taught everything from middle school science up to high school chemistry," explained Williams.
After three years in Hanston, Williams and his wife relocated to Lyons, KS, where he taught Biology, Driver's Ed, and coached wrestling for 15 years. In 1988, Sterling College had an opening for a Biology Professor, and Williams began driving the 10-mile commute to teach on the college level, eventually moving to Sterling. He stayed in the community and taught for 15 years.
Williams took a leave of absence and earned his doctorate from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, and then returned to teaching at Sterling College. And then things got interesting.
"In 2003, I decided to move to Parkville, MO, and teach at Park University. By that time, my son Ryan (Williams), who is the pediatrician here in town, had graduated from Sterling College, went to KU Med, and then was doing his residency in the Kansas City area. They were starting their family, and we wanted to get closer to our kids and grandkids, and the Lord opened up a position at Park University, so we moved to Kansas City. Then that spring, the job that my son was looking up there for didn't pan out. Then he found an opening here at the children's clinic, and so they moved here. So here we were trying to get closer to each other, and in the same year, we moved from Sterling to Kansas City, and he moved from Kansas City to Great Bend. So, it didn't exactly work out the way we planned," chuckled Williams. "We always say God has a sense of humor."
After working for Park University for nine years, in 2012, Williams and his wife decided to retire and relocate again to Great Bend to be closer to their children and grandchildren.
Williams was elected to the USD 428 school board in 2017. He says his decision to run was mostly due to having grandchildren in the district but also because working in education is where he has spent the majority of his adult life.
"I have grandkids in the system, of course, but I had also served on the USD 405 School Board in Lyons when I began working for Sterling College. So, I had some school board experience. I had visited with some of the administrators here with respect to the opening (on the board). I've been in education my entire life and feel that I have something to contribute to the program," explained Williams.
When it comes to issues that the district will be facing in the future, Williams says the bond issue needs to be revisited.
"We still have lots of infrastructures that need work and help. But since COVID has come around, we just haven't talked about it because it wasn't the priority. But I do think in time, regardless if I'm on the board or not, it's going to be an issue that we will have to face. There are some needs in the system for infrastructure that will provide a better learning environment for our kids," says Williams.
One area that Williams says is one of the school board's most outstanding achievements is adapting to operating a school district during a pandemic.
"I think this last year has shown that we have the administration and the staff that are capable of continuing an educational system during a stressful time. I have to give our administration and staff tremendous kudos regarding what they have been able to do. When other schools are remaining closed and doing a virtual school, we've been able to keep our kids in schools and give them the education that they need. I'm proud of what the district has been able to do in that respect."
When it comes to a goal Williams has in mind as a school board member looking ahead, he simply replied, "To continue supporting our administration."