By ALAN HOSKINS, KCKCC
Growing up on a farm in southeast Kansas, Ron Wimmer knew exactly where he was headed after graduating from Fort Scott High School in 1961.
“It was not a choice or a consideration,” says Wimmer. “My parents told me I was going to Pittsburg State Teachers College, enrolled me, made all the arrangements and dropped me off at a dormitory on a Sunday afternoon and told me they hoped I’d make it home once in a while. Neither of my parents went to college but they insisted I and my sister and two brothers should go to Pittsburg State and earn a degree in education. My dad said I’d never get rich but that if I worked hard and applied myself I’d always have a job.”
Turned out to be pretty sage advice, not only for Wimmer but for the Olathe and DeSoto school districts for whom he would toil and bring distinction for more than 42 years – and earn Hall of Fame recognition.
On Saturday, Nov. 3, Dr. Ron Wimmer will be inducted into the Mid-America Education Hall of Fame on the campus of Kansas City Kansas Community College.
A fund-raiser for the KCKCC Endowment Association, the 17th annual dinner and induction ceremonies are open to the public and reservations can be made by calling 913-288-7166 or by e-mail to email@example.com.
“I’m honored, especially looking at all the people who have already been inducted,” said Dr. Wimmer. “But one person doesn’t achieve a successful career without the contributions of hundreds of others and I look at my induction of the achievements of many colleagues, friends and associates.”
After running track and playing basketball and the saxophone in high school, Wimmer enrolled at Pitt State with the intention of becoming an attorney but ended up with a B.A. in Foreign Languages and Social Studies in 1965.
“I took Spanish as a senior in high school and enjoyed it so I continued taking classes in college,” said Wimmer. “Also, I married while in college and earned a degree in education to acquire a job teaching with hopes of attending law school while working.”
Putting his hopes for a law degree on hold, he began his career in education teaching Spanish in the Olathe School District for four years.
“I planned enroll in the law school at UMKC but the principal at Santa Fe Junior High School (Leland King) where I was teaching needed an assistant principal and convinced me to go to KU and get a Master’s in Education Administration and Curriculum.”
Once in school administration, he never left. When King moved up to Director of Personnel in 1974, Wimmer became principal and when King continued to advance, so did Wimmer.
Moving up to Director of Personnel in 1978 and assistant superintendent in 1980, he earned his doctorate from KU in 1983 and become Superintendent of all Olathe schools in 1991, a position he would hold until his retirement in 2005.Ironically, when Wimmer became superintendent, King became his assistant allowing them to work together for several years.
During his 14 years, the Olathe schools would achieve unprecedented growth both academically and the number of students and schools. The resume:
- More than 600 new students a year – from 15,357 students in 1991 to 23,699 in 2005 making it the third largest school district in Kansas.
- Three major bond issues passed totaling $325 million.
- Sixteen new schools and other district facilities opened.
- Student achievement scores reached all-time highs on the SAT, ACT and Kansas Assessments.
- Introduced an alternative education programs for students at all grade levels.
- Created innovative programs such as Marine Biology, Culinary Arts, Health Careers, Special Reading programs and a Distinguished Scholars program that allowed students to focus on one major area in high school.
“Our newest high school, Olathe Northwest, and our oldest, Olathe North, became models for those programs. We even had our own TV and radio studio,” says Wimmer. “We also made it possible for students to transfer between high schools without attendance area boundaries restricting where students attended high school. The concept was very innovative at the time and worked very well.”
One of his proudest accomplishments was the establishment of a Student Care Funds program both in Olathe and later in the DeSoto school district that helped students and families with special financial needs. All of the funding was donated by staff and patrons allowing great flexibility to meet individual needs.
Wimmer’s commitment to teachers and support staff earned Olathe’s extensive staff development recognition as a model by the U.S. Department of Education and the district earned the Kansas Award for Excellence, the highest recognition given by the state for following the Baldrige principles of continuous improvement.
Wimmer’s contributions also extended into the community where he served as president of the Olathe Chamber of Commerce and served on school administrator boards, community service organizations, arts councils and business leadership boards.
Selected Kansas Superintendent of the Year in 1997, Wimmer was named an Outstanding Educator by the Phi Delta Kappa in 1994, the Communicator of the year by the Kansas School Public Relations Assn. in 1997, a Meritorious Achievement Alumni Award from Pittsburg State in in 1998, a Star Leadership Award in 2001, an Outstanding Service Award from the United School Administrators of Kansas, NAACP Legacy Award and many others.
But it was the local awards, Olathe’s Citizen of the Year in 1997, and the Distinguished Community Service award from Mid-America Nazarene University that were extra special.
Following retirement, Wimmer was convinced to switch political parties, from a long-time Republication to Democrat, to run for the Kansas Senate in 2008.
“I lost the election. However, I had the opportunity to meet many good people throughout the Senate district including new friends in the DeSoto area. I worked really hard and learned a grtat deal about the political process and have no regrets over the whole experience.”
When DeSoto suddenly lost its superintendent in May, 2009, Wimmer was asked to serve as interim superintendent, A week after being interviewed on May 4, Wimmer went to work taking on the task of reviving staff spirits and bringing cohesion to the board.
“We addressed issues with a different learning atmosphere, focused on better relationships and getting along together and began new programs that had not been in place,” says Wimmer, “We also created the Student Care Fund where the focus was not only on teaching but caring for students and families. Working in the DeSoto district has been a highlight of my career and one that I will appreciate forever. ”
After 2½ years, he retired a second time to spend more time with his wife, Linda, with whom he’ll be married 50 years in March.
“Back in high school, we both played saxophone and sat next to each other in band,” says Wimmer.
There are two sons, Eric, who works for Fry-Wagner Moving & Storage and lives in Gardner; Derek, who does medical clinical trial consulting and medical project manager and lives in Kansas City, Mo.; and five grandchildren ranging in age from 5 to 20 who have become the apple of their eye.
Always a hard worker, a board member once advised Wimmer to get a hobby to get away from the stress of work and he took it, buying a boat and taking up lake life at the Lake of the Ozarks.
“We take the grandkids tubing and fishing and other water-related sports,” he says.
Although retired from full-time employment, Wimmer continues to work part-time as a consultant for Energy Education headquarter in Dallas.
“It allows me to continue my involvement with educational institutions and to contribute to the fund needs of public schools and institutions of higher education,” says Wimmer. “I plan to stay active as long as I am able. Retirement is great but not the end of life’s journey.”