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Released March 17, 2004

By David Tisdale

HATTIESBURG --- Having already stopped to smell the roses, Dr. Mary Beth Evans is back on the job.

That's the 86-year old University of Southern Mississippi professor's response when asked why she hasn't long since retired, like most of her contemporaries.

"Some people have said, 'Why don't you drive around and see things, see the world?'" Evans said. "But I've already done that.

"I don't have to work, but I want to. It gets me excited, working with students, and I appreciate the chance to do it."

For her lifelong dedication to education, Evans has been selected as a statewide honoree in the Love of Learning category for BlueCross BlueShield's Mississippi Ageless Hero awards program.

Evans was chosen from among 400 nominees for the honor, which is given to Mississippians age 65 and over whose lives are "filled with activity, vitality, and accomplishments and who serve as role models for us all," according to the company's description of nominees.

Dr. Mark Richmond, a longtime colleague of Evans' at Southern Miss, concurs with that description, which inspired him to nominate Evans for the honor.

"I worked with her for many years, and I've always been inspired by her intellect and ability to get things done," Richmond said. "She was the first person I thought of (to nominate) when I heard about this award."

In his nomination of Evans, Richmond noted her enduring vitality, citing her trip last year to Taiwan, unescorted, to visit one of her former graduate students and observe early childhood education facilities in several of the country's cities.

With more than 66 years' experience as an educator, at both the grade school and college levels, Evans says she has as much desire to continue working as ever.

"I enjoyed books, gaining knowledge, the discovery aspect (of education)," Evans said of her early inspiration from her teachers to choose a career as an educator. "And it's (the enjoyment) still there."

Evans began working as a grade school teacher, including at Northwest Missouri State University's laboratory school for student teachers, where she received her undergraduate degree. She earned her master's degree at the University of Iowa and her doctorate at Wayne State University.

She served for 35 years on the faculty at Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa, prior to joining the Southern Miss faculty. She also attended Graceland as an undergraduate student when the school was a community college.

Evans said of the biggest changes she has seen in education, the various swings in teaching strategies stand out most. She said she agrees in part with certain aspects of the current federal No Child Left Behind Act, which focuses on meeting standards in each state for what students should know and learn in reading and math in grades 3-8, but said, "I want to make sure we focus on all facets (of educating students), including the creativity part."

Evans will be recognized at an awards luncheon March 30 at the Hattiesburg Lake Terrace Convention Center, where legendary National Football League coach Don Shula will be the guest speaker. As part of the Ageless Hero Program, BlueCross BlueShield will donate $2,000 to each honoree's favorite charity.

"I just think it's very appropriate that Dr. Evans has been honored as an Ageless Hero," said Kelsey Matthews, a Southern Miss senior from Hattiesburg majoring in elementary education. "Being in her classroom, you would never guess her age because of the energy and excitement she brings. She has truly inspired me in becoming a teacher, that I might touch lives just as she has."

Dr. Dana Thames, chair of the Southern Miss Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education, described Evans as a tremendous resource to the department's faculty, with her many years of expertise in early childhood education, and proof that "age is no barrier."

"She's the epitome of a professional," Thames said.

Evans' son--and colleague at Southern Miss--, Dr. Jeffrey Evans, a professor in the Southern Miss Department of Chemistry, said his mother was a role model for his own career in education. He said she also gives hope to people her age that they can continue to be viable members of their community, even late in life.

"She's inspired a lot of people, me included, to serve others in teaching, and she's inspired a lot of people to realize their worth as they get older," he said.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM