Oct. 11, 2011
Couple’s monetary gift will fund upgrades to education facility
Updated Oct. 25, 2011
Children and families served by Northwest Missouri State University's Early Care and Education Laboratory Center (ECELC) and Horace Mann Laboratory School, along with the faculty members and University students who use the facility for their research and education, will soon enjoy an improved center, thanks to the generosity of a couple with long ties to the University and the laboratory school.
Northwest alumni Dr. Richard "Dick" Leet and Phyllis (Combs) Leet, of Gainesville, Ga., have gifted more than $100,000 to the Northwest Foundation to establish The Leet Endowment and fund a partial remodeling of Everett W. Brown Education Hall that will provide a more stimulating learning environment for ECELC programs and Horace Mann kindergarteners.
The improved space will be renamed the Phyllis and Richard Leet Center for Children and Families. The name is an appropriate one, University leaders say, that reflects the ongoing mission and goals of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, as well as the College of Education and Human Services, which guide the operation of the ECELC and the laboratory school.
"We are lucky to have such a wonderful couple devoted to each other, to families, to children and to their alma mater," Northwest President Dr. John Jasinski said. "The Leets are very aware of the foundation Northwest provided in their lives, and their commitment does not stop at service and leadership."
The remodeling project will result in the early care and kindergarten programs moving to the first floor space where the Horace Mann library is located, and the library will move to the basement space currently occupied by the early care program. Additionally, the remodeled area will feature a bronze sculpture, "Cats Cradle," donated by the Leets. The Leet Endowment will remain open to receive additional contributions.
"The laboratory center and school is a vital part of Northwest as a place where teachers can come to learn about the teaching profession," Dr. Leet said. "We realize its value in teaching teachers."
He added, “Having lived in Maryville and attended Northwest when it was a very small school, it is marvelous to have an opportunity to make a small contribution to its continuing, rapid growth.”
The Leets began their lives together at Northwest, having met in a chemistry lab course. Dr. Leet, who grew up in Maryville, attended kindergarten at the laboratory school when it was housed in the Administration Building during the early 1930s and completed his chemistry degree at Northwest in 1948. Mrs. Leet, a Princeton native, completed her vocational home economics degree at Northwest in 1949 and then worked to put Dr. Leet through graduate school at The Ohio State University. Dr. Leet went on to build a successful career at Amoco Corporation and retired in 1991 as vice chairman and director.
The Leets have been steadfast in their commitment to Northwest and began investing in the University's mission in the 1980s when Mrs. Leet gave funds for a capital project at Horace Mann that provided adequate space for the kindergarten program. In 1988, the Phyllis Combs Leet Scholarship Fund was created for entering freshmen in the family and consumer sciences program. Dr. Leet, with Northwest chemistry alumni, also helped establish a scholarship named for his mentor, J. Gordon Strong.
Additionally, Dr. Leet was volunteer chairman of Northwest's successful inaugural capital campaign during the early 2000s. Both Dr. and Mrs. Leet served on the board of the Northwest Foundation, and, in 2005, Mrs. Leet led the creation of the unique centennial sculpture located in the east plaza of the J.W. Jones Student Union.
"Northwest was our home territory," Dr. Leet said. "It was my hometown, and Phyllis grew up on a farm near Princeton. So we had a natural relationship to this school in northwest Missouri. The more we were involved, the more interested in it we became, and we stayed. It was the center of where we met."
Said Mrs. Leet, “I started at Northwest during World War II, when most of the male students were from the Navy. It was a long time ago, but the school has continued to grow and become more professional, and I’m proud of the success of our home college.”
Since Horace Mann's founding in 1906, a year after the creation of Northwest, the laboratory school and the ECELC have had a lasting impact on the numerous children who attend the school as well as the Northwest students who lay the foundation for their teaching careers in its classrooms. This fall, the ECELC is operating at capacity, serving 43 families. Additionally, the center is a training ground for 160 students who work directly with the children and their parents on a variety of assignments.
The Horace Mann Laboratory School, which is located in the same facility, serves 111 students in kindergarten through sixth grades. During the 2010-11 academic year, the laboratory school served about 800 Northwest students from 12 different academic departments.
Dr. Deborah Lewis Fravel, associate professor and chair of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, said the ECELC, the laboratory school and its leaders strive to put children first while working with parents and siblings to ensure the family's primary importance in a child's well-being. The Leets' gift is a step toward helping Northwest grow these programs and adding needed resources.
"The upgrade of the center facilities allows us to move ahead with curricular and programmatic goals that will help us remain a state-of-the-art laboratory school," Lewis Fravel said. "We have already begun implementing shades of change that will be fully realized when we are in our new quarters. It is especially nice that this gift came from an alumnus of our department. Dr. and Mrs. Leet's gift is not only very generous, but also represents their commitment to the well-being of children as well as the education of Northwest students."
Horace Mann Director Monica Landess added, "The Leets' generosity goes above and beyond our hopes and dreams, and Horace Mann would like to thank everyone involved. We are blessed to have such a strong team working at Northwest Missouri State University, and we are excited for the future of our young students.”
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