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Northwest Missouri State University


Student Spotlight

David Merrill and Jean Patee-Merrill graduated from Northwest April 30 with their bachelor's degrees in business management. (Photo by Todd Weddle/Northwest Missouri State University)

David Merrill and Jean Patee-Merrill graduated from Northwest April 30 with their bachelor's degrees in business management. (Photo by Todd Weddle/Northwest Missouri State University)

    May 11, 2016

    Family First: Merrills reach goal, complete degrees after raising children

    David Merrill and Jean Patee-Merrill began work toward their bachelor’s degrees nearly 40 years ago. They finished those degrees at Northwest Missouri State University this spring after raising seven children and dedicating thousands of hours to attending their kids’ school, sports and community activities.

    The Merrills met while attending Missouri Western State University, where David was playing baseball and Jean was a cheerleader.

    But in 1978, the couple decided to get married and had their first child a year later.

    “A year after that we’d have our second baby, and within five years we had four babies, so college was not an option,” Jean said.

    David eventually found employment with the St. Joseph Police Department, launching a law enforcement career now spanning more than three decades. Jean enrolled in some online coursework while raising the children, but neither completed degrees. The Merrills moved to Maryville in 1987.

    “We just went on with our lives, but we both kind of felt like we wanted to complete our education,” Jean said.

    So in 2009, the couple made a pact. David was considering retirement from the Missouri Highway Patrol and Jean suggested they complete their degrees together in business management at Northwest.

    During the University’s April 30 spring commencement ceremonies, Northwest President Dr. John Jasinski acknowledged the Merrills’ accomplishment and recalled meeting David in the Administration Building while he waited in a line to register for classes.

    “I said, ‘Dave, what are you doing?’” Jasinski said. “He said, ‘I’m going to continue my learning.’ We’re so happy to have them as examples of continued learning.”

    The Merrills took a couple courses each trimester and motivated each other to stay focused on their goal.

    “Most of the deadlines for online classes are midnight Sunday,” David said. “I can’t tell you how many times we would be somewhere Sunday and we still had a quiz to take or a post to make, and it was like, ‘We’ve got to go because we’ve got to do something before midnight on Sunday.’”

    The Merrills don’t downplay the challenges they faced along the way – from the loss of parents to job changes.

    David joined Northwest’s University Police Department in 2012 after retiring from the Missouri Highway Patrol. That same year, Jean opened A Step Ahead Dance Company in Maryville.

    “We’ve had so much on our plate, but had to keep trudging along,” Jean said. “At times I felt like I was swimming as hard as I could, and he was, too.”

    David added, “It’s really just an accomplishment that I felt I needed to do. As we all know, life is a learning process anyway. I saw that as I continued my career in law enforcement. The laws were changing, the procedures, it was continuous learning. But there is a formal side of it, too, that we didn’t have completed, and now we have fulfillment that we have done that.”

    The Merrills carry the pride of their accomplishment and an extra special bond with their children.

    Five of their children – DJ, Danielle, Derek, Dakota and Dannen – attended or graduated from Northwest. Their youngest, Debrielle, plans to attend Northwest in the fall as a member of the Bearcat cheerleading squad, becoming the sixth to pursue a degree at the University.

    “I don’t know how many times we’d be sitting at the dining room table,” Jean said. “Debrielle would be doing her high school homework. Dannen would be doing his college homework. There would be four of us, and we’d have a study group. We have a bond with our kids that the normal parent doesn’t have and that, to me, has made it extra special.”


    For more information, please contact:

    Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
    mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704 | Fax: 660.562.1900

    Northwest Missouri State University
    215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468