By Sue Moore
Community Education isn’t what it used to be according to Tonya Nash, celebrating 26 years in Vicksburg as director of the school district program. Largely an adult education department when she started, it’s evolved to offer programs for early education, day care and summer and after-school programs in such areas as art and sports.
For her effort in guiding that evolution, Nash was recognized with the Mercer Munn award, given to a non-Rotarian by the Vicksburg Rotary Club. Munn was the consummate Rotarian and volunteer who loved his community, often referring to Vicksburg as the “center of the universe.”
Nash echoed Nash, thanking the club for honoring her for “Vicksburg being the center of my universe for the past 26 years.”
She grew up in Allegan, volunteering in the recreation offerings of that school district’s community education program. She is a 1984 graduate of Alma College where she earned a Mott Scholarship devoted to Community Education. The scholarship took her to Central Michigan University for a master’s degree.
She worked for the Sturgis school district for five years, then in the community education department in Kalamazoo schools for six months. That’s when serendipity came calling; Vicksburg had an opening and she jumped at it; the size of the school district was just what she wanted.
Now she is starting her 27th year and feeling the warmth of those who appreciate her for all the extra miles she has put in above the call of duty.
This was exemplified by the many Rotarians who have worked with her on community projects and described her contributions to Vicksburg at a club meeting in July. Laura Howard cited her as a community ambassador with United Way. Each year, Nash rallies the school employees to give generously. In 2015 she urged them to meet the challenge from Gull Lake schools to gain an additional $1,000 for Vicksburg’s STEAM program at Indian Lake.
Steve Goss, assistant superintendent, took note of her help in getting the school’s Outdoor Education Center off the ground when she organized the funding campaign to build the facility at the corner of Portage Road and XY Avenue. She was the guiding hand behind the 100th anniversary of the “old el” celebration, the organizer of the Bulldog stadium’s grand opening in 2001 and promoting the opening of the Performing Arts Center after it was built in 1993.
School board Trustee Carol Lohman called her the head cheerleader from the department of fun in the Vicksburg schools. She is responsible for communicating to the public via the Red and White and the school’s Facebook page, and organized the first Tailgate picnic seven years ago to let local businesses and nonprofits promote their wares to students and parents. She is head of the Bulldog Beginnings, the early education for four-year-olds through the state’s Great Start Readiness program. She proposed Kids Klub to the school board to serve families with pre-school and early elementary children with a safe and loving place for them to go before and after school. She oversees the summer school programs offered by the school system and all the classes offered by community education during the school year.
Warren Lawrence spoke about her eight years of volunteer work with the Vicksburg Historical Society board of directors, where she currently serves as secretary. “She works on all kinds of projects for the Society by just getting things done. She even volunteered to don a HazMat uniform to clean the counters that came from a 100-year-old building in Ithaca that had been donated to Vicksburg for the general store grand opening.”
Mercer Munn would have been proud to know that Nash was being given this recognition in his name, Larry Forsyth said in his nomination letter to the committee overseeing the award. Others who have received it include Lori Hardy, Sheldon Durham, Jack Fryling, Bill Oswalt, Bob Merrill, Lloyd Appell, Danna Downing, Nellie Pierson, Bonnie Holmes, Mike Hardy, Ken Schippers and Lorna Landrum.