Unrestricted Kindness: Family's Support of Southeast's Educational Mission Spans Several Decades
Both William and Christene were raised from humble beginnings, he on a farm north of Morehouse, Mo., and she on a farm east of Parma, Mo.
William graduated from Southeast in 1935 with a Bachelor of Science degree in education. During his time at Southeast, he was involved in several clubs and activities, including being a member of the football team.
"He played right guard in the first football game at Houck Stadium," says his son, Tom.
William was a long-time school administrator in Southeast Missouri, serving in different positions in several area communities over the course of 30 years.
"When he began teaching, he taught in one-room schoolhouses. He coached football in Chaffee, taught science and agriculture in Morehouse and later taught science and chemistry in Parma, where he was also the basketball coach," explains Tom.
He soon became the superintendent of the Parma school district. Also a skilled craftsman, William, along with the help of a custodian, built the gym in Parma.
"It was the only domed building in the area. People would drive all the way from St. Louis to see it," Tom says.
In 1956, William became superintendent of the Bernie, Mo., school district. He went on to become the area's regional superintendent while continuing to teach science, chemistry and coach sports. William retired from his extensive career in education and began farming in 1972.
Just as her husband did, Christene also had a love of education. Like William, she began teaching in one-room schoolhouses. After teaching full-time for several years, she retired in 1957, yet she continued to teach part-time in Bernie, Mo., for another 10 years.
Upon their retirement from teaching, the Mericks were not finished helping others pursue education. Beginning in 1978, Ms. Merick supported the educational mission of Southeast by annually giving undesignated gifts to the Southeast Missouri University Foundation's annual fund. By leaving the gifts undesignated, Ms. Merick ensured that the gifts could be used for any area of education at Southeast. In addition to Ms. Merick's undesignated gifts, the Mericks were also avid supporters of both Southeast's athletic program and agriculture program.
"They both were members of the Copper Dome Society. My mother also donated to the new (Charles L. Hutson) Agriculture Greenhouse, " says Tom. "Education is the foundation of what we are today and what will become of our future. My parents' entire lives were dedicated to education and trying to increase the literacy of society as a whole.
"My father liked to invent things. He made a foul indicator light box used for basketball games. These were used at many schools in Southeast Missouri in the 1960s. He was just always trying to teach someone something. We would go on educational trips all over the country during the summers, mainly to historic sites. My mother liked gardening and working on flowers & trees; basically, she loved anything having to do with horticulture," Tom explains.
"Having a father 50 years older than me and parents from their generation has given me a different outlook on life compared to others my age, and I am truly grateful to have had such wonderful, loving and caring parents," continues Tom. "My father was a great story teller and was invited to speak at a wide variety of functions. Every time I turned around, I would find him telling a story to help educate someone. My parents' hope, as well as my own, is for the good of many to help better our future and the future of those to come. My father saved his money and slowly started buying farmland. He finally ended up with more than 2,200 acres before he passed in 1988."
Always true to her and her husband's giving nature, Mrs. Merick recently left most of this estate as an unrestricted gift to support education at Southeast Missouri State University. The total bequest was valued at more than $4 million, the largest gift the Foundation has received in its history - a fitting final gift from two people who gave tirelessly in the support of a better world through education.