Wayne White remembered as innovator

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 3, 2004

COAL GROVE - Wayne White's peers in education remember the man as a pioneer equaling the likes of Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett - only White's wild frontier was the educational landscape of southern Ohio.

The 62-year-old, well-respected educator of four decades died Thursday of a sudden heart attack. He will be missed by family, friends and countless others whose lives he has touched.

"He was just a super person. He dedicated all his life to helping other people," Neomia, his wife of 42 years, said Thursday with the pain still breaking up her voice. "Everyday, he left to go to work and he was happy. And everyday he came home with a smile on his face."

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"He was a terrific husband. He is going to be missed." The Whites have two children, five grandchildren and two step-grandchildren.

For the past 10 years, White served as executive director of the Ohio Appalachian Center for Higher Education - a consortium of 10 public colleges and universities within Appalachia that works to make higher education accessible to all students.

Though OACHE was largely White, the man himself was more than just OACHE. He worked as an educator in

the Symmes Valley and Dawson-Bryant school districts for more than 30 years and built a legacy that will never be forgotten.

White graduated from Waterloo High School and was encouraged to give college a shot. This message stuck with him and he championed the cause the rest of his career.

It was a homecoming for Wayne when he returned to Waterloo Grade School to teach a variety of math, history and science classes. By the time he left the district in 1982, he had been the head basketball coach, served as assistant superintendent and superintendent at Symmes Valley.

"He was a born educator," current Symmes Valley superintendent Tom Ben said. "He was in it for the right purposes - to serve the students of this community, this county and really to serve the the students of this state."

White was a pioneer in countless ways including having the dedication to take the fight to the state's legislators and work for equal funding for children from all parts of Ohio, Ben said.

"We are going to celebrate around southern Ohio all of the good things he has done. We all hate to see him leave but we need to celebrate his legacy he has left here," Ben said. "… It is a sad moment but southern Ohio's schools have come a long way because of his dedication. The children of southern Ohio have certainly benefited from his love for education."

In 1982, White moved on to become Dawson-Bryant's superintendent for the next 10 years.

Fellow Coal Grove resident Frank Harmon has known White for nearly 50 years as a friend and fellow Lions club member.

"Wayne was really a super nice guy. He was always the same every time you saw him," Harmon said. "… He was a good Lions member. He was always there when we needed something, no matter what it was."

White thought he had retired but was lured back by the power that he saw in OACHE. The organization has been so successful it is now replicated in seven other states. In 2003, OACHE was named a winner of the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

"Wayne took OACHE and turned it into a national treasure," said Dr. Bill Dingus, a long-time friend and fellow educator that credits White with teaching him many things. "He was a dear friend and a friend of Lawrence County and this entire community."

In life, White was quick to deflect praise thrown his way. If he could, he would almost certainly do so now.

"I have been fortunate to work with dedicated and talented individuals. There are a lot of talented educators, not saying I am one of them, who are dedicated to the futures of these children," the 62-year-old educator said in March. "It, for me, has been a perfect career."

As far as his fellow educators are concerned, the smiling faces they see in today's youth stand as yet more proof that Wayne could not have been more correct.