Profiles in Courage in Public Education: Betty and Clarence Pence

Courage written in chalk on a blackboard with a heart for an O.

By Dale McDaniel, Ed.D.
Capital Region ESD 113, Chair, Board of Directors

In January 1968, I was a senior at Rogers High, a large, comprehensive high school in Spokane, Washington. I was one of the editors of the school newspaper but had absolutely no idea what was going to happen to me after high school graduation. I had no money and no idea how to apply for college admission or scholarships.

My sixteen-year-old brother, Neil, was the athlete in our family. As a junior, he was ranked in Washington State gymnastics. He had lots of friends and seemed to be known by almost all of our 1,800 students because he was my sports photographer! But one Monday afternoon at gymnastics practice, Neil came off of the horizontal bar, flew over his four spotters and broke his neck on the gymnasium floor, and died in front of the entire team. His coach did CPR and got his heart going again, but Neil died three days later. A few days after that, his coach died by suicide.

One week later, I came back to high school to finish the edition of our newspaper. Surprisingly, an elderly teacher who I did not know, named Betty Pence, found me in the hallway. She pointed a boney finger at me and said, “Remember who didn’t die last week. I am in room 213 and I want you there every day at 3:00. Don’t forget. We have work to do.”

I never missed even one meeting in the next six months. Mrs. Pence got my grades up; she helped me get admitted to three universities, and she helped me earn two scholarships. Years later, I tried to call her and thank her for her help when I earned my bachelor’s degree in teaching, but I couldn’t find her. I tried again after my master’s degree and finally after my doctorate. Both she and her husband, Clarence, had passed away. A relative of theirs told me that she and her husband had “sponsored” several students over the years who had no way to complete their education. Mr. and Mrs. Pence showed courage in stepping in to help an unknown student who was lost and needed help.

Would you like to nominate someone for our Board of Directors to honor as a profile in courage?

  • Any employee, resident, volunteer, or student in one of the 44 school districts and one tribal school represented by Capital Region ESD 113 is eligible to submit candidates for consideration to [email protected].
  • Please keep submissions to 400 words or less. Photos are also welcome.
  • A small committee will review the applications. The Board Chair will read one selection each month prior to our Board meeting. In addition, that month’s submission will be prominently featured on our ESD 113 website.

Think about the heroes in your life who have done courageous things to support our students and staff members. We want to honor the wonderful role models who have been working in our public schools!