Her crown of curly blond hair is as legendary on the Davis & Elkins College campus as is her desire to teach and determination to see that her students receive every possible exposure to the real world of business. I am, of course, referring to Dr. Gloria M. Payne, chair of the college's business administration department.
Dr. Payne began her teaching career in 1943 at Spencer High School as a means of "making ends meet" while she waited to be called to the nation's capitol where she hoped to launch her career as a government secretary at the Pentagon. Fortunately, for the community and hundreds of her students, she never made it out of West Virginia. In Spencer, she found being in the classroom was her true calling.
"They made a teacher out of me," Payne said of her first students.
In 1945, she was offered and accepted a position teaching summer classes at D&E. In the fall of that year, she accepted an offer to become a member of the college's faculty. She has been there ever since.
During her teaching career, she has amassed a slate of awards that would fill a good-sized tome. While all of these accolades are testimony to her desire to teach and her skills as a teacher, they pale to her desire to be a positive influence on her students.
At her induction into the West Virginia Women's Hall of Fame in 1996, Dr. Payne said, "My greatest reward comes from being in the classroom with my students. Teaching is more than grading papers - it is helping students become what they are capable of becoming."
The greatest of Dr. Payne's achievements, I believe, is her continuing desire and success to serve as innovator and instigator in the development and instillation of internships and practical programs that involve her students with local businesses, helping them gain practical knowledge of the everyday work world. She has also been instrumental in placing female students in non-traditional disciplines and supportive of those businesses that accept them.
Another of Dr. Payne's methods of "connecting" college students and the surrounding business community is through the honorary business fraternities Beta Alpha Beta, Phi Beta Lambda and Phi Beta Delta. Each of these organizations recognizes outstanding students and area business leaders providing opportunities for students to meet, and in some instances, work with successful business people.
I have known Dr. Payne since coming to Elkins in 1986. I don't think I have ever met anyone with her energy and drive. Across these years, I've been privileged to work with her on several of her classroom projects as well as "An Evening with Business" and "Project Interview."
An Evening with Business provides her students an opportunity to meet and talk with local businessmen and women and gain "up close and personal" knowledge of how their particular business operates. Project Interview gives them an opportunity to be interviewed by "imaginary" prospective employers. Interviews are conducted in as nearly many real-life situations as possible. The interviews provide students the opportunity to sit through situations much like the ones they will face when applying for a job after finishing college. Both of these programs are unique to Dr. Payne's teaching.
I don't think anyone could have said it better than Dr. Payne herself did in the Jan. 21, 2004, issue of The Senator: "Our emphasis in business education today is to prepare the student for life rather than for the first job. People change, times change. Our students have to be prepared for that. ... I like to say that you need to touch eternity with your teaching. That's the challenge and it's what drives me to keep learning and keep trying new ideas in the classroom."
The following ran in a January 2008 issue of The Charleston Daily Mail that I think sums up all that can be said about Dr. Gloria M. Payne's attitude and love of teaching and her students: "Financially speaking, Gloria Payne would have been smart to retire this year. ... She decided to retire, and said as much in a casual conversation with a student last summer. The news that Payne was leaving shocked the student, who began sobbing. The tears shocked Payne, who quickly decided to rethink this retirement thing."
That was from a story 22 years ago when Professor Payne had completed 41 years at Davis & Elkins College.
Dr. Payne's dedication to her students and her efforts to build and maintain a strong bond between the college and the community is second to none. Dr. Payne is my pick for 2008 Woman of The Year. For all you've done for our community, Dr. Payne, thank you so very much.
Attendees at the Dec. 16 Downtown Merchant's Meeting touched on the subject of Christmas decorations on the town square. The question was raised as to whether the Randolph County Development Authority might contribute to the decorating of the square to make it more visible during the Christmas season, especially since it has become the focal point of Christmas activities. The Christmas tree used this year was the one the city has used for a number of years as part of its decorations. With all the trees already there, and with the addition of a much larger Christmas tree, the square would be better lit and much more attractive to locals and visitors alike.
Last year, the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce spent a great deal of money on building and erecting the small vendor buildings in hopes that it would add a European shopping flavor to the Christmas festivities. Unfortunately, although some vendors saw sales, it was not a venture that was met with overwhelming success or enthusiasm. Perhaps next year activities that are less commercial and more social could be tried. It seems reasonable to believe that having a gala Christmas party at the town square after the parade is not out of the question - after all, we bundle up against the cold to participate in all sorts of other outdoor winter activities. Whatever the case, it seems only appropriate that the RCDA be involved since they are the ones that have control over the square.
There are only four more days left in 2008. I truly hope it has been good for everyone. Being privileged to write this column is one of the most enjoyable and satisfying endeavors that I have ever experienced. I thank those who made the opportunity possible. I hope I have brought each of you some bit of news or information that has enriched your lives. While not all may agree with what appears here, that is one of the blessings of living in America - the right to one's own opinion and the right to disagree with that of another without fear of penalty.
As we prepare for the New Year, let each of us pause if for only a moment to remember those that are away from their family and friends carrying the awesome responsibility of making sure our way of life is preserved. If the opportunity to help just one of them comes by, take it.
Sue and I wish everyone a safe and Happy New Year. May the coming year be better than any you have ever experienced.