When Union resident Dorothy Clarkson, 73, commits to something, she doesn’t take that commitment lightly.
A fifth-grade teacher for 38 years, her career is just one example of a lifetime spent giving back to her community.
Clarkson also is a member of the P.E.O. Chapter FO, Delta Kap- pa Gamma, Presbyterian Women, Church Women United and the Franklin County Retired Teach- ers Association.
She is a member of the Union Kitchen Band, which performs at local residential care centers, nursing homes, senior centers and senior housing recreational rooms and for more than 50 years, Clarkson has played the organ at her church, First Presbyterian Church.
She’s lived her life adhering to a motto: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you can.”
Clarkson said she’s not sure how she originally came across the quote by John Wesley, but that she has always strived to live her life by doing good.
She also has a philosophy: “The real secret of happiness is not what you give or what you receive, it’s what you share.”
Family Life, Career
Dorothy Alice Clarkson, nee Schneider, was born to Ervin and Alice Schneider Dec. 30, 1943, in Bland.
She was the oldest of three children.
In 1950, the family moved to Owensville, where her father opened an Allis- Chalmers farm machinery business.
Clarkson graduated from Owensville High School and then attended Central Missouri State University, now Central Missouri University, to earn her Bachelor of Science in education. She later earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and took several courses at Webster Uni- versity, St. Louis, over the years.
In 1966, she was offered a teaching po- sition in the Union R-XI School District, as a fifth-grade teacher at Clark-Vitt Elementary.
Clarkson said she loved teaching fifth grade, especially American history.
“I had wonderful principals. I had very good guidance from the principals and superintendent,” she said. “I had wonderful, wonderful co-workers.”
There were anywhere from four to seven fifth-grade teachers who shared ideas and helped each other solve problems.
“When I began teaching, we could actually take time and have fun in our class- rooms,” she said. “We could do projects as long as they related to the curriculum.”
Clarkson recalled a time when she worked with the art teacher to do puppet plays. Students created puppets in art to go with the characters and wrote their own scripts to show at a Parent-Teacher Association meeting.
As a child, Clarkson said her own fifth- grade teacher loved American history, and her dad kept all the old Bland newspapers throughout his life. Both served as inspiration to her during her career.
As time went on, the curriculum at school tightened, with more criteria and objectives, which Clarkson said was the biggest change over her years of teaching.
She was active in many different clubs and organizations during her career, serving on the spelling bee committee and on the Union Community Teachers Association, which helped formulate policy for the school, and was a member of the Missouri State Teachers Association.
She also was on the safety patrol committee. Students who were chosen for the patrol were responsible for helping their peers enter and leave the school safely.
“I greatly enjoyed my teaching career,” she said. “Along with trying to encourage each student to do their absolute best in learning our curriculum materials, I also tried to teach them to practice good manners and to show respect for others.”
She was nominated five times to “Who’s Who Among American Teachers” by former students.
“I just felt it was a great honor,” she said.
In 1968, Clarkson’s uncle, who sold real estate, set her up with Phillip Clarkson, who was living in Washington.
“The Matchmaker” had sold both of them life insurance policies.
Just out of the Navy, Phillip, Dorothy, her aunt and uncle went out together and, as the saying goes, the rest is history. In 1969, she married Phillip Clarkson.
Every summer, the couple would travel to a different part of the United States for Clarkson to take photos of places she would teach her students about during social studies class.
“We just traveled everywhere,” she said. “We had a little camper and we pulled it everywhere, every summer — every place I knew was mentioned somewhere in the history book that I could take pictures of. It became a passion of mine.”
Her students loved seeing the photos, as many of them had not traveled out of St. Louis or Missouri.
After she retired, Clarkson joined the Franklin County Retired Teachers Organization.
Special programs are held nine months of the year, along with a field trip each summer.
The group collects food and personal care items for local food pantries, as well as hosts fundraisers for scholarships that are awarded to students planning to enter the education field.
Church Women United
Clarkson joined Church Women United of Franklin County in 2008 as a member of the steering committee.
There are at least seven different churches represented on the group’s steering com- mittee.
Clarkson serves as a co-moderator with Carol Gruber.
The group is a unit of a national Christian ecumenical women’s movement that brings together women of diverse races, cultures and traditions into closer Christian fellowship, prayer, advocacy and action for peace with justice in the world.
There are 26 supporting denominations and participating Christian women.
The group’s motto is: “Agreed to Differ, Resolved to Love, United to Serve.”
Each year, Church Women United partners with Neighbors United Undoing Racism to sponsor the Martin Luther King Celebration.
At the event, a community member is selected to receive the human rights award.
In March, the group hosts the World Day of Prayer service.
Other events include a friend- ship brunch in May, where the Valiant Woman Award is pre- sented, a CROP hunger walk and rocking chair rock-a-thon, and World Community Day, which was cosponsored with Presbyterian Women.
“All of the events have a pur- pose in doing something to help others,” she said, adding that she’s met a lot of people over the years who she wouldn’t have had the chance to otherwise.
At the age of 8, Clarkson began taking piano lessons from a teacher in Owensville. “That poor lady,” Clarkson said, laughing at her early piano lesson memories.
At 15, a pastor’s wife at the United Church of Christ taught her to play the organ.
“Then, I was in the highest heaven,” she said. “I love the organ.”
In college, she took private lessons from an instructor on campus. She served as a church organist in Warrensburg, before moving to Union for her teaching career.
In 1966, the same year she began teaching, she was asked to serve as organist at the First Presbyterian Church in Union, where she still plays.
She has served as a substitute organist over the years for churches in Union and Washington and has played for many weddings and funerals in the community.
When she retired, Clarkson joined the Union Kitchen Band, which is under the direction of Hettie Becker.
The group, which consists of about 12 members, entertains at residential care centers, nursing homes, senior centers and senior housing recreational rooms.
The kitchen band performs at 11 area centers regularly, as well as at special events.
A variety of instruments are used, including maracas, tambourines, washboard, triangles, bells, spoons, omnichord, ukulele, concertina and kazoos.
Clarkson plays a keyboard in the band. She has been the accompanist since 2008.
“We have had so much fun,” Clarkson said. They play music primarily from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, and members have 18 sets of music to use for performances.
“The residents can sing along as we play,” she said. “One of the most rewarding parts of playing together is listening to residents singing along with us or tapping their toes or fingers to a favorite melody.”
The group performs in Washington, Union, St. Clair and Cuba.
Delta Kappa Gamma
A teachers organization, the Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, promotes the professional and personal growth of women educators and excellence in education.
“It’s such a wonderful group. We do so many neat things for kids and teachers,” Clarkson said. “This is very near and dear to my heart.”
The purpose is to unite women educators in a genuine spiritual fellowship, honor women who have given distinctive service in the field of education, advance the professional interest and position of women in education and endow scholarships to aid outstanding women educators in pursuing graduate study and to grant fellowships to nonmember women educators.”
The organization started May 2, 1959.
To join, teachers had to have taught for a certain number of years and be recommended by peer teachers.
Clarkson was initiated in 1976.
She has served as treasurer of the Alpha Theta chapter for 34 years. She earned her 40-year membership pin in April 2016. The chapter presents a $500 scholarship annually to a graduating senior who plans to become a teacher.
In September, the group prepares “new teacher” bags with extra sup- plies and goodies for beginning teachers in local school districts.
“We have so much fun filling the new teacher bags,” she said. The club also selects a school each year to donate a book for its library collection.
It hosts food drives for area pantries and donates to UNICEF to help support schools in Africa.
“Everything is so well organized and we have a purpose for every meeting,” Clarkson said.
The group has a blessings box, where members share details about their lives.
“So even though we’re so scattered, we still know a lot about each other and care about each other,” she said.
There are 47 members who meet five times each year, each time in a different town.
Clarkson was initiated into the local P.E.O. Chapter FO in 1982.
P.E.O. is a philanthropic educational organization that promotes educational opportunities for women.
The sisterhood proudly makes a difference in women’s lives in its support of Cottey College, an independent liberal arts and sciences college for women located in Nevada, Mo.
The group participates in the adopt-a- student program at the college, sending cards and gifts throughout the year.
P.E.O. donates a local “loving gift” to members’ daughters or granddaughters when they graduate from high school to assist in their educational pursuits.
Clarkson has served in seven offices and currently is the Cottey College committee chairman.
There are five additional programs that provide assistance for higher education that include scholarships, grants, awards and loans.
The group also hosts fundraisers to support international projects.
In addition to her church and service organizations, Clarkson said she enjoys traveling, reading, genealogy, yardwork and attending coffee concerts at the St. Louis Symphony.
She’s traced her family back to its roots in Peckeloh, Germany, near Versmold.
Her great-great-grandfather immigrated to America and is buried in a cemetery — fittingly — on Liberty School Road, in the Beaufort area.