Springfield, MO—Gloria Morris, who devoted nearly half a century to the children of Pipkin Middle School, died unexpectedly Thursday, June 18, 2020.
She officially retired from the Middle School in 2016 — after 43 years as a teacher, coach, and counselor — but continued to show up there. She mentored girls through a sewing club until this spring when the pandemic hit.
“It was not a job for her. It was truly a ministry and a calling,” said Josh Seaman, Pipkin counselor. “She lived it. She breathed it.”
Her role as an educator, confidante, and advocate for Springfield students — especially for the under-represented and under-resourced — extended beyond Pipkin’s doors. She was active in church and community groups.
Since 1995, Morris also taught at the annual Black History Summer Academy.
The daughter of a preacher, she was born in Kansas and raised in rural Colorado. She moved to Springfield in 1969 to attend Evangel University. That is where she met her husband, Louis.
Hired at Pipkin in 1973, the former student-athlete started her lengthy tenure as a coach and physical education teacher. She eventually moved into the counselor role, working with each student who entered the building.
Morris hugged students, told them “I love you” and meant it but also believed in tough love. She was compassionate but did not coddle.
Four years ago, Morris told the News-Leader her aim was to set high expectations and bring out the best in each child.
“My philosophy is I treat every kid like they are mine,” she said at the time.
Morris remained at Pipkin for her entire career. Upon retirement, colleagues and former students referred to her as a cornerstone and a treasure.
“I know God called me here. I wanted to be a missionary,” she told the News-Leader in 2016. “This is my mission field.”
Gwen Marshall, equity and diversity specialist for Springfield Public Schools, said Morris had a deep faith and sweet disposition. They had fun together.
“Gloria was always joyful and positive,” she said. “She was right there for anybody who needed her.”
They worked side-by-side in the Black History Summer Academy and established clubs to empower girls. Marshall said Morris had a gift for developing activities that were fun but embedded life lessons.
“It was extremely meaningful for her,” she said. “Gloria kept working because she felt there needed to be a connection there for African-American students to advocate for them.”
Morris was active at church, New Hope International Ministries. She offered tutoring, set up clubs, distributed supplies at back-to-school events, and coordinated with others to operate a large Vacation Bible School in the summer.
Rosalyn Thomas was hired by the district in the mid-1970s when there were even fewer teachers from diverse backgrounds employed. She said Morris, who already worked for the district, was waiting for her after the new teacher orientation.
She said Morris stayed upbeat, no matter how challenging the situation.
“Gloria was so positive toward students. I’d say something and she’d say ‘Now Rosalyn, the babies need this, they need that,’” she recalled. “She never gave up on any of them.”
Thomas said Morris felt a particular kinship with middle school girls. She’d encourage them to connect with local mentors and create vision boards to focus on future goals.
“She’d say ‘In middle school, we can either break them or make them and I choose to make them,’” she said. “She was just an amazing woman and she’ll be missed.”
Morris retired, in part, to spend more time with her husband of 46 years as well as her son, daughter, and grandchildren.
Friends and colleagues said Morris, who suffered from severe allergies, was not one to complain and, despite being so open with people, was private about her health. Few, if any, knew she’d been hospitalized recently.
Her death may have been a surprise for many but the outpouring of grief and love that followed did not.
“The reaction was an indication of the type of person she was, the type of relationships she maintained,” Seaman said.
Memorial donations may be made in her name to the Harry F. Givens Scholarship Fund. Online condolences can be made at www.klingnerfuneralhome.com.
Excerpts reprinted from an article written by Claudette Riley, Springfield News-Leader, June 22, 2020 Claudette Riley is the education
reporter for the Springfield News-Leader.