Cheerleader for Education: Joanne Harrison

Joanne Harrison

Joanne Harrison

Standing in the frozen air of Arrowhead stadium in November 2007 Joanne Harrison says she experienced the atonement Mizzou fans have awaited 40 years: MU beat KU in football knocking them out of 1st place in the polls avenging a loss in 1960 when the Tigers were ranked No. 1. It was a special moment of vindication for Harrison who was a part of the cheerleading squad that witnessed the earlier loss to the dreaded Jayhawks putting a damper on MU's subsequent trip to the Orange Bowl and spoiling the Tigers' chances for a national title back in 1961.

She calls those days when she was a cheerleader at MU as "the Devine years," her own play on words to express how sublime she counts her time at the University of Missouri. "I had a teacher that wanted me to study drama at Northwestern, but my brother went to MU and when I visited I thought it was great. Besides I wanted to stay closer to home," Harrison said.

Once on campus she didn't waste any time getting involved. She joined the cheerleading squad and got to cheer at two Orange Bowls. She continued her drama and dance performing in the all-school musicals, joined Pi Beta Phi sorority, and declared a major.

In those days girls majored in teaching or nursing so Harrison chose teaching. She would go on to major in both English and science. After graduation she moved back to St. Louis to teach at Brentwood Jr. High and Sr. High for several years. While there she continued studies at Washington University where she met her future husband. Hal was in his residency studying to be a cardiologist. They would marry and, after a stint serving as an army doctor in Vietnam, they would move to Topeka, Kansas, where he set up the community's first cardiology practice. That was in 1972 and Harrison has been there ever since.

For Joanne, life didn't slow down. Once settled in Topeka, she started raising their family. Though she never taught again as a vocation she talked about how education is something you do lifelong. She talked about the joy she gets from teaching her grandchildren and about learning new things herself. "We should never stop learning, or teaching," Harrison exclaimed.

As proof of her commitment to education, Harrison had to cut this interview short to go to a video shoot for her latest project, one that puts her in the role of cheerleader for education as she helps raise money for the Kansas Children's Discovery Center to be built in Topeka.

The dream Harrison has for the Discovery Center is one you might expect from an educator and former cheerleader. The mission of the center is to motivate and encourage children to learn, teaching them how to learn in the process. (see Web site).

Harrison recently included the College of Education in her estate plans because, as she puts it: "I made this gift because I love Mizzou and because education is just key to life!" Harrison said a planned gift was the perfect way to give to MU right now because she is involved in giving to so many other causes in her own community and with times being what they are, a planned gift allows her to make that commitment while retaining control of those assets.

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