Centenarian from Westphalia Presented Honorary Degree
Contact: Jeff Murphy
WARRENSBURG, MO (Nov. 9, 2011) – Family and friends recently celebrated a new milestone for 101-year-old Westphalia resident Martha Groner-Fennewald. The University of Central Missouri honored her contributions to the education of Missouri school children by presenting her with the honorary degree, Bachelor of Science in Education.
The degree was presented by Dale Carder, associate vice president for planned giving. Honorary degrees are approved by the university’s Board of Governors. Although the university has awarded many honorary doctorates over the years, this is the first time an honorary bachelor’s degree has ever been presented by UCM.
“One of the purposes of an honorary degree is to recognize individuals who are an inspiration to others through their outstanding work in a particular field,” Carder said. “Martha Fennewald is a life-long learner and educator who continues to find ways to inspire and touch the lives of children. She’s very deserving of this special award.”
The same week she received her honorary diploma, Fennewald shared real-life lessons about early 20th century schools with second graders at Rock Bridge Elementary school, where two of her great-granddaughters are enrolled.
Fennewald has focused her life on family, home-making and education. In 1929, when she was 19 years old, she received her teaching certificate from Central Missouri State Teachers College, now UCM, and began full-time teaching at the one-room Castle Rock School, near Westphalia. She found room and board at a nearby house, and earned $60 a month for her job in education, which included teaching students, sweeping the school floor, and keeping the wood stove burning.
Other jobs included teaching in a one-room school in Old St. Elizabeth for four years, where she walked four miles to and from school each day. That position was followed by teaching in Verhoff School until 1935, when she got married.
Fennewald took a break from teaching to raise her five children while she and her husband lived and worked on their farm. When her youngest child was old enough to begin school, she returned to teaching. In the 1960s and 1970s, she taught at Immaculate Conception School in Jefferson City for nearly four years and St. Joseph School in Westphalia for eight years, where she was the first person hired to teach who wasn’t a nun.
Although she never had the opportunity to obtain a four-year degree, she had a long career as an educator. She retired from full-time teaching at age 65, and continued to substitute teach until she was 77. This was in addition to volunteering at a nursing home until she was 99.
Although her life has been enriched by many opportunities to impact the lives of others, she insists teaching is still one of her greatest joys. In fact, she has always lived by the mantra: “I am first and foremost and educator.”
Fennewald received the Outstanding Alumni of the Year Award from St. Joseph School in 2003.