By Cassie McClure ’06 ’08

Family's legacy gives future teachers the tools they need to thrive

Couples share many journeys throughout life, but the Douglases – Leonard and Bonnie – also shared an appreciation of how education lifted them and their family out of poverty, and how it could move the world. Their drive to spread the access to education has now turned into a lasting legacy at New Mexico State University.

Leonard Douglas was born on April 8, 1910, near Cheyenne, Oklahoma. He was born into a farming family, homesteaders who had laid claim on the red-clay dugout where he spent the first eight years of his life.

Bonnie Rose King was born on a hand-made rope and straw bed in at the Bar Z Ranch near Rankin, Oklahoma, on Nov. 17, 1908. Since school was more than three miles away, she learned to read under the tutelage of her grandmother. Her freshman year of high school was spent working as a maid in a lawyer’s home to pay for her room and board in a neighboring town, while her father scraped together money for tuition.

Much like his future father-in-law, Leonard Douglas worked hard to pull himself out of poverty and knew education was the way. He reported in his 1969 memoir, “After six fragmented and partial years caused by inadequate school district finance, I was graduated in 1929 as valedictorian of my class. No other member of my family had finished elementary school.”

His daughter, Lynne Hartsell ’67, who is the guardian of the memories of her family, explained how poverty shaped her father’s character, and how he never forgot the judgment from others that came with being poor. From Hartsell’s family memoir: “My middle-aged father said softly, ‘Would they look at us and assume we were backward because there were so many of us and we had so little?’”

After high school, both Leonard and Bonnie went to Dague’s Business College in Wichita, Kansas. They married in January 1929, but with the Great Depression, priorities changed. Leonard toiled at multiple jobs – raising turkeys, driving a school bus, picking cotton. Bonnie typed term papers and ironed – 10 starched, white shirts in an hour earned her fifteen cents.

The years that followed in the stark landscape of dustbowl Oklahoma gave Leonard an even stronger yearning for education. While World War II raged on, he received a B.S. in business education, physical science, and social science from Central State College in Edmond, Oklahoma.

After he received his degree, Leonard became a teacher and high school principal. His positions took the Douglas family to several small towns in Oklahoma, then to Missouri. Leonard was a dedicated and charismatic mentor to his students, aiding them not only with their studies, but in building their characters. Hartsell recalls that her father would be one of the last people the young men going off to war would stop to see.

Faithful in return, Leonard would note the names of his students who died in service, and would somberly and dutifully write letters to the parents. Lynne remembers Bonnie asking Leonard, “What are you going to say? You barely knew him.” Leonard replied, “I will tell them that his life mattered. You don’t need to know much about a person to tell a parent that.”

Leonard worked to receive his M.A. at Northeast Missouri State Teachers College, majoring in public school administration and minoring in supervision. Bonnie would take care of their children, Betty Rose and Lynne, while running her own beauty shop. When he finished, Leonard showed he never forgot his wife’s sacrifices.

In her memoir, Bonnie recalls a moment of gratitude: “My husband earned his Master’s degree in the summer of 1949. When he received his diploma, he handed it to me saying, ‘Your work has made this possible. Please open it.’”

 

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Leonard Douglas, ready to go to medical college in Kirksville, Missouri, 1946.

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Lt. Col. Robert and Lynne Hartsell have been married for 50 years.

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The entire family in Georgetown, British Guiana, 1962.
Back: Bonnie and Leonard Douglas
Front: Betty Rose Douglas Rios, Blaire Rios, Lynne Hartsell.

 

The Leonard and Bonnie Douglas and Betty Rose Douglas Rios Memorial Library Endowment supports the growth of the NMSU Library resources in the field of education, with emphasis on curriculum and instruction, elementary education, and rural education and small schools. The selection of the materials is jointly determined by the NMSU Library and the NMSU College of Education.

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Student NEA students at NMSU give their adviser, Leonard Douglas, a plaque. The students pulled together $150 to establish a fund in his honor, which has since grown to an endowment. Inset: Betty Rose Douglas Rios, specialized in rural education resources during her career.

Bonnie finally returned to complete  her education when the Douglas family  arrived in New Mexico. Leonard had  taken a position as an instructor at New  Mexico Western College in 1951 and  he became a department head for the  business education department. Bonnie  took one night class at a time. Twenty one  years after first starting college,  Bonnie received her bachelor’s degree in  elementary education and social science.  She completed her master’s degree seven  years later. 

In 1958, the Douglas family moved from Silver City to Las Cruces when Leonard completed his Ph.D. at Colorado State College of Education. He accepted a position at NMSU in the department of education. He became a department head for the business education department, then a supervisor of secondary student teachers. Leonard also became the adviser to the NMSU Chapter of the Student National Education Association. In 1968, students pulled together $150 to establish a fund in his honor. However, for that original deposit to grow into an endowment, it needed a champion, and it found two: their daughters, Lynne and Betty Rose.

An NMSU Distinguished Alumna in 1989, Betty Rose Douglas Rios’ career was spent with the Educational Research Information Center Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. Betty Rose ’60 worked diligently to develop an extensive network of rural education and small school contacts nationally and internationally.

The Leonard and Bonnie Douglas and Betty Rose Douglas Rios Memorial Library Endowment supports the growth of the NMSU Library resources in the field of education, with emphasis on curriculum and instruction, elementary education, and rural education and small schools. The selection of the materials is jointly determined by the NMSU Library and the NMSU College of Education.

Elizabeth Titus, dean of the NMSU Library, appreciates the ability of the NMSU Library to be a resource for underserved populations. “One of our main goals is creating access,” Titus says. “With an endowment that gives a specific charge, we can be focused on creating the best possible purchases that will impact our students’ educations.” Lynne Hartsell, now a retired educator, slowly sought out the means to bring the endowment to a level where funds could be disbursed, approaching old colleagues and former students of her parents. She recalled going to a family reunion where a down-on-her-luck relative, so moved by Leonard’s story, came up to Lynne and donated a dollar with tears in her eyes.

“I knew it might be all she had right then,” Lynne says. “But she still believed in education.”

For more information about the endowment, contact April Anaya at aanaya@nmsu.edu or 575-646-1508.