2019 Valley Hall of Honor Celebrates Five Inductees
Three school administrators. One golf professional. A high school teacher and coach. These are the professions of the five inductees for 2019’s Valley High School Hall of Honor.
What they did throughout their careers provides only one perspective: Each chose to live exemplary lives of service to others and make significant contributions to the Valley High School community.
The Valley Hall of Honor was established during the 2017-18 school year to recognize outstanding alumni, educators, and community leaders who are positive role models for West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS) students.
At its inaugural celebration in May 2018, the Hall of Honor recognized four alumni, one retired staff, and one community member/volunteer. This year, Valley will acknowledge five leaders who, through achievements, endeavors, leadership, and character, made or continue to make a difference in WDMCS students’ lives. The ceremony and reception will take place at 7 p.m., Friday, March 1, at the Staplin Performing Arts Center.
Familiar Faces Spent Careers with WDMCS
This year, the Hall of Honor recognizes two alumni who spent both their high school years and the majority of their professional careers with WDMCS. Charles Douglas “Doug” Buchanan, Ed.D., graduated from Valley in 1958 and began his 35-year career with the district nearly a decade later.
Throughout his three-plus decade’s career, Buchanan focused on service to others. “(He) put his heart and soul into his belief he was serving ‘the best school district in the country,’” said retired WDMCS administrator Bob Woodard. “Doug was interested in all students. He took the lead in developing an at-risk program which started at Valley and expanded to the entire district. Doug takes great pride in the success of students and this program has provided that opportunity for many.”
Buchanan was also considered a pioneer in other areas, Woodard said. “His leadership kept programs at the forefront in education. He was involved in the development of curriculum and introduced the use of computers. Doug was always looking ahead five to 10 years. His projections for school populations were nearly perfect, allowing the community, staff, and, most importantly, our students to enjoy excellent opportunities and facilities.”
Buchanan shared how special Valley was and continues to be, for him. “Valley is one of a kind. I had a unique experience at Valley in that I was a student, teacher, coach, and an administrator responsible for Valley programs. We are in the third generation of Buchanans to graduate from Valley, and the 13th one will graduate from Valley this spring. It is an inherent part of our family.”
The second alumnus who spent his career with WDMCS is Gerald “Gerry” Page. A 1968 Valley graduate, Page is the second of four generations who graduated as a Valley Tiger. He went on to obtain degrees from Drake University and joined WDMCS in 1974 as a Stilwell Junior High math teacher. Like Buchanan, Page transitioned from teaching to administration and served in various roles. The last 13 years prior to his 2005 retirement were as principal of Westridge Elementary.
“He came from an impoverished background and found success and opportunity in getting an education,” shared Annissa Roland, Page’s daughter. “He involved himself in school activities. In all areas, he strove for excellence in sports, music, and academics. He became the first college graduate in his family, (and) continued to focus on his academics and sports in college. Page continued to give back sharing and mentoring students within the district as a teacher and administrator.”
Throughout his career, Page was well known for being able to call every student by their name, and his students loved his high-fives. He focused on creating a safe and positive environment where students knew they were going to be successful and that everyone cared for them. Most important, Page said: He wanted everyone to have so much fun they didn’t realize how much they were learning.
“I wanted to be present as well as let the kids know that when I look ‘Matthew’ in the face, that he knows I’m talking to him,” said Page. “Kids want to know that you care long before they care what you know.”
That caring spirit stayed with Page throughout his career. He received a letter from a former student when she graduated from college. In it, she thanked him for the impact on her life.
“I can’t believe how much time has passed since eighth-grade math class, but through it all, I have never forgotten how much you taught me. I honestly believe if it weren’t for you, I would not be where I am today. You gave me the ability to succeed by believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Nothing in my life will ever compare to the teacher who gave me the ability to set high goals for myself and strive to achieve them,” wrote Jamie Wynn, a law partner with Bruno, Colin, and Lowe, P.C. in Washington, D.C.
Page’s caring attitude continues today as he volunteers on various Valley committees. His impact also lives on for the countless “Jamie” students who had the privilege of being in his classroom or building.
Golf Pro Learned Golf at Fairmeadows Elementary
“I was welcomed into the game (of golf) by a classmate,” Finger said. “For me, it’s pretty amazing to think that I’ve had the opportunity to be an assistant golf professional, collegiate golf coach, and work at the PGA of America. That all started because a friend invited me to hit golf balls at Fairmeadows Park.”
The third Valley alumna to be recognized this year, Finger became a PGA golf professional in 2006 and an LPGA golf professional in 2008—one of only 215 women in the country to hold memberships in both associations.
During her time at Valley, she took advantage of the wide variety of extracurricular opportunities while maintaining a solid focus on academics. She was a three-sport athlete who played volleyball, basketball, and golf. She also played clarinet in marching band and symphony band as well as bass clarinet in orchestra.
Finger’s dedication and work ethic carried over to her career. “She has a strong passion and has designed national programs to get more women and youth as golfers,” said her father, Marvin Hiddleson. “Le Ann recently designed and managed a national program—Grads to Golf—to teach MBA students to play golf.”
“Le Ann was fortunate to mentor collegiate golfers while serving as the head women’s and men’s golf coach at her alma mater, St. Olaf College, for seven years,” Hiddleson added. “The PGA of America professionals stand for five core values of pride, honor, passion, integrity, and sportsmanship. All five words describe Le Ann and her dedication to the game of golf, as well as welcoming new people to the game and mentoring current Valley students and athletes.”
One piece of advice Finger would like to share with current students centers on taking advantage of all that Valley can offer. “I would advise current students to make the most of their opportunities to pursue activities that interest you. It helps set you on the path of what you want to do with your post-high school plans.”
Retired Teacher’s Legacy Lives On After Her Death
Those who knew Marjorie “Marj” Wharff-White understood she had a gift for making others feel valued and important. She began her WDMCS career in 1968 as a P.E. and health teacher at Hillside Elementary. She transitioned to Valley four years later and worked there until her retirement in 2002. During her 30-plus years at Valley, she taught P.E. and health, coached cheerleading and volleyball, and served for one year as the activity director.
In each of those roles, she modeled the district philosophy of knowing and lifting every child.
“Marj knew absolutely everyone,” said Vicki Gallagher, Wharff-White’s former colleague. “She had the gift of making every person feel valued and essential to Valley’s success. She was a tireless worker and advocate for all students.”
One of her significant contributions at Valley centered around starting the girls’ volleyball program. She coached for over 20 years and was a member of the Iowa Girls Coaches Association Volleyball Hall of Fame. “She was a former athlete standout and made promoting activities a priority,” Gallagher shared.
Marj and her husband, D. Bart White, had no children of their own but connected with Valley students. “They were dedicated beyond belief to the wellbeing of students and their fellow staff members. They always had enough time to make sure people were doing well,” Gallagher said.
Although she retired early due to a cancer diagnosis, Wharff-White remained connected to Valley over the next decade as a substitute teacher. Valley students and staff mourned her death in 2015. Her legacy remains in the programs she created and the lives she touched.
Community Member Inductee Former Valley Principal
When you hear Tim Miller’s name, you may instantly connect to his most recent time at Valley High School, where he served as principal for four years prior to his retirement in 2018.
His influence, however, is felt far beyond the walls of Valley. In fact, he received the 2018 Citizen of the Year Award from the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce and the City of West Des Moines. According to the Chamber, recipients “show exemplary service to the community by maintaining business, civic and moral stands, whose service has brought credit and honor to the City.”
His service to students, staff, and families throughout his career naturally impacted the broader district community. And it started with three simple cornerstones that he strived to instill in the student body: Do the right thing, do your best, and treat others the way you want to be treated. These cornerstones remain an integral part of the WDMCS culture today.
“When you think about giving back and giving to a community, I think about what Valley High School gave to all four of my kids,” said Miller. “I think about what all the people did for our family and how my kids were nurtured and guided. It was easy for me to decide (working for WDMCS) was something I wanted to do… to give back to our community.”
“His approach to leadership was best described as a ‘servant leader’ who promoted thoughtful exchanges between students, staff, and administration and then supported the implementation of positive initiatives,” Buchanan said.
Miller said it best when he shared, “The more people we have willing to (serve), the greater the impact we have on our kids.”