LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 24, 2013) — When she was a sophomore in high school, Danette Wilder had a problem: she was late to her biology class almost every morning. Her school was located near downtown Detroit, and she traveled nearly 25 miles a day to get back and forth, taking as many as three different buses and walking two miles.
Her biology teacher, Delois Wynne, was unaware of her situation, and was frustrated that Danette was consistently late to her class. One day, she put her foot down.
"She told me it was unacceptable, and was very strong about it," said Wilder. "I hated knowing I had disappointed her."
Wilder had looked up to Ms. Wynne from the first day of class, when she shared her personal success story with her students.
"She graduated high school when she was only 16 and went to college, just like Martin Luther King Jr. did," Wilder said. "I was very impressed by that, and was motivated to be just like that."
In order to not be late anymore, Wilder woke up even earlier than usual to make the long journey into the city. One morning, when it was still dark outside, Ms. Wynne was driving to school when she noticed Wilder sitting at a bus stop.
"I pulled over and asked what she was doing out there so early," said Ms. Wynne. "She told me she lived out that way and wanted to make sure she wasn't late anymore for my class. I said 'child, get in this car and let's go to school' and gave her a ride. I didn't mean to hurt her feelings by calling her out for being late."
From that moment on, Ms. Wynne became a teacher who made a difference in Wilder's life.
"She put two and two together and realized the challenge I had getting to school," Wilder said. "So from that point on, she said she'd give me a ride. And she did - everyday for the rest of the year."
But Ms. Wynne's support went beyond the daily rides to school. She became what Wilder describes as "an extension of a parent."
"My parents were very supportive and encouraging, but they didn't have the educational background to guide me," Wilder said. "That's where Ms. Wynne came in. She gave me the actual tools to succeed, kept my mind active, and encouraged me. She taught me the impact of first impressions, the importance of being on time, and that being different or standing out doesn’t make you odd — it makes you a LEADER. She really changed my life."
Wilder ended up graduating second in her class, and went on to earn a degree in electrical engineering from Old Dominion University. Since then, she has worked for Fortune 500 companies like Toyota, Corning and Siemens, gaining valuable corporate experience. She then started her own business, SealingLife, Inc., which is a manufacturer and distributor of sealing, packing and assembly solutions in Lexington.
To recognize the extraordinary influence Ms. Wynne has had on her life, Wilder will honor her this Saturday at the annual Teachers Who Made a Difference ceremony. Part of the University of Kentucky College of Education, the program gives individuals the means to thank an educator who has impacted their lives. Now in its 15th year, the program will honor more than 150 educators.
"When I found out she was honoring me as a 'Teacher Who Made a Difference,' it brought tears to my eyes, I was so humbled," said Ms. Wynne.
Teachers Who Made a Difference is not a competition. Each year, all submissions are accepted up to a predetermined limit with each being honored that year. Also each year, the program is assisted by a spokesperson who helps get the word out. In the past, John Calipari, Dermontti Dawson, Tubby Smith, Lee T. Todd Jr., Kyle Macy, and Dan and Cheri Issel have led the charge. In 2012 and again this year, UK Women’s Basketball Coach Matthew Mitchell has served as spokesperson.
"There has to be someone in a child's life that gives them a story to motivate them," said Wilder. "That's what Ms. Wynne did for me. She told me her life story and encouraged me to make the most of mine. You never forget those stories. I can't say in simple words how much I appreciate her."
Ms. Wynne retired from teaching in 2008, after 43 years. She and Wilder still keep in contact.
"I considered my students as my little sisters and brothers — I was their big sister instead of their teacher," said Ms. Wynne. "I always wanted them to go on and do more than I had done."
"I reflect on Ms. Wynne continuously throughout my life accomplishments," Wilder said. "She was supportive, a mentor and more importantly — a great role model."
Submissions for the 2014 program will be accepted beginning in December 2013 at education.uky.edu/Community/TWMAD.
MEDIA CONTACT: Jenny Wells, (859) 257-5343; Jenny.Wells@uky.edu.