2001 Outstanding Tiger Alumni Award
Donna and Joe Avery have put new meaning into the phrase "giving back to the community." Some people talk about it, but the Averys put community service into practice. It’s something they don’t think twice about. It’s always been a part of their lives. To anyone who knows them, the Averys are examples of tremendous integrity, strong Christian values, and lifelong commitment. And they do it all in a quiet, unassuming manner without any fanfare or publicity.
The Averys, who celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary last September, are the 2001 recipients of the Outstanding Tiger Alumni Award through Cowley County Community College. The award was presented during the 78th Commencement exercises May 12 in W.S. Scott Auditorium. "We’re both overwhelmed, and it came completely unexpected," Donna said. "We’re really proud of this award."
The couple has supported a variety of causes throughout their lives, including projects at the college, their church, and an organization near and dear to their hearts: American Field Service. The Averys have enjoyed hosting six students throughout their 30-year involvement with the program, which brings students from foreign nations to the United States to attend school. In fact, the Averys were the first family in Arkansas City to host an AFS student. "That experience has had a great affect on our entire family," Donna said. "It’s made us a lot more open to other cultures." Since Morena Nieto lived with the Averys during the 1970-71 school year, several students have felt right at home in Ark City. Two years later, Nieto’s sister came to live with the Averys, although she was not part of the AFS program. And just two years ago, Donna and Joe hosted Nieto’s daughter, Fer. The Nietos live in Ecuador. "It’s helped us stay young," Donna said. "We feel we have a family in South America with Morena and her four daughters."
Career in public eye and the silent partner
Donna came with her parents to Arkansas City in 1930 when she was three months old. She graduated from Arkansas City High School in 1948, two years after Joe. That same year, Donna enrolled at Arkansas City Junior College and worked at Newman’s Department Store at the same time. Eventually, she became A.L. Newman’s secretary. She was office manager for Prudential Insurance for 1 1/2 years, working until she started wearing maternity clothes at four months pregnant. The year was 1951. It was clear that college would have to wait. After having the couple’s four children in six-and-a-half years, and staying home for 15 years, Donna went to work for labor lawyer Dick Rock. "I can truly say that that was my college education," Avery said. "I worked for him and later Mike Smith for 15 years." Joe was production manager at New Era Mill from 1949 to 1968, and later went to work for Rodeo Meats as personnel manager. Joe’s support and encouragement helped Donna’s career take off.
She became the first female director of the Arkansas City Area Chamber of Commerce, serving from 1979 to 1992. Instead of retiring, she became manager of Strother Field Airport and Industrial Park. On Dec. 31, 2000, Donna officially retired from that position.
Joe: Solid as a rock
Donna and Joe Avery compliment each other in so many ways. Donna will be the first to tell you that she owes her success as a businesswoman to her husband. "He’s my rock," Donna said. "I may have been out in the public eye more, but the only reason was his support. It makes a huge difference. People don’t come here (to the Avery house) for my food, it’s Joe’s. They want to know if he’s cooking."
Joe was hand picked by the late Gwen Nelson, longtime president of the college, to serve on the first Human Relations Council in Ark City. He played in the pep band while at ACJC, and for close to 10 years after he and Donna were married. His playing career with the city band spanned four decades, and he managed the group for 15 years. Joe graduated from ACJC in 1948. He took every business course the college offered, ending up with a third year of class work. After graduating from the college, Joe went to work at New Era Mill for 75 cents an hour.
College important to community, area
Both Donna and Joe are proud to be associated with the college. Joe is on the Board of Directors of the College Endowment Association. Donna was re-elected to another four-year term as a member of Cowley’s Board of Trustees in April. Both said the college was vital to the community and to south-central Kansas. "It’s an integral part of our past and an important part of Ark City," Joe said. "It’s growing into a world-class college." The Averys, whose children attended Cowley, can only imagine what the area would be like without the college. "The college has been an important part of my working career at the Chamber and Strother Field," Donna said. "Personally, it’s been a part of our past, our children’s lives, and three grandchildren have taken classes there." "It’s a part of our personal, educational, social, and business lives," Joe added.
Donna is on the executive board of the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees, and is in her second appointment on the Future Initiatives Committee of the 19 community colleges in the state. She said the college has been a welcome "constant" in Ark City. "The one thing I discovered as I completed my first year as a trustee was that number one, there is not a better community college in the state of Kansas, and number two, there is no better administration and faculty in the state," Donna said. "I have said for the last 10 years that Cowley is the best thing Cowley County had to offer for business and industry recruitment and retention. That observation comes from the work I’ve done. I can’t imagine what the community would be like without the college."
Community service and family
Donna has been a member of the Arkansas City and Winfield Chambers of Commerce, Arkansas City Rotary Club, Cowley County Economic Development Agency, president of her PEO chapter, Leadership Cowley County, and has chaired the Arkansas City Chamber’s Transportation Committee. The Averys are members of the First United Methodist Church, where Joe is on staff parish and both have served on church council. Donna also was the only female ever to serve as president of the Kansas Association of Airports. She is a Paul Harris Fellow, an award sponsored by Rotary International. She also was a member of the American Association of Airport Executives.
Donna and Joe also are extremely proud of their four children. Pat White is an accountant married to Bob White, president and CEO of Garvey International and a past recipient of the Outstanding Tiger Alumni Award; Pam Archer teaches first grade and Reading Recovery at Irving Elementary School in Winfield and is married to Steve Archer, director of administration for the city of Arkansas City; Lea McBride is a court reporter married to a troop commander with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol; and David is a financial analyst at Newell-Rubbermaid who is married to Kathy, who graduated in January from Wichita Area Technical College’s Practical Nursing Program. WATC’s classes were taught at Cowley. Donna and Joe also have nine grandchildren, one great-grandchild, and another on the way.