A&F Newsletter

Spring 2012


A Family Legacy
by Ben Schears 


In the spring of 1938, Lela Mae  Lamey Schooler graduated from Arkansas  City High School at the back of  her class, not because of her academic  performance, but because of the color  of her skin. Like so many African  American students during the height  of Jim Crow, Lela Mae found herself  lined up at the end of the graduation  line behind the white graduates. Not  one to be easily deterred, Lela Mae  enrolled the following semester at  Arkansas City Junior College, known  then and affectionately remembered  today as ACJC or JUCO, and began  a family tradition at Cowley College  that has spanned three generations,  five children, one grandson, and two  All-American athletes. Through her  efforts to overcome adversity and a  strong desire to see her family attend  college, Lela Mae shaped and molded  her family tree. She achieved not only  a family full of educated individuals,  but more importantly...educators.  

Of Lela Mae’s six children, Melburn  Brown, Gertrude Duckett, Joyce  Johnson, twins Waldon and Walton  Brown, and Louis Schooler Jr., five  can boast of ACJC being their first big  step into higher education.   

Over 73 years after Lela Mae began  at ACJC, I had the opportunity to visit  with one of her daughters, Joyce Johnson,  during a trip to visit with alumni.  Although it has been since 1962 that  Johnson walked our hallways as a student,  her love of the college remains  as strong as her appreciation for what  the college did to kick-start the educational  experience of so many of her  family members. “It really equipped  us to lead successful lives and become  productive citizens.” Johnson said.   

During her senior year of high  school, when Joyce and her fellow  classmates were anxiously mapping  out their future, she and her sister  Gertrude remember encountering a  few obstacles along the way. “Even  though the Junior College was across  the street from the high school, I can  recall many African American students  being advised not to attend college.”  She recalls the boys being advised to  become auto mechanics and the girls  to become housekeepers. She was  careful to point out there was nothing  wrong with either profession; it simply  was not the same career advice being  given to all students. “Even though  Jim Crow was the way of life for many  African Americans, the college provided  an opportunity for many African  American students to continue their  education,” Johnson said.  

Looking back on their experiences at Ark City Junior College,  family members are grateful for the opportunity the  college provided. “The college was close to home, affordable,  and practiced diversity.” Joyce goes on to say, “It provided us  with an opportunity to beat the odds and a chance to start  a formal education.” She sums it up best by saying, “Since  their inception in 1922, Cowley College not only provided  the Lamey Brown Schooler family members an opportunity  to continue their education, but continues to provide an  affordable education to all regardless of race or economic  status.”   Lela Mae

Lela Mae Schooler 
Although Lela Mae did not  finish her degree at ACJC,  she started the ball rolling  and set a fine example of  excellence for her children.  After waiting until the kids  had all grown up, Lela Mae  returned to higher education  in 1966 with Wichita State  University and earned her  bachelor’s degree in 1972  and later a master’s degree in  1977 - both in elementary education.  She taught kindergarten for 14 years in the Wichita  school district, later retired, and now resides in Wichita, KS.  

Melburn Brown, Sr. 
Melburn Sr A remarkable all-around  athlete during his time at  ACJC, Melburn Brown,  Sr. was a standout competitor  in football, track,  and basketball. During the  1960 football season, the  first football season with  Coach Ben Cleveland at the  reins, Melburn was named  an All-American fullback  and was nominated to play  in the North-South All-Star  game but had to miss due to  a knee injury. In 2002, Melburn would be inducted into the  Cowley College Athletic Hall of Fame for his significant contributions  to the legacy of Cowley College Athletics. After  completing his degree in the fall of 1960, Melburn transferred  on to Washburn University in Topeka, KS and then  started a lengthy career with Goodyear where he worked in  quality control. Now retired, he lives in Topeka, KS. 


Gertrude Brown  Duckett 
GertrudeWith a successful year of  music courses from ACJC  behind her, Gertrude  enrolled in Sherwood Music  School and the University of  Chicago, Il. She jokes it took  nine years, four children, and  four schools to graduate from  Wichita State University  where she distinguished herself  by earning her bachelor’s  degree in Music Education,  master’s degree in Early Childhood Education, and later a  Specialist Degree in Administration and Supervision. She  pursued, and later retired from, a successful career in public  education with the Wichita Public School System. During  her time with USD 259, she served in a variety of positions  related to Early Childhood Education and Multicultural  Education. She was administrator of several district-wide  programs and served as school principal at different levels for  a number of years. She resides in Wichita, KS.   

Joyce Brown Johnson Joyce
It was during her senior  year Joyce had her first official  contact with ACJC by  taking two college courses;  organ lessons from Mrs.  Fostine Moncrief on the  Old Royal Memorial Organ  and piano lessons from Miss  Jeannette Bogart. Music was  certainly her passion as she  continued taking organ and  piano classes for the next two  years as a full-time student at  the college and even served as  a Piano Student Teacher under Miss Bogart. After achieving  high academic marks at ACJC, Joyce continued on to  earn her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from  Roosevelt University in Chicago, IL. Later she would return  to Roosevelt to complete her master’s degree in Education,  with a focus on Reading Specialist.  She is now retired and resides in Tuscon, AZ.

Waldon “Donnie”  Brown 
DonnieAfter graduating in 1965  from Wichita North High  School, Donnie enrolled at  ACJC, attended on a football  scholarship, and played as a  guard for coach Ben Cleveland.  He recalls the college  did not have dormitories and  local African American families  opened up their homes  to give the students a place  to live. Donnie remembers  being fortunate to have lived  with other athletes in a home belonging to the Watson family.  In October 2004, Waldon was presented a plaque from  the City of Arkansas City in recognition of his vision and  dedication for organizing the Arkansas City Northwest Community  Reunion held on Arkalalah weekend. The Reunion  brought back many African Americans from Arkansas City,  many of whom had attended ACJC and went on to earn  advanced college degrees of all levels. Donnie works as a  custodian at Washburn University and lives in Topeka, KS.   


Walton “Ronnie”  Brown  Ronnie

After high school, Ronnie  left Wichita and headed to  Butler County Community  College and later Wichita  State University where he  completed a bachelor’s degree  in education. Ronnie continued  on to complete a master’s  degree from North Texas  State University and taught  history in the Dallas School  District. After a successful  career in secondary education  and working for teacher rights he was able to retire. Still  residing in the Dallas area, Ronnie drives a school bus which  allows him to continue mentoring and encouraging the  students he comes into contact with.   


Louis “Joe” Schooler 
It was the fall of 1967 when  Joe stepped onto the football  field under the guidance of  coach Ben JoeCleveland. The  following year as a defensive  halfback, Joe served as  co-captain of the football  team along with teammate  Dan Peterson, and earned  “JUCO Conference All Star  Team Honorable Mention”  for 1968. During his time at ACJC, Joe had the privilege of  living with Mrs. Ardella White. Joe would stay at ACJC for  a total of three semesters before accepting a football scholarship  to attend Weber State College in Ogden, UT. He would  eventually make his way back to Kansas where he finished his  bachelor’s degree in business administration from Emporia  State University (then Kansas State Teachers College). He  went on to have a successful career as the Area Manager for  Global Markets for Southwestern Bell (now AT&T). He is  now retired and lives in St. Peters, MO.  


Melburn Brown, Jr. 
Not so long ago, another  member of the family walked  our hallways - Melburn “Junior”  Brown, Jr. The Melburnthird  generation of the family to  attend the college, Junior  was a standout in tennis and  earned All-American status  in 1994 by winning the  No. 1 Doubles Title at the  Division II National Tennis  Championships alongside  partner Orlando Martinez.  In doing so, Junior and father  Melburn Sr. became the first father/son All-Americans in the  college’s history. After leaving Cowley, Junior transferred to  compete at the University of Central Oklahoma where he  completed a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Safety. For the  past 10 years he has served as the Head Tennis Professional  at Hallbrook Country Club in Kansas City, MO. 


Today, students of all different colors, backgrounds, and  capabilities call us home. With representation from around  our state, nation, and world, our doors are open to anyone  seeking higher education. Although the name has changed  since the days when Lela Mae’s family attended here, Cowley  College continues a legacy of offering an open access  education to students regardless of the color of their skin,  the amount of money they make, educational abilities, or a  dozen other things used to limit access to a college degree.  We are proud of our past efforts and look forward to an even brighter future.

Spring 2012