It’s 3:30 on the afternoon of Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, and Bob Depro is in the gym at Sikeston (Missouri) Senior High School watching the boys’ basketball team shoot layups and run drills. At tonight’s game, he will take his place at the microphone of the school’s PA system as the undefeated Bulldogs take on the Knights of Farmington High School.
Calling these basketball games has been Depro’s pleasure for the past 53 years. But there’s one thing he’s even more passionate about: education.
“Very few people have an opportunity as I have for the last 51 years in teaching to get up every morning and be excited about going to their job,” Depro said. “I know that I owe that to Southeast Missouri State and to Ole Miss, so I made a gift to both schools in the exact same dollar amount, $250,000, for the same purpose: to encourage social studies education.”
The Cape Girardeau, Missouri, native received a bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Southeast Missouri State University in 1966 and a master’s degree in secondary education from the University of Mississippi in 1970. He then returned to Missouri where he taught social studies and history at Sikeston High School for 34 years and Southeast Missouri State University for 15 years and counting.
His gift to the UM School of Education has established the Bob Depro Education Excellence Scholarship Endowment for Social Studies Majors – a fund he hopes will give students the support they need to earn master’s degrees in social studies or history and then become teachers.
“We have too many people who have degrees in administration and counseling and not enough people with graduate degrees who are teaching in the field. We desperately need good, young teachers with master’s and specialist degrees in social studies to remain in the field and improve upon it. That will make our teaching area more exciting and more relevant to students,” Depro said, adding that he hopes his gift will inspire other teachers who have the financial ability to make similar gifts in support of their respective fields.
David Rock, dean of the UM School of Education, said Depro’s generous private gift will be appreciated for generations to come.
“I have great respect for Bob Depro, who had the foresight to provide such significant support for our students, knowing that gifts like this will ultimately have a great impact on the profession itself,” Rock said. “Mississippi and our country need great schools of education. That is what we are constantly working toward at Ole Miss. Our school and our graduates impact the lives and education of thousands of students in Mississippi and beyond. Mr. Depro is a perfect example of that.”
Depro knows the importance of private giving.
“If you rely on public funding, all universities are going to be in sad shape. They have to have alumni and interested individuals step up and help support the programs the university offers,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to do. It’s paying it forward. I’ve had a great career. I’m still teaching for Southeast and I just think it’s the time to do it.”
Billy Crews, development officer for the School of Education, traveled to Sikeston twice last fall, had lunch with Depro and observed him at work in the classroom.
“Based on my observation, he must have recruited many students from Sikeston to attend Ole Miss. There is a regular pipeline of students from that area who have come to Ole Miss for years. I suspect Bob is influential in inspiring many of those,” Crews said.
Recently, Depro personally accompanied three high-school seniors on a campus visit. In fact, he has invited hundreds to campus through the years.
“I always look for an excuse to go to Ole Miss,” Depro said. He hopes the students will grow to love his alma mater as much as he does.
“I had a cousin who went to Ole Miss and lived right across the street from me. She kept saying what a beautiful place it was and how nice the people were,” Depro recalls. “In my senior year at Southeast, I was looking for a place to do my graduate work, so I came down and just fell in love with Ole Miss and Oxford.
“I owe a deep debt of gratitude to people like Dr. Roscoe Boyer, who was one of my instructors at Ole Miss, and others who helped to hone my teaching skills and make me a better teacher,” he continued. “The thing I appreciated most was that everything I did in graduate work I could bring back home and use in my classroom. It was very practical and I think I got top-notch instruction from fantastic teachers.”
Depro considered being a journalist until high school when one of his teachers, Carl Wright, inspired him to become an educator. He has never looked back.
“It’s seeing kids excited about learning. It’s seeing kids who are inspired to go further than just textbook material. It’s seeing students of mine 10 or 20 years after I had them in the classroom come back and realize what great citizens they are and they tell you they appreciate what they learned in your class. That’s what’s really rewarding,” he says. “I’ve gotten several honors and accolades along the way. That really doesn’t mean anything. I’m not an egotist. It’s what you do with the kids that’s important.”
Among many other professional achievements, Depro was named Missouri Teacher of the Year in 1988 and was the Missouri winner of the 1996 National Teacher of the Year competition. He also received the Outstanding Educator Award from the Missouri State Teachers Association.
He has served as president of a number of organizations, including the Southeast Missouri Teachers Association, Sikeston Community Teachers Association, Missouri Council for Social Studies and the Missouri Council for Geographic Education. He is a 16-year national delegate to the National Council for Social Studies and has served on the executive committee of the Missouri State Teachers Association.
Depro is also active in his church and community, having served on the Sikeston School Board (2000-2004) and Sikeston City Council (2011-present) among other organizations.
Depro’s planned gift gives him membership in the 1848 Society, named for the year the university opened the Lyceum doors to its first students. The society recognizes generous donors who thoughtfully provide for the university through planned and deferred gifts.
“We are working to attract gifts of all sizes from $25 per year to $1 million in order to help the school impact lives and improve educational performance and attainment,” Crews said. “Philanthropy will provide that margin of excellence that we are working toward, matching our needs with our opportunities to grow and improve our service to our students, our state and nation.”
For more information about including the university in a will or other estate plans, contact the UM Foundation at 800-340-9542 or visit www.umfoundation.com/planning. To give to the UM School of Education, contact Billy Crews at 662-915-2836 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Bill Dabney