As superintendent of schools in Osage County in Linn, Missouri, Joe Phillips was determined to get the district’s special education program back on track. In asking around for the best person in Missouri to do the job, one name came up repeatedly —Veralee Hardin from the University of Missouri College of Education. Phillips also heard she was booked solid.
Never one to back away from a challenge, Phillips called Hardin’s office repeatedly but couldn’t get past her office staff. Finally, he tried one more time and in a very authoritative voice said, “Please connect me. It’s urgent.” That did the trick.
Surprisingly, their professional relationship got off to a rocky start. “We had a rough beginning,” says Phillips. “When Veralee first came to Osage County, I told her what I wanted her to do. As you might imagine, that didn’t go over very well.”
“We are shameless in pushing our family members to attend Mizzou. We’ve had seven family members recently graduate from Mizzou and another family member is on campus right now.” -Veralee Hardin
“Joe hired me for my expertise and experience, but then he tried to tell me how to do my job,” laughs Hardin. “I told him ‘See you later,’ and I started back to Columbia. He soon came around. As we spent more time together, we fell in love. We’ve been married now for 35 years.”
Hardin earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Southwest Missouri State University (SMSU, now Missouri State University), and a master’s degree and doctorate in education from Mizzou.
Her education career spans 45 years, which includes 15 years as an elementary education teacher and principal before spending 30 years working for the College of Education. She held a variety of roles at MU including director of the MU Child Study Clinic, coordinator of a graduate-level program in learning disabilities, researcher, author, and consultant to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Hardin advised more than 200 graduate students and 35 doctoral students before retiring as professor emerita from the Department of Special Education in 1987.
She received the Citation of Merit for Outstanding Achievement and Meritorious Service from the college in 1983, MU Faculty-Alumni Award in 1972, Outstanding Service to Special Education Award from the Missouri Administrators of Special Education in 1997, and the MU Distinguished Faculty Award in 1979.
Phillips attended Joplin Junior College on an athletic scholarship and was recruited to attend SMSU on an athletic scholarship where he played football and basketball in addition to running track and participating in ROTC. He earned a bachelor’s of science degree in education in 1956, then taught and coached in Missouri public schools for eight years.
He also completed Officer Candidate School and became an infantry officer in the U.S. Army. His ranger career ended after two years due to an injury so he joined the Missouri National Guard (Combat Arms). He graduated as a Distinguished Graduate from the U.S. 5th Army Military Intelligence School in 1976 and retired with the rank of major after 28 years.
Throughout his military service, he remained committed to advancing his education career. In 1963, he earned a master’s degree in public school administration from the University of Missouri through a cooperative program with SMSU before earning a doctorate in education from the University of Tulsa in 1971. He spent five years on the faculty at the Greenwood Laboratory School on the SMSU campus before teaching at Southwest Oklahoma State College, Culver-Stockton College and Truman State University.
His next move was serving as a superintendent of schools, spending three years at Osage R-II Schools in Linn, Missouri and 12 years at the New Bloomfield R-III School District in Callaway County before retiring from education in 1993. His “retirement” lasted only eight months when he went to work as an administrator for Health Care Plans of Missouri. After six years, he retired in earnest.
Hardin and Phillips are lifelong Mizzou supporters. “We are shameless in pushing our family members to attend Mizzou,” says Hardin. “We’ve had seven family members recently graduate from Mizzou and another family member is on campus right now.”
Since 1975, Hardin has provided scholarships to at least 100 Mizzou Ed students. She is a member of the Jefferson Club and serves on the College of Education Advancement Board. They are both members of the Grace Bibb Society. In March 2015, Hardin and Philips received the Friends of the College Award for their positive impact and influence in advancing the field of education.
“We want to help as many students as we can,” says Hardin. “Every time we receive a thank you note it amazes me how much our scholarships are making a difference. We wish we could do a lot more.”