Three outstanding educators with a combined experience of more than 100 years were inducted into Gov. Louie B. Nunn Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame this month.
Debra Burgess of Murray, Golda Pensol Walbert of Glasgow and Cynthia S. Wooden of Florence were all recognized in Frankfort during a luncheon at Berry Hill Mansion and an induction ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda.
“Our teachers work tirelessly day in and day out to better educate our young people about classroom and life lessons,” Gov. Steve Beshear said. “Today, I am very proud to recognize and honor three outstanding teachers as they are inducted into the Kentucky Teachers Hall of Fame. Congratulations to Golda Pensol Walbert, Debra Burgess and Cynthia S. Wooden, and thank you for your lifelong dedication to education.”
Created in 2000 through a gift from former Kentucky Gov. Louie B. Nunn, the Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame recognizes the vital role primary and secondary teachers play in educating Kentucky’s youth and ensuring they are college- and career-ready when they graduate high school. Western Kentucky University was selected as the home of the Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame because of its more than 100-year history in teacher education.
This year’s inductees represent the Teacher Hall of Fame’s seventh class and join previous Hall of Fame members “to represent the very best of their profession in the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” said WKU President Gary Ransdell. “I trust this is a day you will always remember.”
The 2014 inductees said they were honored yet surprised when notified by Dr. Sam Evans, dean of WKU’s College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, that they had been selected as Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame members.
“I was dumbfounded,” said Walbert, who began her 50-year teaching career in 1943. “It never occurred to me that I’d be in this group.”
Wooden and Burgess echoed those sentiments.
“I was really amazed. I never dreamed this would happen,” said Wooden, who began her teaching career in 1979 in Amarillo, Texas, and has taught in Kenton County schools since 1987.
“I was shocked,” Burgess said. “It’s a super honor. It’s great to do what you love and be acknowledged for it.”
From 1980 to 2012, Burgess taught Spanish, French and Latin at Murray High School. Since retiring from the high school classroom, Burgess has continued teaching Spanish as an adjunct instructor at Murray State University.
“I tell kids every day that there’s no major that is not strengthened by having Spanish or another foreign language as a minor,” she said.
After more than 30 years in the classroom, Wooden has been thinking about retirement, but now may teach a few more years especially as Kentucky continues to improve its education system.
“My love of life is teaching kids and seeing that light when something clicks with them,” said Wooden, who teaches reading to middle school students. “Kentucky teachers are dedicated and ready to help each child.”
Even in retirement, Walbert has remained dedicated to educating young people and was a driving force to help expand the WKU-Glasgow campus. “Education has been my life,” she said.
Sen. Mike Wilson, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said teachers have a lasting impact on lives of their students. “It is very appropriate we honor these teachers in the Hall of Fame. These are our heroes,” he said. “We appreciate the work you’ve done and continue to do and the impact you’ve had on so many lives.”
Rep. Jody Richards, who represented House Speaker Greg Stumbo at the induction, noted that with the 2014 inductees coming from the Purchase area (Burgess), northern Kentucky (Wooden) and southcentral Kentucky (Walbert) “our state is truly represented by these fine teachers.”
Gov. Beshear and Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday presented each inductee with a plaque.
As part of the induction, each Hall of Fame member received a citation and red glass apple from their legislators. Rep. Kenny Imes of Murray and Sen. Stan Humphries of Cadiz made presentations to Burgess. Sen. David Givens of Greensburg and Rep. Johnny Bell of Glasgow made presentations to Walbert. Sen. John Schickel of Union and Rep. Addia Wuchner of Florence made presentations to Wooden.