Maybe the third time is the charm for Ron Lankford, who retires from his third career in public education July 1.

Lankford, who has served as human resources director and assistant superintendent for business services over the past five years with the Joplin School District, said he and his wife, Carolyn, plan to travel.

“The last two retirements I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do next?’” Lankford told about 40 people who attended a reception for him last week. “This time, I do know it’s time, so Carolyn and I — she has sat waiting for me for 51-plus years to get off the school bus — I have told her on July 1, we’re going to go early to a doctor’s appointment, then we’re going to take a little drive down to Arkansas and eat lunch and spend the day of my official retirement together. I will tell you nothing I’ve ever done would have been done if it had not been done here. She’s supported me every step.”

Eagle send-off

Jeff Koch, president of the Joplin Board of Education, thanked Lankford for his service in Joplin and his 48-year career in public education.

“The first 33 years were to our neighbors, and good for them,” Koch said as he presented Lankford a retirement gift. The next six years, Lankford worked for the state.

“But the last five, the best five, were right here with us,” Koch said.

Lankford retired the first time in June 2010 after 33 years with the Webb City School District. He had served as superintendent since July 1998, and he was associate superintendent, high school principal and junior high principal before that. He was named Superintendent of the Year in 2009 by the Missouri Association of School Administrators.

He also previously was a counselor at Harrisburg and assistant principal at East Newton in Granby.

A 1967 graduate of Seneca High School, Lankford entered education administration at a young age, having been named principal of Webb City High School before he turned 30.

Kerry Sachetta, Joplin assistant superintendent for operations, said Lankford was hired as the temporary human resources officer and that he had an immediate impact when he came to the district.

Sarah Mwangi, assistant superintendent for learning services, said Lankford is passionate about helping kids and shows it every day.

“He is just a wonderful, genuine man,” Mwangi said. “He loves kids; he’s very passionate about helping this area. I think his impact in Joplin, not only has he put us in a phenomenal fiscal situation, but he’s also brought a wealth of knowledge. He’s very good at taking very complex issues and communicating them in a very simple, understandable manner, which I think helped our community.”

The tables at Lankford’s retirement party were festooned with balloons and little cards that Mwangi said had sayings that Lankford used to use when talking, including her favorite, “I’d rather have a plow horse than a show pony.”

“We have a joke: We call him the chili man, and it is my job to make sure his hair is straight, food doesn’t get on his shirt and that he is taken care of,” Mwangi said.

“In the same respect he’s been a huge mentor to me the last few years. He always will randomly walk into your office, give you words of encouragement if he knows you are struggling with something or he will be the first to listen if you have an idea.

“He’s a wonderful sounding board, he’s a work-hard, play-hard personality. He loves to have fun, but he definitely is not afraid to roll up his sleeves.”

Final retirement

Lankford’s family members said they were experienced at attending retirement ceremonies and that they were pretty sure this was his final retirement reception.

After Lankford retired from Webb City, he accepted a job with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as deputy commissioner for financial and administrative services, working for the state for six years before retiring in 2016.

Lankford’s daughter, Christina Dickinson, a teacher herself at Bess Truman Primary Center in Oronogo, said her father has always loved kids and loved public education.

“He truly does believe in the future and in education of children and giving everyone the opportunity for an education,” Dickison said. “I didn’t fully understand until I was older what an impact and the contributions he made.”

“I’ve been blessed,” Lankford said. “The career that I chose was really my calling, and I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to work with some outstanding people. It’s not about one person. It’s about one person doing their part with others who are doing their part.

“I spent 33 years next door, and I will have to say that while my career there felt very rewarding, what I’ve done since then has just validated it. and the appreciation that I felt when I left Jefferson City was overwhelming and the appreciation I feel here has been overwhelming today.”

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