Jolene Marra Schulz ’61 may come from a small town, but there was no keeping her from doing big things.
Her charm, cheer and can-do attitude, combined with her intellect and leadership skills, have impacted everyone with whom she has been connected over her lifetime of positive influence, including her notable career in education and service as a trustee at her alma mater, Columbia (Christian) College.
The native of Bevier, Missouri – a town of less than 1,000 located about 65 miles north of Columbia – remembers the feeling of leaving home for the first time when she enrolled at Christian College.
“When I set foot onto Christian College, I realized I could navigate my way around, the professors were very nice, my classes were small, and everybody was friendly and wanted to get to know each other,” Schulz says. “It was a small school, but it had a national presence and was trying to provide an individualized education for every student here, which meant so much to me.
“It was indeed a warm and friendly place to be away from home.”
So warm and friendly, it turns out, that she has made it her second home for the past six-plus decades.
Generously giving her time, talent and treasure, Schulz is an ardent supporter of Columbia College as a member of the President’s Society and St. Clair Society in addition to her role governing the institution on the Board of Trustees, displaying her commitment to the longevity of higher education.
For attaining outstanding recognition in her career and embodying the spirit of leadership and service, Schulz is the 2023 recipient of the Columbia College Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni Award.
“I can truly say that Christian College absolutely laid the foundation for my pathways of life,” Schulz says. “I am honored and humbled to be a recipient of this very prestigious award. To me, it’s the recognition of my life’s work that really began here.”
After earning her associate degree from Christian College, Schulz earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Missouri. She built a lasting legacy during her 40-year career in education, beginning as a teacher, then becoming director of the Missouri Facilitator Center and finally serving as director of community relations and school/community programs for Columbia Public Schools.
During her tenure, she created the Partners in Education program, which continues today and boasts more than 300 partners, including Columbia College. The program deepened the relationship between businesses and the school district by creating opportunities for interaction and collaboration.
Bo Fraser, former president of Central Bank of Boone County, was among the business leaders who signed the original agreement Schulz drafted for the initiative in 1984.
“Partners in Education was a great program that grew into something very impactful for the business community and Columbia Public Schools,” says Fraser, a trustee emeritus at Columbia College. “This distinguished award is very appropriate for Jolene. She is distinguished and has set herself apart in many, many ways. Certainly at Columbia College, but also in the community for the numerous things she has been involved in. She has given back to this community in a terrific way.”
Dan Scotten, a trustee emeritus who served as president of multiple Columbia banks during his career, was introduced to Schulz as an inaugural member of Partners in Education, the first of many projects the two would work on together, including the renovation of Missouri Hall in 2006.
“Jolene is one of those people who speaks when she really has something important to say, and people respect her,” Scotten says. “It has always been obvious that she is all in on Columbia College.”
Schulz shares her successes with her husband, Bill, who made his career out of owning and operating Culligan Water of Columbia.
“Bill has really been part of this formula,” Scotten says. “He has lent his support in encouraging Jolene to do the things that are inspiring and rewarding to her. Their chemistry has worked so well.”
Fellow current Trustee Gary Tatlow recalls meeting Schulz over 50 years ago when she was a classmate of his wife, Marilyn, at Christian College. Both couples later overlapped while living in Moberly, Missouri, before returning to Columbia, where Tatlow would practice as an attorney.
“Anytime there’s a job to be done, a task that other people shy away from, Jolene raises her hand,” Tatlow says. “She really typifies the ethic that Columbia College taught her many – no, I should say a few – years ago.”
“Jolene is the paragon of virtue. She has always been the go-to girl.”Gary Tatlow, member of the Columbia College Board of Trustees
Helen Dale Coe Simons ’65, current vice chair of the trustees, says she is impressed time after time by Schulz’s quiet leadership style, in-depth knowledge of her community and never-ending commitment to supporting the causes that mean the most to her.
Simons says she has been honored to serve with Schulz through challenging situations and to learn from her the ability to practice supreme discipline based on the principles and values of the institution.
“Jolene is the epitome of an alumna of Columbia College who has given distinguished service from the time she attended Christian College to today,” Simons says. “Her genuine passion for this college and her lifetime commitment to education have been Columbia College’s gifts. Her style of leadership builds trust and her loyalty is an example to us all.”
Echoing others who have seen Schulz in action, longtime Columbia lawyer Scott Orr says he has observed three guarantees for initiatives she leads: They are under budget, ahead of time and done to perfection.
“When the lifting gets heavy,” Orr says, “Jolene’s shoulders are among the strongest that carry the load through until completion. Her mission in life is simply to serve others. She has always been an unselfish, caring human being. She is an absolute dynamo.”
In addition to the hallmark Partners in Education, Schulz implemented volunteer, service-learning and mentor programs during her 34 years with Columbia Public Schools.
She has taught kindergartners and college students alike, including some at Columbia College, where she was an adjunct professor from 1998 to 2001. She received the CCAA Community Service Award in 1996 and numerous awards from the University of Missouri and education organizations.
She has dedicated a life of service to Columbia and held board positions with numerous organizations.
“Jolene is one of the kindest, most caring, most generous individuals you will ever meet,” says Heather Dimitt-Fletcher, current executive director of the Missouri FFA Foundation and former executive director at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Missouri. “She is an immeasurable support to her family, her friends, her community and Columbia College. We should all hope to become the type of person that Jolene is.”
Those qualities have been evident since Schulz first stepped foot in Hughes Hall, the dorm building where she met friend Sharon Ronchetto when they both were freshmen – the start of a lifelong friendship.
The classmates moved to the Kansas City area together to start their careers and shared an apartment on the famed Plaza while teaching at schools in Overland Park, Kansas.
“We became close friends, and that’s lasted forever,” Ronchetto says.
Their time in that apartment lasted one year before Ronchetto married her husband, Bob, with Schulz standing as a bridesmaid during their wedding. Schulz had introduced the two to each other.
“I always tell Jolene that Bob is the best gift she ever gave me,” Ronchetto says of her late husband.
Ronchetto says Schulz is a loyal, steadfast friend who is consistently there when people need her.
“We have been friends for 50 years through the ups and downs of life, and it’s a forever friendship,” Ronchetto says. “Anyone is lucky to have that kind of friendship.”