By Todd Martin
Special to the Daily Herald
During a ceremony honoring five distinguished Killeen Independent School District alumni, the recipients redirected praise toward the schools and community that launched them to success.
The KISD Alumni Association held its fifth Distinguished Alumni and Donor Reception Thursday at Nolan Middle School, honoring graduates ranging from the class of 1938 to the class of 1997.
Honorees included Elizabeth Bigham, Theresa Holland, Brig. Gen. Don MacWillie III, Fred Washington and retired Lt. Col. Lee Bailey Wilson.
The KISD Alumni Association is a division of the KISD Education Foundation. The annual reception included several foundation grant recipients displaying details of their classroom grants.
In remarks to audience members Thursday, Bigham described her early years in the community of Ding Dong, where she attended a rural Bell County school south of Killeen called Iduma School.
She graduated from Killeen High School in 1938, in what she said was the first year she could ride a bus from her rural community to the burgeoning town.
Many know Bigham as a beloved teacher, who taught in rural schools in Cedar Valley and Iduma before joining the teaching staff at the Avenue D School in Killeen in 1943.
She told of moving from the basement of that school, which is now Killeen City Hall, to the new East Ward Elementary School, which opened in 1952 and is still in operation on Rancier Avenue.
Bigham taught eight years before earning her college degree from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and eventually became librarian at Killeen High School. She taught 41 years, 38 in Killeen and three in rural Bell County schools.
She described an age when teachers purchased all classroom supplies beyond textbooks and a superintendent could hire a teacher without a formal interview.
She claimed others deserved the distinguished alumni title more than she did, but that no one could be more proud. "I love Killeen and I love Killeen High School," she said.
Holland, the youngest honoree in the alumni association's history, named specific teachers and a high school counselor for driving her success and helping her achieve scholarships.
She was the KHS valedictorian in 1997 and earned a doctorate degree from Rice University. Holland is a scientist for W.L. Gore and Associates in Flagstaff, Ariz., and has filed three medical-related patents.
MacWillie and his military family claimed Killeen as their adopted hometown, where he graduated from Killeen High School in 1978.
He graduated from Texas A&M University. He has 28 years in the U.S. Army and is commander of Operational Test Command. MacWillie is slated to become deputy commander of the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley, Kan.
Mixing a great family, community and school mean you can do anything, the general said upon receiving his distinguished alumni award.
He named teachers who he said taught him science and attention to detail and coaches who taught him "you have to earn it," he said. "Thank you KISD for what you gave us," he said.
Washington graduated from Killeen High School in 1987 and is vice president for administration and auxiliary services and athletic director at Prairie View A&M University.
Upon accepting his award, Washington asked teachers and school support staff in the room to stand and led an ovation.
He thanked the community and said as a freshman at Prairie View A&M University he noticed he was better prepared for college work than many of his peers. "I don't think we realize in Killeen how good we are," he said.
Wilson, a Killeen High School Class of 1954 graduate served 20 years in the Army and was inducted into the University of Texas at Arlington ROTC Corps of Cadets Hall of Fame.
He recalled a time when Killeen was a town of 1,200 people and boasted four cotton gins. Wilson said he was accepting the KISD alumni honor on behalf of all his classmates.
Jayne Doxsey, science lab teacher at Reeces Creek Elementary School, spoke as a Foundation grant recipient and this year's Innovator of the Year.
Over the years, she said the Foundation has awarded her five grants totaling $12,500 that have translated into projects that have touched more than 19,000 students.
"You enable us to touch the future," she said to the Foundation board members and its donors, "and we're forever grateful."