When Charles Vaughn and his sons, Joe and CJ, established a scholarship in the College of Education at WSU, they created an enduring source of inspiration and encouragement for aspiring elementary teachers.

Mary Alice’s Scholarship Fund: Ensuring Teaching Excellence for the Future is a loving tribute to a wife and mother who was an exceptional teacher in all respects. Honoring the late Mary Alice Hall-Vaughn, the scholarship is awarded to certified elementary education majors who embody the personal qualities and professional commitment that Mary Alice possessed.

From left: CJ Vaughn, Charles Vaughn, Kiera Burnett (’16 Ed.), and Joe Vaughn (’14 MIS)
From left: CJ Vaughn, Charles Vaughn, Kiera Burnett (’16 Ed.), and Joe Vaughn (’14 MIS)

“I want to help dedicated students who have a passion for teaching as my wife did,” Charles says, with son Joe adding, “We really want to do our part to put the right people in front of our children not only to teach them the skills they need to be a productive member of society, but also to instill an overall attitude that reflects a good-natured human being. We believe we can help accomplish this through a scholarship.”

Casey Richard (‘15 Ed. CER ‘15 Ed.) and Kiera Burnett (’16 Ed.) are the scholarship’s first recipients. Both had the opportunity to meet Charles, Joe, and CJ, and learn of Mary Alice’s influence in the field of education as well as her accomplishments. The experience validated their respective decisions to become teachers. “Mary Alice was a beautiful, strong, passionate, and kindhearted woman,” Kiera says. Casey shared with her own family what she learned from the Vaughns. “My family was able to see how important my position as a future teacher was and learn about the exceptional life of Mary Alice and her work in education.”

Casey Richard (‘15 Ed. CER ‘15 Ed.)
Casey Richard (‘15 Ed. CER ‘15 Ed.)

Casey is currently teaching third grade in Battle Ground, Washington, while Kiera will start her practicum experience in the fall. Both understand the influence they will have as educators and see their role extending beyond teaching. Their classrooms will provide a secure environment as well as a fun atmosphere for learning. Most importantly, Casey says, is to instill a sense of community so the students care about each other and know that their teacher cares about them. Adds Kiera, “You are a caretaker, a safe place to go, and most importantly, a light for their future.”

Mary Alice was highly respected by colleagues who often came to her for advice, Charles says. She received the Peninsula School District’s Ellen Fay Award for academic excellence in 2008. Named for a PSD human resources director whose compassion for her colleagues reached across the district, the award acknowledges a recipient’s engagement with students and families, professional growth and improvement, excellence in job performance, and any special recognitions.

Mary Alice’s commitment to excellence in teaching extended beyond her work place. She was a National Board Certified teacher and trainer for teachers who were working to become nationally board certified.

Her teaching skills surfaced at age 10 while presiding over neighborhood preschoolers in a makeshift classroom at her childhood home in Richmond, Indiana. “She made the rules and decided what would be taught. Sometimes there were plays and skits and the parents were invited to watch,” Charles says.

She attended Wittenberg University in Ohio and went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in psychology and Master of Science in Special Education from California Lutheran College. Mary Alice and Charles met while working at Camarillo State Hospital in California, where she taught life skills to nonverbal autistic adult males. On August 29, 1981, the couple was married, and they moved to Gig Harbor, Washington in 1985 when Mary Alice was hired as a Special Education teacher for the Peninsula School District. “Her first love was always special education,” Charles says.

In 1996, Mary Alice became the Behavioral Intervention Specialist for the district and in 2001, she started teaching general education at Harbor Heights Elementary School.

“In her first year teaching kindergarten (2001), the principal looked into her classroom one day during the second week of school and saw her working with a student at a back table while the other students worked quietly at their tables. The principal was very impressed that Mary Alice had full control of a room of five year olds after 10 days of school,” Charles recalled.

Soon after Mary Alice started with the Peninsula School District, Charles enrolled at the University of Puget Sound to obtain a teaching certificate. He worked full-time at Western State Hospital to pay his tuition. He taught for 25 years in the South Kitsap School District, teaching first and third grades at Manchester Elementary. He retired in 2012.

Brothers Joe and CJ are students at WSU. CJ is in the Athletic Training Program, while Joe is pursuing an MBA after completing his undergraduate degree in Management Information Systems at WSU. Although Charles and Mary Alice took steps to ensure their sons graduated from college debt-free, both Joe and CJ understand the value of scholarships. They are proud to help future teachers through a scholarship that honors their mom.

“My family likes to help people,” Joe says. “We want to help provide opportunities that a student might not have otherwise due to monetary constraints.” Adds CJ, “it is an amazing feeling to help other students achieve their dreams.”

Charles, too, is proud of the scholarship that continues his wife’s legacy in teaching. “Our goal is to get the best and most passionate teachers in the classroom,” he says, adding that Mary Alice’s Scholarship Fund also underscores the quality of the teacher preparation program at WSU.

Mary Alice passed away on May 6, 2014 following a courageous two-year battle with breast cancer. She will be remembered for her knowledge and dedication to the field of education, but most of all for her love and for the time she spent with family, Charles says.

And through the generosity of her husband and sons, Mary Alice’s guiding influence will impact WSU-educated elementary teachers for years to come.