Jerry Emmett - Distinguished Alumna Centenarian

Jerry Emmett

Just prior to her 100th birthday in July, Class of 1937 and 1957 College of Education graduate Jerry Emmett is honored by NAU with the 2014 Distinguished Alumna Centenarian Award for her lifetime dedication to education and community service.

May 9 - FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Few Arizonans have the opportunity to influence as many lives for as long as schoolteacher and community organizer Jerry Emmett. She first moved here from Iowa at the age of five, in 1919, when the state of Arizona was only seven. While much has changed in her time, her commitment to improving the lives of others has remained constant. 

During a 43-year career in public education, Jerry mentored and guided thousands of young minds with a simple approach to education: be honest, be yourself and most importantly, show your students you care. This method served her well, and many of her former students continue to express their thanks and remain in contact – more than 50 years later.

Jerry’s teaching profession began on the Navajo Reservation during her senior year at Arizona State Teachers College (now NAU). She instructed young children with physical disabilities and long-term illnesses, some of them fatal. In this rural community, she forged a compassionate bond with her students which would forever impact her outlook on both education and life.  “Here I saw my first death and my first birth,” Jerry recalls. “All of these things made me realize what it meant to be a human being and help others.”

She taught across the state in Seligman, Tombstone, Scottsdale and Phoenix, spending her last 30 years before retirement in 1976 as a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher for Creighton School District. Jerry’s service did not stop when she left the classroom; she volunteers in numerous capacities to support the Democratic Party and her local community churches. In 1990, she founded the Democratic Women of the Prescott Area. For decades of support, Jerry has received a collection of service awards from multiple Arizona Governors and was a full honorary guest at the 2006 Democratic National Committee Summer Meeting. She has more political connections than one would expect for a centenarian, but humbly focuses on bringing people together instead of dividing them along party lines.

This spring, Jerry’s friends established the Jerry Emmett Education Scholarship to honor her life accomplishments and benefit students majoring in education. Like many of the more than 40 percent of first-generation college students at NAU today, Jerry was able to attend the university due to an academic scholarship. She believes this gift saved her life and gave her the ability to receive a college education during the difficult times of the Great Depression. She is honored at the opportunity to inspire a new generation of educators, nearly 80 years later. “All I care is that people that go into teaching care about the children,” Jerry advises. “They were my best friends, and they know I was their best friend. And that’s exactly all there is to it.”

With revelry and humor, Jerry recollects fondly on her memories at ASTC/NAU. She met her husband and father of her two children, Cecil, as a student. She participated in many Lumberjack traditions, led the school chants as a cheerleader at sporting events and even helped secure the NAU Bronze Ax from would-be thieves from Arizona State Teachers College at Tempe (now ASU). The community, faculty and student relationships she made in Flagstaff forever changed her life – which is especially influential, considering all she has seen during her years.

The NAU community is proud to recognize Jerry for a 100-year lifetime of accomplishments and the unwavering enthusiasm for her alma mater.  She continues to epitomize the Lumberjack spirit of dedication, tenacity and kindness to others.

She’s led a significant life, which has left powerful impressions on generations of family members, friends and of course, her students. As Jerry puts it, “I hadn’t realized it is difficult (unless you live into your 90’s) to ever see how many lives you’ve really touched as a teacher.”

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