Always a teacher at heart, MTSU's Gloria Bonner pledges to continue fulfilling that God-given purpose even after she leaves her alma mater in a few weeks.
The woman known to so many as simply "Dr. Bonner" will officially retire March 1, leaving in her current role as Assistant to the President in the Office of University Community Relations, President Sidney A. McPhee announced Wednesday (Feb. 8).
With 44 years in education, 32 of which have been spent in academic and administrative roles at MTSU, Bonner wraps up an extraordinary career by leaving a legacy of leadership, mentorship, passion and service that few can match.
She was the first African-American dean of an academic unit at MTSU and has been recognized throughout her career as a strong advocate for high academic standards at the university, state, regional and national levels.
"As a teacher, fundamentally, once a teacher always a teacher," Bonner said, "whether you're educating people in the classroom or whether you're educating them from an administrative position or whether you're educating them in the community."
In her current role, Bonner has worked closely with McPhee on strengthening university outreach to and collaboration with the wider community to advance the university's mission of helping more people earn a college degree and get a quality education.
"Dr. Bonner's service to her alma mater, Middle Tennessee State University, and our entire community has been extraordinary," McPhee said. "She has devoted more than four decades to classroom teaching, research, community service and administration at our university, most notably as dean of our former College of Education and Behavioral Science and as my assistant for community relations.
"Beyond our campus, she has exemplified our True Blue ideal of service through her work with various governmental, nonprofit and educational organizations. Her hard work and belief in the importance of forging relationships at many different levels benefitted not only the students of our university but the citizens of our city, county and state.
"My wife, Elizabeth, as well as the students, faculty, staff and alumni of MTSU, join me in thanking Gloria for her devotion to our university, her friendship and lifetime of service."
After earning her bachelor's, master's and education specialist degrees at MTSU, Bonner secured her doctorate in education from Tennessee State University in Nashville. She taught in Murfreesboro City Schools and the Dekalb County School System in Decatur, Georgia, before returning to her alma mater.
Bonner rose up the academic ranks at MTSU to become a tenured professor in 1999 before transitioning to administration. She eventually became dean of the then College of Education and Behavioral Science and helped lead the transition to the new College of Education building.
She is a past recipient of the MTSU John Pleas Outstanding Faculty Award, the Trailblazer Award in Education, the Distinguished Classroom Teacher Award in Higher Education in the State of Tennessee and the MTSU Faculty Award. Among other career highlights, she was a presenter at the University of Oxford in England, a graduate of the Harvard University Management Development Program and an inductee into the TSU College of Education Wall of Fame.
"Life for me has been extraordinary," said Bonner, who grew up in "humble, humble beginnings" just a few blocks from campus on First Avenue. "And to be able to fulfill my dreams -- I love this university because it's a part of who I am. I take ownership of all of the great opportunities that people created for me."
In recent years, Bonner has focused on community outreach through initiatives such as the Community Engagement Council, an advisory group of local leaders, and by leading on-campus initiatives such as the annual Employee Charitable Giving Campaign and the "Bleed Blue: Beat WKU" blood drive for the American Red Cross.
Giving back to the community has always been a must for Bonner, who has shared her time and talents through local organizations such as Main Street Murfreesboro/Rutherford County Board of Directors, Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital Board of Directors and Rotary International, to name a few, and via enrichment opportunities such Leadership Middle Tennessee. She was the 2010 recipient of the local NAACP's Jerry Anderson Humanitarian Award for Service to the Community.
Bonner pledges to stay active in the community, but also looks forward to more time with her family -- husband, Ray Bonner, an MTSU alumnus, Blue Raider Sports Hall of Fame inductee in football and a longtime football and track coach (past three years as an assistant track coach at MTSU), and their daughter, Tracey Nicole Bonner, a professional actress.
As throughout her life, Bonner's faith will guide her in this next phase. She harkens to one of her favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: "Life's most persistent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"
"If my future is as extraordinary as my previous years, I have a lot to look forward to," she said. "And that's the thing I'm excited about."