Three named ‘Difference Makers’ at AV Schools

Difference Makers - (from left) Terry Tate, Jim Finley and Toni Erpenbach.

Three former staff members were honored Saturday night when Arcadia Valley Schools students, staff and alumni named them “Difference Makers,” people who have made a difference in the lives of students and/or programs over the years.

Terry Tate, Jim Finley and Toni Erpenbach received recognition plaques and will have their names included on a plaque on permenant display at the school.

They were awarded the plaques at a special ceremony during the AV Fall Festival on Saturday.

The following are excerpts of remarks made during the presentation:


Terry Tate

(Remarks read by her daughter, Brandi Brogan.)

Our mom has resided in and has loved this valley her entire life.  She graduated from Arcadia Valley High School in 1971 with initial plans to attend Mizzou (and we still chuckle at the idea of Mom on that huge Mizzou campus) but she decided instead she wanted to start a family of her own, and married our dad the following year.  

After having three daughters, our mother decided it was time to pursue her lifetime dream of becoming a teacher.  And so, as a full-time wife and mother, she began her journey into the field of education.  She made sure to never let her schooling get in the way of her family, so it became habit for mom to fulfill her duties of wife and mother, and after we were all in bed, she would begin her school work.  

After receiving her Associate’s from Mineral Area College, she began the daily drives to Cape Girardeau to pursue her teaching degree through Southeast Missouri State University.  In 1989, mom received her first teaching job at Arcadia Valley Middle School teaching sixth grade English.  

Since then we’ve been reminded by her past students that while teaching in the Valley Mom expressed her love for the black and gold by bringing in her keyboard and teaching every student that came through her class Arcadia Valley’s Alma Mater. 

Also during this time, after some coercing from Mr. Jim Finley, our mother was the music director for 11 Arcadia Valley musicals, contributing many hours to highlight the musical talents and interests of students at Arcadia Valley.

But, as the years went on,mom decided it was time for a change of direction, and she restarted the trips back and forth to SEMO to get her Masters’ degree in counseling.  In 2000, our mom became the high school counselor.  

This job couldn’t have been more perfect for her.  The job consumed her--in part due to 

the large workload required of a high school counselor, but more importantly because she wanted to make a difference in the many young lives she faced every day.  And so, our mother - even with papers piled high on her desk requiring her attention - never turned away a student.  She was always welcoming to the many students who would come to her office every day and made it her duty to help these students succeed.

It didn’t take long for students to figure out that our mom was there to always lend a helping hand, even if it wasn’t during school hours.  At her retirement recognition a few years ago, a past student shared with us a time when, late one night, this high school girl found herself in a compromising situation and called our mom to come pick her up from a party ... this is one of many.  Many former students have told us stories ... being in trouble or at their lowest point, and it was our mom that they contacted for a helping hand or a listening ear.

In 2011, after 22 years in the field of education, our mother retired  from the Arcadia Valley School District, having made a lasting impression on the thousands of students that crossed her path during her many years of dedicated service.  

The one thing that we have always said about our mom is that she is the most genuinely nice person we’ve ever known.  What you see on the outside is exactly what is on the inside.  There is not a person in this world our mother would not go out of her way to help.  This is a trait that can’t be learned.  And this is a trait that is not found often.  And it’s this trait that makes our mother the amazing person that she is and the Difference Maker she was nominated to be.  This is why her plaque will forever hang in the high school gymnasium lobby, reading:  “No beauty shines brighter than that of a good heart.”


Jim Finley

(Remarks read by Jeremy Parker - Class of ‘96.)

I’m here tonight to introduce a man who has been a staple in our school and community for over 50 years, the legendary Mr. Jim Finley.  For many of the parents and grandparents in the room, you know and understand the heights of Mr. Finley’s talents. For the current students who might not know him, you still see the footprints that he left behind nearly 20 years after his retirement. 

Mr. Finley first came to Arcadia Valley in 1964. While having served as a speech therapist early on, most of us know him from his classes teaching literature, English, films, and speech and debate to name a few.  I’m a little nervous tonight giving a speech about the teacher who once taught me and graded me on my speeches in high school. 

While teaching and care for his students were always the priority and very evident, it was Mr. Finley’s limitless artistic talents and vast creativity that escalated him to the next level of educators. Whether it was capturing memories in the yearbook, masterminding incredible musicals, or bringing to life those fabulous Finley fall festival floats, the legacy of Mr. Jim Finley still lives strong today. His desire to incorporate and sustain the arts in Arcadia Valley introduced generations of students to art forms that they otherwise would have had limited exposure to.

One of your students recalled your advice on how long a speech should be, which was “Just like a woman’s skirt, long enough to cover the subject matter, but short enough to keep your attention.” 

I’m not for sure if that advice would still fly in today’s environment, but it definitely worked back in the 80s and 90s. 

Another student said, “I just loved Mr. Finely. He was an awesome teacher and our class sponsor for four years. Of course we won float every year because he was an amazing artist.”

“They don’t make teachers like him anymore. As a teacher, class sponsor, and yearbook adviser, he taught us all how to live our lives treating others with dignity and everything we did with pride. He taught us about hard work and how great that end product could be.” 

 “He was a wonderful teacher and always seemed to totally enjoy being in the classroom, because he liked his students and they loved him back!”

Mr. Finley, I was also reminded of your friend, Carl. When we all first met Carl, he was a shy middle school student that would occasionally visit your classroom.  Something with you and him just clicked and with your encouragement and your support, we saw him blossom into a friendly, outgoing kiddo who loved to tell stories and jokes and would draw the pictures that decorated your walls. I can still see the ear to ear grin on his face the day he wore a tie to school that was just like his friend Mr. Finley’s tie. 

You impacted Carl’s life in such a great way. You impacted my life as well as thousands of others beyond what you can even imagine. You have molded and shaped the lives of doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, business owners, and executives.

Your connection to the Arcadia Valley, its loving residents, and the students of this school is a strong and deeply cherished one. You are the epitome of a difference maker....


Toni Erpenbach

(Remarks read by Nicole Thomas.)

I am privileged to be in my first year serving the students of Arcadia Valley as high school counselor.  Nearly 20 years ago, I walked across this very stage, donning my cap and gown, slightly unsure about what my future held, yet confident that I had obtained the skills I needed to be successful in my next steps.  Mr. Jim Erpenbach announced my name, my parents proudly cheered, and somewhere in the mix of the crowd, probably hidden, yet likely running the show - stood Toni Erpenbach.  

You see, many of us – many of you – saw and loved our principal, Mr. Erp – but if you asked him, he might confess that what kept this ship running was actually Mrs. Erpenbach – our counselor.  

Toni Erpenbach is a 1968 graduate of Arcadia Valley high School – the same year she was crowned Fall Festival Queen.  Many of you knew her has counselor or director of special programs, but what many don’t know is that her career in education actually began as a PE teacher at the Lesterville School District before coming to AV.  

When Toni decided to pursue her master’s degree in counseling, she took a position at Valley R-6 as K-12 counselor before finally returning to her Alma Mater where she stayed until she retired. It is especially fitting that Toni is being recognized at tonight’s coronation, because Mrs. Erpenbach was a huge advocate for Fall Festival, serving as the coordinator for this event until she retired.

While here at Arcadia Valley, Toni drafted the first application for the A+ grant – a program that has been utilized by hundreds of AV students through the years to provide free college tuition to students at community colleges and technical schools across the state of Missouri.  

When I moved into my office I found many treasures, but hidden in the back of a drawer, tucked away was a small wooden plaque.  Etched into the wood it states “Planning for Life Award” – presented by the United States Army and the American School Counselor Association.  I quickly realized that Mrs. Erpenbach led a team of Arcadia Valley Counselors through a process to be awarded the state rural award winner for promoting student success through establishing an excellent career planning program.  

One of Toni’s former students shared this short narrative, 

Mrs. Erpenbach was my guidance counselor during my high school years at Arcadia Valley High School.  I, like many of my classmates did not have a clear vision of my future plans.  I had taken all of my required college placement tests and felt very good about my scores.  Good enough I thought.  

As I was passing by the counseling center one day Mrs. Erpenbach took me aside and told me that if I retook the test and scored two more points that I would be eligible for the Curators Scholarship at the University of Missouri in Columbia.  I borrowed the $40 and retook the test and bettered my score. 

I attended the School of Veterinary Medicine and received my Doctor of Veterinary Medicine tuition free.

Had it not been for Mrs. Erpenbach taking an extra interest in me, as she did with other students, the path to my career would have been very different.  Going above and beyond is a trait that Mrs. Erpenbach practiced daily.  I can’t thank her enough for her efforts.

Congratulations Mrs. Erpenbach, this is an honor well deserved.

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Ben Rothlisbereger

In her retirement, Toni continues to be active in her church and community, writing grants for and maintaining the sports and recreation complex where the gardens and educational kiosks were dedicated to her in 2007. In 2009 the Arcadia Valley Chamber of Commerce recognized her when she was awarded the 110 percent award. Toni has two sons and five grandsons.