By Don Lowe

Considering her background in art, perhaps McDonald County High School Teacher of the Year Theresa Walthall figures she has a blank canvas in front of her after the health difficulties this resilient woman and her husband, Travis, faced a year ago. 

Walthall recounts the stressful period in saying, “November last year (2022) was interesting. First, my husband started getting sick in October. Eventually, he was admitted to the hospital with a severe blood infection caused by a spleen infarction. 

“They were also watching his heart for endocarditis because he had a heart valve transplant a year or two before. He had come through it and recovered in record time. Now, he was very sick, and we had no idea what was going to happen to him.” 

As if things weren’t already difficult enough, “on the third evening in the hospital with my husband, I decided to go home and shower, change clothes and grab dinner for our kids. When I stopped for dinner, I thought I’d had a stroke. 

“I lost control and feeling over the entire left side of my body. I called the paramedics and when they arrived, much of my feeling and mobility had returned. I was taken to the ER at the same hospital as my husband. The Freeman West ER doctors and nurses were amazing.” 

While the whirlwind of this medical emergency evolved, Walthall says, “I found out that night what happened to me wasn’t a stroke. They found a large brain tumor. I had suffered a seizure because of the pressure the tumor was causing to my brain.” 

It ended up taking a little time from there, but Walthall chose Kansas City Medical Research Hospital for her surgery. “The operation was a success, and I went home tumor-free after a couple days. My surgeon was Dr. Pearson, and he was a true godsend. I’m forever grateful for his abilities and care.” 

Walthall is also forever thankful for all the McDonald County School District did to help, and she states, “My colleagues rallied around my family and me. We received cash and gift cards that helped pay for lodging and meals for our family while I was in the hospital at Kansas City. 

“Two retired art teachers (Dennis and Charlene Bergen) subbed for me and helped my other subs. My art teacher colleagues (Beau Bennett and Nicole Holder) helped support my classes and students. 

“We could not have been more loved or supported. I cannot imagine how we could have been better supported.” 

After overcoming such trials and tribulations, Walthall says, “I was completely surprised by the Teacher of the Year recognition. I work with so many teachers at McDonald County High School that are deserving of this honor. 

“The fact I was awarded it shows the compassion of my workplace community and how they’ve been so supportive.” 

Walthall knows the work she does is pivotal and says, “Teaching is an incredibly important profession. A good teacher has the power to encourage or discourage. A good teacher can guide students on a pathway that leads to ownership of their own learning and future choices.” 

As an artist, Walthall says, “Teaching art is a privilege. I aspire to build up young artists and plant seeds in their hearts. I hope that I help them see their potential within and gain the courage to act upon it.”

McDonald County Teacher of the Year Theresa Walthall Fast Facts

Age: 48 

Husband: Travis Walthall 

Years Married: 28 

Number of Children: 2 

Hometown: Joplin, Missouri 

High School Alma Mater, Year Graduated: Joplin High School, 1993 

College Alma Mater, Year Graduated: Missouri Southern State University, 2005 

College Degree: BS in Education Art Emphasis (K-12 Certification) 

Career: Hired by McDonald County Schools upon graduation from MSSU and has never worked at another school district. Taught at Rocky Comfort Elementary, Anderson Middle School and McDonald County High School.