During his first class on his first day at Fort Smith Junior College, Randy Wewers, ’58, listened in astonishment. The professor, Lucille Speakman, instructed the students to take out a piece of paper for a quiz. She then asked the students to name all of then-President Dwight Eisenhower’s cabinet.
“Frankly, I knew none,” Wewers said.
A few days later Speakman handed back the quizzes and Wewers saw the “F” emblazoned on the blank page. She glanced around at the students in the class before fixing her eyes on Wewers and challenging him.
“Surely, Mr. Wewers you have heard of John Foster Dulles?” Speakman said.
Wewers acknowledged that he had heard of the U.S. Secretary of State. He silently made a vow that she would not catch him unprepared again. Instead of just reading the sports section in the Fort Smith Times-Record, he also began perusing the front page and news section. At mid-term, Speakman again asked the students to take out a sheet of paper and to list the cabinet members. Wewers correctly named 12 out of 15.
“She made the initial change in my preparing for a college career,” he said.
Speakman, who died in 1984, remains a strong memory for many alumni. The 1963 Numa yearbook dedicated to her, stated, “her name, Fort Smith Junior College and education have become synonymous.”
Speakman earned a bachelor’s degree from Southeastern State College and her master’s from Oklahoma State University. In 1969, She was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the Geneva Theological College in Massachusetts. She began teaching at Fort Smith Junior College in 1944 and retired from Westark Community College in 1976. She served as dean of women for many years and in a page devoted to her in the 1965 Numa, students wrote of her, “Adaptable, versatile and faithful to her personal philosophy and the college, she commands the respect of all who knew her. A welcome air pervades Miss Speakman’s office because of her interest and friendly manner, and girls feel free to go to her for assistance, understanding and encouragement any time during the day.”
In addition to shepherding young lives, Speakman taught courses in western civilization, political science, geography and history.
“She gave up the idea of a doctorate and used what funds and time she had to broaden her perspective on subjects she taught,” Wewers said.
Wewers remembers Speakman’s lecture on the Pyramids of Egypt. Her vivid lectures characterized her teaching.
“Man, you were climbing those things right with her,” he said. “She had been to the locations or sites of many of her lectures and you could tell she felt, not just knew, the subject at hand and its place in history.”
For her impact on him and others, Wewers started the Lucille Speakman Legacy Endowment. Speakman’s travel to better teach her classes prompted the endowment’s focus. Contributions may be made to the endowment to honor other faculty or staff members who also inspired students. The endowment will fund grants to current UAFS faculty for self-guided travel, international travel, class development and research. The result will be professors physically tied to their lectures and subjects passing along their passion to students.
By pouring herself into her travels and her students, she awoke many to becoming lifelong learners.
“She seemed to have a knack of pulling out what was best in you and make you want to learn, not just collect another three hours of credit,” Wewers said.