In Memoriam:

Molly Clemons

It is with great sadness that we convey the loss of a dear member of the community at Music/Arts Institute.

Molly Clemons, Co-Director of MAI and Director of the George Caleb Bingham Academy of the Arts, passed away suddenly late September 29, 2022.

There is no adequate way to convey the extent of loss being experienced by MAI, the Independence School District, and the City of Independence. Mike Genet of the Independence Examiner wrote a generous and fond tribute to Molly and her impact upon us all in the following article:

Friends remember Molly Clemons for life of teaching and serving

By Mike Genet

Years later, one probably could consider it a Clemons co-award.

In 1977, Truman High School journalism teacher Ron Clemons received the educator of the year award from the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund. The runner-up, he said, was Molly Wiseman, who at the time taught at DeKalb High School in northern Illinois, and in April 1982 became Molly Clemons

Both also won teacher of the year awards from the Journalism Educators Association - Molly in 1980 and Ron three years later - and they received lifetime achievement awards from the organizations in 2001.

"We would joke about that," Ron said of the first award. "At the time, we were just professional friends. Molly was the youngest national president of the JEA, and I succeeded her."

Family and friends remember Molly Clemons - a retired longtime administrator with the Independence School District who, with her husband Ron, served as director of two fine arts institutions in the city - for her dedication to any venture, and the class she displayed along the way.

Molly died unexpectedly at the age of 75. According to her family, Molly went to the hospital last Wednesday because of a bout with pneumonia, and while appearing to recover from that, suffered cardiac arrest in the middle of the night and died Thursday. Ron said she had recently been cleared from treatments after battling gallbladder cancer for 11 months.

"For things to come down the way they did doesn't seem quite right," Dick Wilson, the former area radio personality who serves as board president for Music/Arts Institute, said of Molly's sudden death. "She will be impossible to replace. She was a special person who really had a care for the kids and teaching."

"Selfless. The way she and Ron have spent their entire last number of years volunteering for Music Arts is nothing short of amazing, " said longtime friend Ron Finke. "They were devoted to each other, and between the two of them I can't think of a more high-class couple. They treated kids like real people and expected them to try their best."

Ron and Molly Clemons have served since 2015 as co-directors of Music/Arts Institute - Millicent Daugherty Community School of the Arts, taking over for the namesake founder of the non-profit organization that has aided countless students over the past decades and operating in a century-old former schoolhouse building.

In 1997, Ron had started the George Caleb Bingham Academy, a month-long summer arts camp for high school students sponsored by the ISD Foundation, and Molly eventually succeeded him as director. Even though she'd battled gallbladder cancer for about a year before her death, Molly remained active as director for the Academy's 25th anniversary this summer.

"They acted like it was full-time job as CEOs," niece Jessica Clark Roe said of their MAI work. "I think they just took such pride in seeing kids grow up in their careers. They loved going to students' weddings, those are their children."

Roe said her aunt's work in professional journalism and then teaching journalism inspired her later work of the same, and it was Ron and Molly's shared passion of teaching that brought them together. They were officers with the JEA, and for years both taught at a summer journalism camp in New Jersey.

Said Finke, who as class president at Truman had Ron Clemons as class adviser and would later visit his former teacher, "He would mention Molly, but he didn't think she'd ever be interested in him."

The couple celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on April 27. In a Facebook post that day, Molly recalled that their Reno, Nevada wedding came after his journalism banquet that served as the "rehearsal dinner."

"After the wedding we flew to San Francisco, where our honeymoon was spent with 2,000 high school students! Ron was national president of the Journalism Education Association," she wrote.

"We did take a later honeymoon to Niagara Falls," Ron added.

Retire minister Mark McGuire, who was a journalism student of Ron's when Ron's first wife died in a car crash on Christmas Day 1969, like Finke recalled Ron's budding interest in Molly when they met in journalism circles, and then later how she was always elegant in public but "pure class, very approachable and down to earth."

"She had great taste," he said. "She would turn heads in a room, but she wasn't pretentious at all."

After moving to Independence in 1982, Molly taught for a year in Blue Springs before she served as assistant principal at Palmer Junior High and then Truman High School, and then an administrator in the ISD central office. In addition to her work with MAI and the Bingham Academy, Molly also was a past president of the Junior Service League and served on the Truman Award Commission. In 2020 she was named The Examiner's "Woman of the Year" for Eastern Jackson County.

"Everything she did," McGuire said, "she did well."