For a generation of readers of the Sedalia Democrat, Ron Jennings was the voice of Sedalia and Pettis County. Jennings had the capacity to chronicle the stories of so many residents through his columns in the pages of the Democrat.
It seems only fitting as March comes to a close during this time of uncertainty that the legacy of Jennings and his wife Pat is told. Both through their respective work were devoted to making the residents of their adopted home in Sedalia find a sense of celebration in the lives of others and their individual self-worth.
Jennings died in January 2012 following a valiant fight against brain cancer. He was 62.
His obituary noted, “Ron’s passion was people. He loved writing chronicles of the people of Pettis County’s accomplishments and struggles. Ron was happiest when he was surrounded by people, his family, his church family and his friends, He would strive to show respect for each individual he met, because he believed that every person is inherently entitled to such respect.”
It was something Jennings conveyed for 35 years as a writer for the Sedalia Democrat. Jennings began his career at the Democrat in 1972, following his graduation from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. It was there Jennings met the love of his life and future wife, Pat (Howery).
“Ron and I met in journalism school at MU,” Pat Jennings told the Democrat by email. “We sat beside each other in a History and Principles of Journalism class.
“Each day before class, he would ask to borrow a pen or pencil to take notes — I was pretty sure that this guy was not going to get anywhere in journalism if he couldn’t remember to carry a pen.”
Pat explained one day the construction noise was so loud outside their classroom, their instructor ended the class midway through his lecture. As she was walking out of the building, Ron caught up with her and asked if he could buy her a Coke. It was their first date. The two were married in 1973.
Sedalia soon became home to the couple who would raise three daughters, Katie, Megan and Mary, in the community.
Jennings’ obit stated, “Ron introduced his children to the story of ‘Charlotte’s Web.’ The book's author, E.B. White, also wrote ‘The Elements of Style,’ which Ron believed to be an excellent resource for good journalistic writing. At the end of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ White wrote that it cannot be said of many people that they were good friends and good writers. Ron was both.”
Jennings grew up in the small town of Stanberry, where, according to Pat, “He had a lot of love and respect for the small-town people there. There were teachers, grocers, bankers, farmers, coaches, church members, and a newspaper editor who Ron admired.
“Sedalia was a bit bigger, but the people and their stories were here,” Pat continued. “It was a perfect match for Ron.”
As for Pat, although she also had a degree in journalism, she was unable to find a job in Sedalia.
“I had always liked kids and had worked at camps,” Pat explained. “I worked for two years as an uncertified teacher at Melita Day Nursery. They generously paid me a full salary as I worked a half day at the school and spent half a day on the Central Missouri State University campus getting my elementary education certification.
“Obviously, Sedalia was treating me well,” she continued. “After getting my degree, I got a job teaching kindergarten in Smithton. I not only loved people in Sedalia, but I came to feel very at home in Smithton.”
Pat Jennings ended her professional career as a teacher and counselor at Sacred Heart.
She recalled fondly, “The people of Pettis County won both Ron and me over. We didn’t need to job climb, we had found the place with its schools, churches, and arts that suited our needs.”
Through Ron’s work as a journalist and Pat’s as a teacher and counselor, the couple impacted the lives of thousands.
Jennings was recognized for his lifetime of work in September 2011 when he was inducted into the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame.
His brother Steve read the following comments from Jennings who thanked “the several generations of Sedalians who have treated me with their stories. You have given me a wonderful life and the honor of a lifetime. I am appreciative and humbled.”
Another highlight of Ron’s career came in 2008 with the publication of his book, “Reflections and Ruminations of an Aging Rookie.” The book is a collection of Democrat columns during a part of his tenure at the paper.
As for the month of March, Pat commented she was uncertain as to why the month was so meaningful. Both Pat and Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), one of Ron’s favorite wordsmiths, were born in March. St. Patrick’s Day was also a favorite.
“He did regale in the celebration on St. Patrick’s Day,” Pat commented. “I don’t think he ever really checked to see if he was truly of Irish heritage, but he was definitely an adopted son who proudly staked his claim. It was probably the love of blarney, and the Irish humor and fun-loving spirit that attracted him.
“I think Ron’s legacy is that he was Sedalia’s storyteller,” she continued. “He told the stories of the peoples’ accomplishments, hobbies, work, and lives in his own gift of words that made us proud of ourselves and each other. Ron’s entire work career was spent at the Sedalia Democrat. I think it was a life well spent.”