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2005 - Lifetime Achievement - Mary Beth Gilliland

Good teachers – and we’re talking about the really good ones – clearly are motivated by something far more than the meager salaries they receive. The outstanding ones are motivated by the most powerful force on earth… Love.

Mary Beth Gilliland’s 30-plus years as an art teacher in Guthrie are noteworthy not only for the love she had for her students and her subject, but also for her love of the environment. Her weaving of those two passions has created an incalculable sense of Oklahoma pride and good stewardship of the earth for thousands of young people and has helped them achieve far more than they ever dreamed was possible.

One of Mary Beth’s many impressive legacies as a teacher was the creation of a statewide art contest called “The Artistic Anatomy of Trees in Oklahoma.” Under her gentleguidance, students were challenged to observe, study and draw trees, examining both their form and their function. The contest created an interest in and an understanding of the value and beauty of trees.

Four years ago, after being nominated by her artist peers, she received the Arts and Education award in the Governor’s Arts Award competition. But even before then, she had been named in 1998 by theU.S. Environmental Protection Agency as its Outstanding Educator. This award recognized her cooperation with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture to create The Habitat Tree, a full-sized model of a burr oak tree that traveled across North America teaching how trees are vital to a healthy environment.

Her dedication in integrating art education with environmental issues also caught the attention of the Oklahoma Association of Environmental Education. In 1997, it brought in the famed Dr. Jane Goodall to present Mary Beth with its Outstanding Classroom Teacher award.

She also has demonstrated she is a tireless volunteer. Not only have her creative art projects challenged and informed students, she was asked to testify before the U.S. Congress about the importance of arts education in teaching students to appreciate the environment.

She encouraged her students to turn a vision for an outdoor classroom at what had been Guthrie High School’s dumpsite into a reality. She secured a grant to make it an environmental laboratory with wetlands, habitat feeders and walking trails. Her art students designed the signs and took an active role in the overall design of the outdoor classroom.

Despite all these accomplishments, perhaps her greatest source of pride is the fact that many of her art students have been accepted into prestigious art schools. Their portfolios brim with outstanding original art inspired by nature… and by Mary Beth.

The Oklahoma Urban & Community Forestry Council credits her teachings as a true investment in not only the state’s economic future, but also its culture, pride and heritage. The council says, “Shehasmade a lifetime impact far beyond her own.”

Although she recently retired from teaching, the effect of investing her heart, mind and body into expanding the horizons of her students will live on for a long, long time to come. Keep Oklahoma Beautiful is proud to welcome Mary Beth Gilliland as the sixth recipient of its Lifetime Achievement Award. Her widely embracing love of kids, of teaching and of the environment has been a full career of good… No, make that “great” … news for Oklahoma!