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Meet the Class of 2005

Photo of James Arnold

James O. Arnold, Ph.D., Raytown High School, Class of 1954

Dr. James Arnold has spent more than forty years serving his country and the entire world as a scientist, engineer, manager and leader with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

After graduating from Raytown High School, Arnold earned degrees the Kansas City Missouri Junior College the University of Kansas, Stanford University and York University in Toronto, Canada.

Dr. Arnold has won several awards and honors throughout his career, including NASA’s Medal for Outstanding Leadership in 1986 and Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement in 1997. He was also given NASA’s highest honor for private citizen, the NASA Public Service Medal, in recognition of his service as an investigator following the tragic loss of the Shuttle Columbia in February 1, 2005.

He currently works with the University of California-Santa Cruz in the area of nano/bio technology research and development. His vision is to provide leadership in showing how these emerging technologies can drastically change the way that humans and robots explore our universe.

Dr. Arnold’s commitment to the education of both himself and others makes him a fitting member of the Raytown Schools Alumni Hall of Fame.

Photo of Col. Mark Atkins

Col. J. Mark Atkins, Raytown High School, Class of 1978

US Army Colonel John “Mark” Atkins has been answering the call to freedom around the world since 1982. Twice, the Army has selected him for early promotion. Each new responsibility has led him to his current role as Commander of the Eastern Sector United States Military Entrance Processing Command where he oversees the induction of nearly 250,000 young men and women into the military each year.

His service has taken him around the world. Europe for the Cold War, Saudi Arabia for Desert Storm, Somalia, Haiti, Croatia for peacekeeping efforts and most recently Kuwait for Operations in Iraq.

Col. Atkins’ awards are lengthy. Among the highlights are two Army Bronze Star Medals, the Saudi Arabian National Guard 

Battle Medal, and three Meritorious Service Medals for exceptional service.
Col. Atkins’ educational background includes Raytown School District, Washington University for a BS in Economics, Central Michigan University with a MS in Administration and Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania with a Masters of Science in Strategic Planning.

The Raytown Schools Alumni Hall of Fame is honored to have Col. Atkins among its ranks.

Photo of J.T. Battenberg, III

J.T. Battenberg, III, Raytown High School, Class of 1961

J.T. Battenberg, III has found success as a leader in the both automotive industry and his community. He has invested more than four decades of his life building and expanding the operations of the General Motors Corporation and the Delphi Corporation.

Battenberg worked his way up the corporate ladder serving as vice president and general manager of different divisions within the company, eventually becoming president of the General Motors Automotive Components Group Worldwide in 1994.

He retired as the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the Delphi Corporation, three-time recipient of Fortune Magazine’s Most Admired Companies Award. 
He has been honored by the business community, receiving awards like the Distinguished Service Citation from the Automotive Hall of Fame.

Battenberg’s commitment to success extends past the corporate board room and into the community. He has lent his time and leadership to the Detroit Area Council of Boy Scouts, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), and Cornerstone, which provides educational opportunities for Detroit’s inner-city youth.

Battenberg’s contributions to the automotive industry and his community make him a welcome member of the Raytown Schools Alumni Hall of Fame.

Photo of Roberta Austin Coker

Roberta Austin Coker, Raytown High School, Class of 1959

Roberta Austin Coker is an icon within the community of Independence, Mo. Known to many as “Poo” Coker, she spent 22 years as the director of community relations for the Independence School District.

Coker used her talents and personality to support the students of the district by building community partnerships and helping to pass ten bond and tax levy issues. She was chosen as Professional of the Year by the Missouri School Public Relations Association and received the Missouri Eddy Award from Gov. Bob Holden.

Her contributions to the community are as countless as the number of board and leadership positions that she has accepted. If there is an organization that is making a difference in Independence, you can be sure that she is involved or has contributed to their efforts. Coker was the first recipient of the City of Independence Citizen of the Year Award from the Truman Heartland Foundation and was the second woman to chair the Independence Chamber of Commerce’s
Board of Directors.

Coker’s work has touched countless lives and she has a well-deserved place in the Raytown Schools Alumni Hall of Fame. Roberta was 81 years old when she died on January 3, 2022.

Photo of Sherilyn Gordon, M.D.

Sherilyn Gordon, M.D., Raytown High School, Class of 1985

Sherilyn A. Gordon, M.D. has dedicated her career to saving lives since she graduated from Raytown High School in 1985. After her 13 years in the Raytown public schools, she went on to study microbiology at Howard University. She progressed to Washington University School of Medicine to pursue her Doctorate in Medicine. Dr. Gordon has concentrated her medical work in the area of Liver and Pancreas Transplants with a specific area of research in the regulation and reversal of drug resistance for hepatocellular carcinoma.

Doubling as a transplant surgeon and director of a $1.5 million dollar research grant at UCLA, Dr. Gordon has also found time to publish works in the Medical Association Journal and co-author medical textbook chapters. She is also in high demand for presentations at national and international conferences.

While at Raytown High School, Dr. Gordon was awarded the prestigious Bausch and Lomb Honorary Science Award. “She has been moving forward and upward every since,” said a former counselor at Dr. Gordon’s alma mater high school.

Listed as one of her greatest personal accomplishments is serving as a mentor for young students who are unsure they have the ability to achieve lofty goals.

The Raytown Alumni Hall of Fame proudly welcomes Dr. Sherilyn Gordon.

Photo of Meredith Merrell Johnson

Meredith Merrell Johnson, Raytown South High School, Class of 1970

Meredith Merrell Johnson is an advocate for children, art and reading that has made a name for herself as a children’ s book illustrator and an advertising art director for Mattel, Inc.

“My goals for children are to encourage creative thinking, to have a desire to write and draw, and to develop a love of books,” says Johnson.

Her impressive list of books includes “What Can You Do With a Pocket”, “My Cowboy Boots”, and “Secret Notebook”. Even more recognizable are the Saturday morning Barbie commercials that she has created for Mattel. Her work on a Mattel Toy advertising campaign earned her an award from the Top Industry Review .

Her peers at Raytown South High School recognized her talents back in 1970. Her senior year at Raytown South High school, Meredith Merrell (maiden name) was noted “Best High School Artist.”

Upon completion of her high school career at Raytown South, Johnson graduated with honors from Art Center College of Design.

On behalf of all the young children who are learning to read through her illustrations, Raytown welcomes Johnson to the Alumni Hall of Fame.

Photo of James Luther Robinson, Sr.

James Luther Robinson, Raytown High School, Class of 1910

James Luther Robinson, Sr. ( aka “Lute”) is the Raytown Schools Alumni Hall of Fame’s earliest graduate, finishing in 1910. He later graduated from William Jewell College in 1915.

Already an entrepreneur, Lute earned his way through school by selling pots and pans. Upon arriving back to Raytown after the war, he went to work for the Ford Motor company. He later established Robinson Raytown Ford Motor Company and started 30 years of successful business.

For 26 years, he was a School Board member of the Consolidated School District #2, he served as president for 20 of those years. During his tenure, the Robinson Elementary School (for which he donated the land) was named after him. He also served three terms as a Missouri State Representative.

His granddaughter said “My grandfather relished the opportunities he had to make a difference for the community he loved, to do good work for the good of all and to lift others up.”

Robinson, his wife Anna, all three of their children and all ten of their grandchildren attended Raytown schools. Robinson was 80 years old when he died on May 22, in 1974.

Photo ofOrtrie Smith

Hon. Ortrie Smith, Raytown High School, Class of 1964

United States District Judge Ortrie Smith, is a man who is dedicated to his family, community and law career. In addition to practicing law in Nevada, Missouri for 24 years followed by 10 years as a United States District Judge, Judge Smith found time to be the President of the Missouri Bar Association, President of the Nevada Rotary Club, President of Vernon County Chapter of the American Red Cross and President of the Nevada School Board.

He earned his law degree from University of Missouri after gradating from Raytown High School. While at Raytown he received the Young Leadership Award, was co-captain of the 1963 football team and met classmate and future wife, Christine Wendell.

Judge Smith’s awards are too lengthy to list in their entirety. However, top of the list includes Citizen of the Year from Nevada Rotary Club, Award of Appreciation from Missouri Judicial Conference and Alumni Achievement Award from the University of Missouri- Kansas City.

Judge Smith considers his greatest legacy being his four daughters and three grandchildren. He is a welcome member of the Raytown Schools Alumni Hall of Fame.

Photo of Donald Mack Spencer

Donald Mack Spencer, M.D., Raytown High School, Class of 1950

Donald Mack Spencer, M.D. was more than just a cheering fan at Raytown High School and Raytown South High School football games. He was the team doctor and had been since 1966.

After graduating from Raytown High School, he went on to William Jewell College, then to Kansas State for his master’s degree. In 1960, he completed his medical degree from the University of Kansas School of Medicine.

He began his orthopedic practice in1963 and was a charter member and medical director for the Llizarov Research Program. Among his many awards, he earned the Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Orthopedics award from his alma mater.

Athletics were important to Dr. Spencer. He was the Medical Advisor and chairman for the NAIA, and the team physician for the World University Games in Moscow.

Dr. Spencer passed away on September 7,1994. His wife said that her husband’s success in life was largely accredited to the fact that he had good mentors at every stage of his educational career.

In 1983, he was named to the NAIA Hall of Fame and now, in 2005, he will be inducted into the Raytown Alumni Hall of Fame.

Photo of Paula Varsalona

Paula Varsalona, Raytown High School, Class of 1967

Paula Varsalona has been named one of the country’s top ten bridal designers by New York Magazine. She credits the strong values and ethics she developed in her Raytown High School years as a spring board for her success.

For the past 30 years, Paula has dressed more than 50,000 brides for their weddings and generated over $100 million in retail sales. Among her most famous dressed are Joy Philbin, wife of Regis Philbin, Cookie Johnson, wife of Magic Johnson, and Miss Teen USA 2005.

Paula is also no stranger to movies and television. Her bridal line has been featured in such shows as “The Today Show”, “Entertainment Tonight”, “Good Morning America”, and, most recently, “The Apprentice.” Her dresses are regularly showcased through the likes of, The Wedding Channel, and Bridal Magazine.

The bridal industry has continuously recognized Paula’s creativity and business accomplishments; including honoring her with the first ever Couture Bridal Award from Modern Bride Magazine.

Paula lists her family as one of her greatest personal accomplishments. The Raytown Schools Alumni Hall of Fame proudly welcomes Paula Varsalona.

Photo of Maryfrances Cusumano Wagner

Maryfrances Cusumano Wagner, Raytown High School, Class of 1965

Maryfrances Cusumano Wagneris known by many as their favorite English teacher at Raytown High School. Even more know her as an accomplished poet. Wagner has been teaching students at her alma mater for 35 years, almost as long as she has been writing her poetry.

Wagner says she practices what she teaches. She says, “I think it’s important for students to take their learning beyond the classroom and find ways to use their skills and share them with others.”

Wagner has published five books, including a tribute to her father
“ Salvatore’s Daughter”, and has been published in numerous publications. Her awards are lengthy, among them are the Thorpe Menn Book Award, the Stanley Hanks Poetry Contest and the Writers Place Award.

Moreover, Wagner was given an Excellence in Teaching Award, was Raytown High School’s Teacher of the Year, and was in the top five semifinalists for the Missouri Teacher of the Year. Wagner is a graduate of UMKC, where she earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

The Alumni Hall of Fame welcomes the graduate who came back to further the Raytown School District’s mission.

Photo of Craig Walker

Craig Walker, Raytown High School, Class of 1962

Craig Walker, 1962 Raytown graduate, credited his teachers at Blue Ridge Elementary School and his love for school field trips for his highest career achievement. Craig Walker was the creator of the children’s book series “The Magic School Bus.” Its success has led to the development of a TV series and Microsoft Learning Materials.

Craig lived in New York City and worked as the vice president and editorial director for Scholastic, Inc. Although “The Magic School Bus” was his most well-known accomplishment, Craig also oversawthe creation of “The Baby-Sitters Club”, “Goosebumps”, “Animorphs” and “The Teacher from the Black Lagoon”, just to name a few.

Positioned now as one of the leaders in paperback publishing for children, he pulled creativity from his school day memories. He recalled a particular elementary classroom filled with terrariums, old birds’ nest and other “interesting stuff.” He said“The Magic School Bus” was born from that memory.

After graduating from Raytown, Craig received his BA from the University of Missouri. He then achieved his master’s via a US government fellowship.

In gratitude to those field trips, the Raytown Alumni Hall of Fame honors Craig Walker.