Dr. Ed Williamson, an associate professor at Drury University in Springfield, has taught at the school since 1999. This year, for the first time, he is taking a sabbatical leave to be a volunteer at the George Washington Carver National Monument.
When he applied for the sabbatical, his objective was to study Carver's early education at home on the farm. However, Williamson soon discovered there was little to study about his education before Carver attended school. Once he started looking into Carver's education in Neosho, he found a big surprise.
"I had always heard that Stephen Frost, the school teacher in the colored school in Neosho, was not a good teacher. But I have had a complete change of heart and have re-evaluated my thinking about Stephen Frost. Now much of my attention is on him."
Williamson found out that Stephen Frost had barely learned to read when he came to teach in Neosho. But, over time, he became a very good teacher.
"He taught school in Neosho for many years, became a principal, was a minister and business man," Williams said. "So he was smart."
But even more exciting to Williams was the connection he found of Stephen Frost and Drury University.
Shortly after young George Carver left Neosho, Frost returned to Springfield and was the minister of the Washington Street Baptist Church. The congregation had just built a new brick church on Washington Street in Springfield, which made Frost the first minister of pastor in the new church.
Frost served as minister for two years before returning to Neosho to have a distinguished career.
Years later, when the church needed more room, Drury took over the church building and, in turn, gave the congregation a plot of land for a new building. After the bargain was made, Drury took down the old church, brick by brick, and moved it to the school campus where it now serves as the school's Diversity Center.
At the monument this spring, Williamson is doing all the research he can on Carver and Frost and will publish his findings. In addition to his research, Williamson is meeting with people who visit the monument and is also going to other Carver and Frost-related sites. He has visited the little 1872 Colored School in Neosho and was very inspired by it. He also plans to visit the grave of Jim Carver (G.W.'s brother) near Seneca, and the cemetery where Stephen Frost is said to be buried.
Williamson teaches in the Drury School of Education and Child Development where he helps train new teachers. Because of that, he is looking at the educational materials at Carver to be sure that they meet Common Core curriculum.
"I'm having a great time and learning a lot," he said. "This has been a wonderful adventure."
Helping the Carver National Monument makes Dr. Williamson this week's good neighbor.