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Coltharp honored with Distinguished Alumni Award

The experience Dr. Glenn Coltharp had as a student in Pittsburg schools inspired him to choose a career in education. At this year’s Pittsburg High School graduation ceremony, he was honored for that career — one that spanned more than 40 years and impacted the lives of thousands of students and hundreds of teachers — with the Distinguished Alumni Award.

Since 1998, this annual award has been given by the USD 250 Foundation to Pittsburg High School graduates who have distinguished themselves through their work, personal accomplishments, or in the lives of others. 

“These individuals serve to inspire our students to greater achievement,” said Foundation Vice President Jon Bartlow, who directs the award committee.

It was meaningful, Coltharp said, that the award was announced on Hutchinson Field, where he once marched with a sousaphone as part of the Pittsburg High School Marching Band and cheered for the Dragons from the stadium seats.

“This really is the perfect capstone to my career,” he said.

Coltharp (Class of 1977) was a self-proclaimed “band geek” at Pittsburg High School who “was never a top-notch student.”

“I participated in a lot of activities, but I wasn’t valedictorian or anything like that,” he said.

He went on to teach, develop, and lead programs from preschool through graduate school. Most recently, he served as president of Crowder College in Neosho, Missouri. He also has served as a school superintendent, principal, and classroom teacher in several districts through the region, as well as in administrative roles in higher education including as dean and department chair.

His awards are numerous: for his service and impact, he has been recognized with resolutions in the Missouri State House of Representatives, the Missouri State Senate, and the Joplin (Missouri) City Council, awards from the Southwest Center for Educational Excellence, and an honorary doctorate from Missouri State University in Springfield.

Life for Coltharp has always been intertwined with being in a school environment; his dad, Forrest Coltharp, was a professor in the Math Department at Pittsburg State University. He and his brothers attended school in Horace Mann, a laboratory school at PSU, through sixth grade when it closed.

He then attended Lakeside Jr. High and Pittsburg High School, which at that time was in the building now occupied by Pittsburg Community Middle School.

“I was blessed to go through with the Class of 1977,” he said. “We had an amazing bunch — we were there for each other. We weren’t the highest academic achieving, it wasn’t a class known for athletics, but we were involved and supported each other.”

Pittsburg has had some of the very finest educators and administrators who put students first, and it always felt like one big family, he noted. 

“People like Jerry Steele, Joe Hight, Don Porter, Burt VanLuyck, David Huffman, Bill King — they were great school leaders,” he said. “When I became an administrator, I would often ask myself what they would do.” 

“Jack Grisolano was my counselor, and in my mind, it was like I was his only student. He did whatever was needed to make sure each of us were successful,” he said.

“Dennis Watson — he was another one. A lot of time you see coaches who just interact with the athletes. But someone like me who never was an athlete was just as important to Dennis Watson as his starting quarterback. He took an interest in my education,” he said.

His first band teacher Bob Harder inspired Coltharp, too, with discipline and high expectations of the band. 

“We marched in the Orange Bowl parade, the Kentucky Derby parade, the halftime show for the Cardinals  — a pro football team still in St. Louis at the time,” he said.

Likewise, his second one, Bob Stahl, was a role model in how to interact with students, using both a sense of humor and hands-on demonstrations.

“Part of the reason I chose education was because of all those people,” he said.

Coltharp attended PSU to major in elementary education, graduating in (year). He also earned a Master of Science in Elementary School Administration and a Specialist in Education in School Administration, both from PSU, and earned a doctorate in School Administration from Kansas State University.

His first teaching jobs: fourth grade at George Nettels Elementary School, and kindergarten at Westside Elementary School.

“Looking back over my 40 year career, I think one of the biggest impacts I made in education was in kindergarten there at Westside,” he said. “There were so many kids from broken homes, and at that time I was one of the only men who taught kindergarten in the state. The impact with those students was more than readiness skills — it was being around a guy who was a positive male influence.”

He and his wife, Dr. Hazel Coltharp, a math educator, moved to the Kansas City area early in their career where Glenn worked in Olathe, Shawnee Mission, DeSoto, and at Johnson County Community College.

They returned to Pittsburg when they had their daughter to be closer to grandparents and a smaller community.

Hazel taught for 40 years in the Math Department at PSU, while that daughter, Jean, went on to teach math at Missouri Southern State University and their son Ben went on to teach math at Joplin High School; both children attended PSU.

“This is a great honor,” Coltharp said. “Pittsburg High School has produced a lot of outstanding people over the years — people who have made a great difference in society, in their communities. I’m very proud to be a Purple Dragon. I know this is stealing PSU’s slogan, but ‘Once a Purple Dragon, Always a Purple Dagon’.”

You may view the brief award presentation to Dr. Coltharp at the 13-minute mark in this video:


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