2015 Reasons to Believe Alumni Honor Roll

Reasons to Believe logo

Role models who give us Reasons to Believe in the power of education

Dr. Oneita F. Taylor

Dr. Oneita F. TaylorSumner High School, 1964

Other Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools Attended: Douglass Elementary, Northeast Junior High.

Dr. Oneita Taylor has pioneered innovative therapies for breast cancer patients, and helped develop a premiere treatment strategy for gynecological cancers. Her teaching and expert opinion have helped to ensure a high standard of care for patients all over the country.

Taylor has had a 30-year career as a radiation oncologist. She owned and managed her own practice in the Tulsa area for nearly 20 years. She has spent the latter part of her career with the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Her colleagues consider her a “trailblazer and outstanding leader” in the medical profession. She loves interacting with her patients. She especially enjoys it when they return to visit her after their treatment is over.

Science and math were Taylor’s favorite subjects when she was growing up. She was inspired by her math teacher, Mr. Turpin, and physics club sponsor, Mr. Smith, at Sumner. She remembers participating in the science fair, creating a project about lasers, not realizing it was a precursor for her future work. She graduated valedictorian of her class.

A neighbor, Dr. Thompson, sparked Taylor’s interest in becoming a doctor. She was a patient of his and she was always impressed by his professional demeanor. He was a role model for her. Her parents also gave her reasons to believe in herself.

“My parents always encouraged me to believe in myself and to pursue my passions and dreams,” she recalled.

Taylor set her sights on attending one of the Seven Sisters Colleges after high school so she enrolled at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Smith in 1968 and went on to earn her M.D. from the University of Kansas. She completed a residency and fellowship in radiation oncology at the University of Kansas Medical Center, and she is board certified in radiation oncology.

She has authored several articles in medical journals and participated in a number of medical conferences. In 1994, she received the Outstanding Achievement in Medicine Award from the Consortium of Female Doctors.

Taylor has also extended her outreach to the community through her involvement in the Smith College Alumnae Fund Committee.

Her advice for today’s students is “study hard and apply yourself.”


2015 Reasons to Believe Alumni Honor Roll

Reasons to Believe logo

Role models who give us Reasons to Believe in the power of education

Darrell Stuckey

Stuckey0241Washington High School, 2005

Other Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools Attended: Stony Point North Elementary, Arrowhead Middle.

Darrell Stuckey believes that success is a result of small habits preparing us for a moment of opportunity. He has lived his life preparing himself for the next opportunity, and seizing it.

Stuckey is a safety for the NFL’s San Diego Chargers. Now in his sixth season, he is one of the team’s fastest players and an all-around talent on special teams. In the 2014 season, he was voted special teams captain for the third year in a row, and he played in his first Pro Bowl.

Stuckey was a multi-talented athlete when he was growing up. He played baseball, basketball, football and ran track. His first college visit was to the University of Kansas. When he was a student at Arrowhead Middle School, as a reward, one of his teachers took the top students in her class to KU. They attended “Late Night with Roy Williams,” the official opening event for the basketball season. It was a life-changing experience for him. He had an opportunity to play professional baseball out of high school, but when KU offered him a full football scholarship, he knew that was where he was supposed to be.

Another experience that made a long-term impact on Stuckey’s life was attending a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp one summer during high school. His English teacher helped him secure a scholarship. He remains active in the organization today.

Off the field, Stuckey is dedicated to his family and his community. He regularly gives motivational speeches and has hosted a number of free football camps for youth in San Diego and Kansas City, Kansas.

He said he never counted on being drafted by the NFL when he was playing college ball. In fact, he was working hard to prepare himself for a future in the business world. He double majored in communications studies and African American studies, and built up an impressive resume that included making the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll and serving as a student senator.

“My B plan all along was to play football, but my A plan was to graduate, be a leader on the field, and be a good citizen and man,” he said. Obviously, he has done both and done them well.


2015 Reasons to Believe Alumni Honor Roll

Reasons to Believe logo

Role models who give us Reasons to Believe in the power of education

Sarah Gorelick Ratley

Sarah Gorelick RatleyWyandotte High School, 1951

Other Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools Attended: Mark Twain Elementary.

Sarah Ratley is an aviation pioneer and American heroine. Her courage, determination and intellect helped pave the way for women in space.

In 1961, Ratley was one of 13 women chosen for NASA’s first Woman in Space Program. She was just 26 years old. Titled Mercury 13, the program grew out of two researchers’ interest in women’s capabilities for spaceflight based on their small size and light weight. These women were put through intensive fitness and endurance tests, and all passed. However, one day before the women were to report for their next phase of examinations, the program was scrapped due to the prejudices of the times.

Ratley’s interest in aviation started in high school. She wanted to be in the Pep Club, but in those days, you had to be voted in during your first hour class. When she didn’t make it, she accepted a friend’s invitation to attend a Civil Air Patrol Meeting at the junior college. Soon she was taking flying lessons. By age 17 she had her pilot’s license and was taking her friends for rides.

She grew up in an era where women were expected to be teachers or homemakers. She said she was fortunate because her father believed that girls could do anything that boys could do, and he supported her wholeheartedly. In fact, he was one of her first airplane passengers.

“He told me, ‘Keep your hands on the wheel and watch the sky!’” she recalled.

After high school, Ratley attended the University of Denver majoring in math and minoring in physics and chemistry. She was the only woman in many of her STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes.

She used an inheritance to buy her first plane, a Cessna 120, which she flew all over the U.S. and in transcontinental air races for women. She has owned a total of five airplanes during her lifetime.

Today, Ratley works as an accountant, but she still holds a pilot’s license and continues to fly.

She is proud that her work through the Mercury 13 program paved the way for other women to become astronauts. She believes in the words of renowned aviator Amelia Earhart, “Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail their failure must be but a challenge to others.”


2015 Reasons to Believe Alumni Honor Roll

Reasons to Believe logo

Role models who give us Reasons to Believe in the power of education

Mrs. Lucy Saunders

Mrs. Lucy Saunders Sumner High School, 1939

Other Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools Attended: Douglass Elementary, Stowe Elementary, Northeast Junior High.

Some say she was a natural-born educator. But Lucy Saunders didn’t set her sights on being a teacher; it happened by necessity.

The mother of 12, Saunders was happy raising her kids and being a wife and homemaker. But at the age of five, her son, Howard, was having trouble with his speech. When he was taken to the doctor for testing, he was deemed “uneducable.” It was a time period when there were no formal education programs for special needs children in Wyandotte County. So Saunders set out on a mission to get her son the help he needed, and began tutoring him at home.

In the process of educating herself about special needs children, Saunders became a great resource and developed a passion for helping other children with special needs. During the mid 1970s she was one of seven people appointed to serve on the first Mental Retardation Governing Board in Wyandotte County. This Board established a sheltered workshop, transportation for clients and built a group home.

In 1982, at the “young” age of 61, Saunders earned her bachelor’s degree in general studies from the University of Kansas. She worked as a special education substitute teacher in the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools for 40 years, until she was 90. Many who worked with her talked about her natural skills as an educator. She was well respected because she was a disciplinarian, but also was kind and compassionate.

Saunders has many fond memories of her years growing up in the KCK Public Schools. In fact, she said she would cry when school let out for the summer. It was a different world from what we live in today; schools and communities were segregated. Sumner was an all-Black high school.

Saunders became a part of history when she was among the first group of African-Americans to work at the North American Bomber Plant in Fairfax in the 1940s. She was hired as an assembly aircraft worker.

A devout Christian, she has been a member of New Seasons Christian Church for more than 70 years.

She wants the public to know that special needs children should be judged on what they CAN do, instead of what they cannot.


2015 Reasons to Believe Alumni Honor Roll

Reasons to Believe logo

Role models who give us Reasons to Believe in the power of education

Julia M. Peña

Julia M. PenaJ.C. Harmon High School, 1982

Other Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools Attended: Emerson Elementary, Argentine Junior High.

Julia Peña thought she drew the short straw during nursing school. When students were signing up for rotations at the hospital, she got stuck with the burn center. She was so scared and unhappy that she went home and cried.

But one day into the work, she realized how much she liked the people and the work. Now 28 years later, she is still there.

Peña is a staff nurse in the outpatient burn/wound clinic at the University of Kansas Medical Center. The hardest part about her job is that while taking care of her patients she often has to inflict pain on them. The best part is helping to heal them. She loves seeing them smile.

“I think that I give people hope,” she said. “If I can make a difference in their lives, even though it’s in small tokens, it’s something you can’t put a price on.”

Her high school psychology teacher Bruce Eighmey played a pivotal role in her education. He saw leadership potential in her and placed her on committees to lead school clubs and to plan school functions such as the key club and junior/senior prom. She has continued to keep in touch with him over the years.

“He had these great words of wisdom and would always say things that made you think,” Peña recalled.

When she was in college studying nursing, a teacher told her she was not using all of her talents and that she should focus on a career in engineering. So she switched, but after one semester she knew it was not her field.

Her advice for today’s students is to listen to your inner self and choose a career that pleases you.

Peña coordinates a number of programs to help burn victims in the area. She volunteers for an annual fun walk and spring fling for burn survivors. She teaches fire safety and helps place smoke detectors in family dwellings. For the past 14 years, she has helped coordinate the Burn Survivor Support Group at KU.

She said her greatest accomplishment in life is making her parents proud through her higher education, her career and her family.