Navajo Nation presents Prescott resident with top award
Dr. Ray Ver Velde spent his career educating students from Tucson and the Arizona/Mexico border to northern Arizona and the Navajo Nation.
On Sept. 29, the Navajo Nation honored Ver Velde with the Chief Manuelito Award for his years of support of and contributions to higher education among Navajo students and those on the reservation.
The Chief Manuelito Award is the highest award the Navajo Nation gives to a non-native. Chief Manuelito was interested in Anglo-American education because he saw it as the key to success.
Ver Velde never thought about what drew him to improving rural educational opportunities.
"I guess what happened is that when I was working on my doctorate at the University of Arizona, I was assigned to work in the North Central Association office and to teach classes in preparation to be a professor," he said. "At that time, the NCA had no contact with rural schools. No one wanted to go out, so I started going, and word got around."
Ver Velde said working on the Navajo Reservation was a "great experience. The people were very nice to me."
He said receiving the Chief Manuelito Award was a great honor and he thoroughly enjoyed working to improve educational opportunities in rural area, especially on the reservation.
It is that principle - improvement through education - which guided Ver Velde throughout his teaching career.
He and his wife Peggy retired to Prescott 10 years ago. Both were professors in the College of Education at Northern Arizona University where Ver Velde served as associate dean.
Throughout his career, Ver Velde has shown an interest in not only rural school children, but also in providing additional education to the teachers in rural areas.
Ver Velde's teaching experience includes elementary education, middle school and high school, special education and administrative experience as a principal of a large elementary school district in Tucson and head teacher of the Tehran American School.
From 1974 to 1979, he served as the assistant professor and associate director of NCA, UofA and in Boulder, Colo. From 1979 to 1981, Ver Velde was an associate professor for curriculum and instruction, and the associate director of NCA at the University of Northern Colorado.
In 1981, Ver Velde moved to Flagstaff, where he served as professor of curriculum and instruction and educational administration at NAU. In 1985, became the associate dean at NAU's College of Education.
He retired in 2001.
Ver Velde and Peggy both worked extensively in school-based teacher education programs. The couple brought extended programs and workshops to teachers at their schools.
Peggy Ver Velde, a language professor in the NAU College of Education, said, "I always thought we shouldn't be lecturing on campus. We should be going into schools."
From 1997 through 2001, still connected to NAU, Ver Velde co-directed a teacher education program on the Arizona-Mexico border. This program provided its graduates with degrees and certification in elementary education, special education and multicultural/bilingual education.
While at NAU, Ver Velde offered coursework to teachers on the Navajo Reservation.
"While working on how to make their schools better, the teachers also would get course credit. For teachers working on a master's degree, this fit right into their program," he said. "Teachers were encouraged to look at the strengths and the needs of their schools. We wanted them to decide how to make a good school better."