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Farewell to a friend

Robin Chenoweth
February 11, 2021

Last week, a dear friend to children and a defender of lifelong education passed away. But we at the College of Education and Human Ecology will not forget Missy Weiler. Neither will the countless students she helped.

She grew up in Chicago in a family of means. In college, she met and then married Bob Weiler, who became one of the most successful central Ohio developers of all time. But Missy Weiler refused to let wealth define her. The couple used their resources to level the playing field for others. Education, they determined, was the perfect path to equity.

They enrolled their four children in public schools in Columbus, though they could have sent them to private institutions. The couple became active in the PTA and supported on a local level the effort to desegregate the system in 1977.

"It was a community," Missy said. "Even when they brought in forced busing, it still was a community. Just a good bunch of people who got together."

Though too humble to admit to it, Missy was the district’s longest-serving volunteer, working in Columbus schools for four decades, Bob Weiler said. In her later years, she helped children to read at Ohio Avenue Elementary School. “It’s in her DNA,” her husband said in 2013.

After Bob Weiler cofounded a college-access program called I Know I Can, the couple helped fund it. The program made higher education accessible to thousands of Columbus City Schools students by paying application fees, bankrolling scholarships and providing workshops to help students fill out applications and seek financial aid. The program last year served 30,000 students, awarding them $2.4 million in scholarships.

Missy Weiler formed an abiding friendship with James L. Moore III, Ohio State’s vice provost for diversity and inclusion and EHE Distinguished Professor of Urban Education. She kept all the handwritten notes Moore sent her, her family said, and displayed a photo of Moore in her home.

The Weilers embraced the professor's plan to put more Black male teachers into K-12 schools, thereby providing critical role models for kids who too rarely advance to higher education. Starting in 2013, they funded the college's Weiler Scholars Program, which provides full undergraduate scholarships for Black males committed to being educators. In 2018 they funded the James L. Moore Scholars Program, honoring their friend by paying for transfer students’ room, board, books — expenses they can’t afford, though Pell Grants might cover their tuition.

For some students, the scholarships change their world, opening a pathway to college that had been closed to them.

Weiler Scholar C.J. Clardy, '16 BS, went on to secure a full scholarship to graduate school at Vanderbilt University. He now is a special education teacher outside Atlanta. Dalton Maynard, ’18 BS, teaches algebra and coaches football in Olentangy Schools in central Ohio. Larry Williamson III, '20 BS, teaches fifth grade in a Columbus-area charter school.

Ché Jackson, set to graduate this semester, will become a life sciences teacher, offering a different perspective to all students, not just those of color. Nimo Johnson, a fourth-year student studying STEM education, a Moore Scholar and a Weiler Scholar, dreams of being the role model he didn't have.

Missy Weiler knew their stories. She met them at luncheons, breakfasts, in Zoom meetings. She applauded their work, praised them for being astute and driven young education reformers. Though she didn’t have an ounce of pride in her, these students gave her joy.

Weiler lived humbly, in the same split-level house she and her husband built in 1957 in the Eastmoor neighborhood of Columbus. They drove a late-model Buick. But they gave extravagantly to their community, to students like Jackson, Johnson and Clardy.

"It's wanting what you have, not having what you want," she said in an interview in 2013.

What Missy Weiler wanted most was to cherish family and friends, and for all people to reap the life-changing benefits of education. Now, the students she and Bob Weiler helped — and the leaders they inspired — will carry forward her legacy.