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Alumni Profile

Passion for history shows

Jim Gregory

Award-winning teacher Jim Gregory, BA ’77, of Arroyo Grande, Calif., had his intellectual awakening at Mizzou. His son also graduated from Arroyo Grande High School, where Gregory teaches.

It was a long way for Jim Gregory, from the two-room schoolhouse he attended as a boy on the central California coast, to the University of Missouri in the 1970s, and longer still to receiving the 2010 Lucia Mar Unified School District’s Teacher of the Year Award in California. Lucia Mar is a district composed of 14 schools and almost 11,000 students. 

“I knew I was nominated,” says Gregory, BA ’77, of Arroyo Grande, Calif., says, “but so were several other outstanding teachers. What makes the award even more meaningful is that my peers nominated me. That really means a lot.” 

What means even more is that the award comes 26 years, almost to the day, after Gregory graduated from the same school where he now teaches: Arroyo Grande High School. “Things seem to have come full circle,” Gregory says.

As a sophomore majoring in journalism at Mizzou, Gregory fell into a class that changed everything, and he credits history Professor Winfield Burggraaff. “He was a wonderful storyteller,” Gregory says. “He had this dry, ironic sense of humor and demanded good writing and research. He’d give little prizes at the end of the course. I got the Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz Award, for having the highest grade in the class; she was a nun and Mexican scholar in the 17th and 18th centuries. I’m not sure I saw the connection, but it still meant a lot.”

Gregory wove this new passion for history into his journalism background, igniting a vision to present history as a story. “My father was also a wonderful storyteller. I come from a very colorful family,” Gregory says. “I decided I wanted to be a teacher and bring that to my own classroom.”

Gregory also picked up a certain enthusiasm from his Mizzou professors. “My students say I have a passion for history that is contagious, and maybe they’re right. I have six former students who have gone on to become history teachers.” He pauses. “And two babies named after me. But I don’t want to sound like I’m getting a big head.” 

Former student Paul Snow, now a teacher at Menlo-Atherton High School in California, has his own memories of Gregory: “We used to play a game called ‘Stump the Teacher,’ and we could ask him absolutely anything from the book to see if we could stump him. I remember students asking him such insanely specific questions as: ‘Who’s pictured on Page 163?’ and it amazed me that he would almost always know the answer.”

“He was rarely stumped,” Snow says, “and his knowledge of history as well as his familiarity with the text was simply incredible.”

Gregory’s youngest son also just graduated from Arroyo Grande High School. So maybe it’s looking into his son’s life and seeing himself at that age that prompts Gregory to say: “I was an indifferent student before I got to college. Mizzou was my intellectual awakening. I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything in the world.”