May 6, 2019

John L. Devos

John Devos was a founding member of the Union R-XI Foundation and served as the charity’s Secretary from 1991 until 2002.

Recognized as an outstanding educator and community leader since joining the Union faculty in 1965, Devos spent the first decade of his tenure at Union High School as a History and Civics teacher. Then, district administrators tasked him with returning to Mizzou for graduate work in order to pilot a ground-breaking vocational rehabilitation program for high school special education students in the mid-1970s. That is the position in which he remained until his retirement in 1995.

Born Jean Louis André Joseph Devos in 1935 in Charleroi, Belgium, Devos spent his childhood witnessing and suffering the oppressive Nazi invasion and occupation of his homeland. When the family fled to the United States as refugees after World War II, they moved to a farm his stepfather (an American veteran of the Battle of the Bulge) owned near Potosi, Missouri. There, they worked cattle from horseback and Devos learned many of the woodworking and carpentry skills he would later use when pushing his special education students to develop their occupational manual dexterity in the various classroom/woodshops they designed and built as a class.

While attending school as a teenager, a few dedicated teachers worked with John every day at lunchtime to help him develop his English skills (he only spoke his native Walloon dialect when he arrived on the ship in New York) and drop his thick, brogueish accent. (The Devos cousins in Belgium jokingly needled John constantly that his spoken French had a heavy “Missouri” accent!) The devotion and influence of those small-town schoolteachers were eventually what led him to a life in education rather than veterinary science, which had been his initial career choice.

Devos always maintained that his unique, terror-inspiring upbringing under the Nazi regime and his subsequent transplantation to America and eventual naturalization as a citizen of the United States were the seminal experiences that inspired him to motivate his students and peers with challenges to engage in extraordinary demonstrations of philanthropic community service. From coaching successful Planned Progress teams during his history teacher days to earning one of the earliest paramedic licenses in the state to spending 40 years as the announcer for the football Wildcats, Devos modeled the way for the very community leaders who had sat in his high school Civics classes years before.

Devos had a hand in most of the Foundation projects from its incorporation until he pseudo-retired from the board in the mid-2000s. A perennial fundraiser, he helped manage the Stierberger Stadium and Track campaigns, spearheaded the annual dinner / dance in November, initiated the Major Saver Card annual campaign that is still in existence, and – at the request of the Missouri School Boards Association – mentored dozens of leaders from other Missouri school districts as they formed their own education foundations.

John L. Devos passed away in May 2012, but his memory, like that of the others who made the idea of the Union R-XI Foundation a reality, lives on in every single one of us who donates funds, contributes time, or attends events of the Foundation today. Following is John’s obituary reprinted from in honor of his service as an educator, community leader, and member of the board of the Union R-XI Foundation.

“John Louis Devos, 77, Union, passed away Thursday, May 17, 2012, in Union.

“Mr. Devos was born March 22, 1935, in Charleroi, Belgium, the son of the late Joseph Devos and wife Jeanne, née Wellens.

“He moved from Belgium to Leadington, Missouri, at the age of 11. An accomplished musician and storyteller in school, Mr. Devos graduated from Esther High School and went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in history and education from the University of Missouri.

“Mr. Devos was united in marriage to Mabel Hall Feb. 9, 1963, and the couple made their home in Union. He taught at De Soto High School and later at Union High School from 1965 to 1995.

“He was very active in the Union community. He was on the founding board for the Union Ambulance District in 1969, as well as a founding member of the Union Optimist Club. Mr. Devos was active with the Ambulance Board, Union Fair Board, Union Jaycees, Union R-XI Foundation, Union School Board and Boy Scouts. He served as Union Community Teachers Association president, a volunteer paramedic and trainer for the Union Ambulance District, secretary for the Union R-XI Foundation board, and scoutmaster to two local Scout troops. He also served as interim Assistant Principal at Union High School for a year and served a term on the Union R-XI School Board.

“Mr. Devos also was awarded the Educator of the Year award at the 1981 Distinguished Service Awards Banquet and the Long Haul Award in 2008.

“He was preceded in death by his wife, Mabel Hall Devos; his parents; and one stepsister, Edna Rowena Kiesler.

“Mr. Devos is survived by three sons, John F. Devos and wife Carolinn, Nixa, Andrew Devos, and Joseph Devos and wife Rebecca, all of Union; three foster children, Donna Bufford, El Segundo, Calif., Ed “Butch” Gibson and wife Gayle, Las Vegas, Nev., and Charlotte Klepper and husband Wayne, Union; six grandchildren, Nicole, Ukko, Tyche, Kalki, Ndrain and Amyrth; six foster grandchildren, Shannon Schroeder, Nathan Klepper, Cheri Bufford, Aaron Bufford, Jennifer Halterbeck and Dean Gibson; nieces; nephews; other relatives and many, many friends.

“A funeral service was held Saturday, May 19, 2011, at Oltmann Funeral Home, Union, with the Rev. Kevin Schmittgens officiating.”

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