2013 J. Frank Yeager 1957

J. Frank Yeager, 1957
Asheville, NC

This honoree played football at Centre.  Then he was a special agent in the U.S. Secret Service.  Then he decided to do something really dangerous.  He became a school superintendent.

Our honoree came to Centre from Atherton High School, continuing a stellar academic and athletic career.  He was a four-year letterman in football and baseball, serving as captain for both teams.  He was elected the outstanding student athlete of the year in his senior year. 

After graduating from Centre with a degree in business administration in 1957, he taught high school history and economics and coached baseball until joining the U.S. Secret Service in 1961.  He was soon assigned to the protective detail for President Kennedy.  At that point, the President’s protective detail was comprised of only 30 men, working three shifts around the clock, seven days a week.  Our honoree was serving at the White House during the tense days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 19062, and accompanied President Kennedy on some of his most memorable overseas trips, including the 1963 trips to West Berlin and Ireland.  He was also on the fateful trip to Texas almost exactly 50 years ago.  He had been sent ahead from Dallas for the advance work in what was to be the next stop, in Austin.  On the night of November 22nd, he followed President Kennedy’s body back to Washington, and was immediately assigned to President Lyndon Johnson’s detail. 

He resigned from the Secret Service in 1964 and returned to a career in education, but he still did not choose the safe and easy route.  While studying for a master’s degree in secondary education at Western Kentucky University, he worked for the newly-created WKU Desegregation Center, which assisted public schools in the elimination of racial segregation in Kentucky public schools.  At the same time, he worked for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights, investigating civil rights violations in public schools across the South.  He was threatened on more than one occasion in this work.  As he recounted, on one evening in a Kentucky town, the local Ku Klux Klan called threatening his life, while the civil rights organization the Congress of Racial Equality was picketing him outside his motel room.  “If you’re being chewed on by both sides, you’re probably doing something right,” he said.  While completing his doctorate at the University of Tennessee, he worked as a consultant on issues of desegregation with schools in Houston, Chattanooga, and New Orleans.

After receiving his doctorate in 1969, he began his career as a superintendent, working in Louisville, Durham NC, Owensboro KY, and Asheville NC, retiring in 1997.  Over the course of his career as a superintendent, he was responsible for the education of some 600,000 students.

His work has been recognized with many state and national awards, including being twice named the National Superintendent of the Year and selected as one of North America’s top 100 school administrators.

Our honoree is not new to this stage; in 2010, he was elected to the Centre Athletic Hall of Fame. 

Some years ago, he said that “Centre opened my eyes to the benefits of a quality education and positioned me to be amenable to new ideas and to be able to take advantage when opportunities availed themselves.”  That sounds like a great description of the mission of Centre College. 

For his living example of that mission, the Centre College National Alumni Association is pleased to name J. Frank Yeager, Class of 1957, a Distinguished Alumnus of Centre College.