Columbia, Mo. (Oct. 4, 2004) — When Don Ranly decided to step down as head of the magazine sequence earlier this fall, he had held the position for 27 years, making him the school’s longest-serving administrator. Though he is ready to leave the day-to-day demands of running a sequence to his successor, Jan Colbert, his contributions to the school are far from over.
Ranly’s journey to Missouri, and the ensuing tenure, is a testament to great student recruitment.
Ranly came to Missouri in 1973 to pursue his doctoral degree. He had earned a master’s degree in speech and a master’s degree in journalism from Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wis., and a certificate in film, radio and television from New York University. After being accepted into the program, Ranly received a personal letter from Dr. William H. Taft telling him why he should choose the Missouri School of Journalism. It was the only personal letter he received from a university. He said the Missouri School of Journalism appeared to him to be most traditional and toughest doctoral program, so he moved to Columbia.
Ranly was awarded a graduate assistantship, but as fate would have it, the night before classes started, he received a telephone call that a section of J-105 News needed an instructor. The first class meeting was scheduled for early the next morning. Ranly didn’t hesitate to accept the position. A few days later, another section of J-105 was added, and Ranly taught that section as well, while taking a full load of courses in the doctoral program. The next year he became head of the Columbia Missourian‘s Sunday magazine, Vibrations, and continued to teach news writing.
In 1976, Ranly completed his doctoral degree, and fate struck again. That same year, the head of the magazine sequence retired. Ranly then assumed the position he has held for nearly three decades. “Once you’re offered a job at Missouri,” he said, “there’s nowhere else to go.”
Much like Ranly’s career at Missouri, the magazine sequence began to evolve. “When I started, we had two part-time faculty members,” Ranly said. “Now we have 10. I take no credit for anything. Things just evolve. We have developed a curriculum that is the finest. I don’t think anything comes close to what we do here in magazine. I think we have a fine, fine magazine faculty. We are lucky to have some fabulous individuals, and our students are fortunate to have good choices.”
Ranly says it is important that students be able to write, edit and design, and he has helped to develop the magazine curriculum to make that possible. “Magazine staffs are small,” Ranly said. “You have to be able to do it all.”
Over the years, Ranly taught 15 different courses at the journalism school, including every class in the magazine sequence except design. Of them all, he likes the editing class the most. Ranly says he has drawers of letters from students who “suffered” through that class but admit it helped them the most.
Ranly has won numerous awards during his career, including a University of Missouri Faculty-Alumni Award, the University of Missouri Golden Chalk teaching award and he was named the school’s O.O. McIntryre Distinguished Professor of Journalism. He says the award that is most special to him is the William T. Kemper Fellowship, one of the University of Missouri’s most prestigious teaching awards, which he received in 2003.
“There are people who say you should not identify yourself with your work,” Ranly said, “but I am a teacher. That is who I am and what I am. When that is my identity, to receive the highest award at the university for teaching – well, that is tremendous.”
During his years in journalism, Ranly has seen many changes in the field and at the school, but he said the introduction of the Internet was definitely the most significant.
“I lived through the television revolution, but there is no revolution like the Internet revolution,” Ranly said. “It is changing and will continue to change everything. Just when I thought I knew something, I had either to quit or to learn the Internet.”
Ranly decided to learn the Internet and has even written a chapter titled “How to Write Online” in a textbook published by The Missouri Group. The group includes Ranly and Missouri professors Brian Brooks, George Kennedy and Daryl Moen. He also teaches a reinventing print seminar among many others. He has conducted nearly a thousand writing and editing seminars for professional groups.
After more than 30 years at MU, Ranly says he has many fond memories, but perhaps the fondest in most recent history was the evening of the kickoff to the “For All We Call Mizzou” fundraising campaign.
“That was my greatest evening at Mizzou,” he said. “It was a glorious evening with perfect weather. It was Mizzou at its finest.”
Ranly said the decision to step down came naturally because he spent last year on sabbatical and was not head of the sequence. Ask him what’s next, and he will tell you he is not looking too far into the future or ruling out any options. But his focus will be the Missouri Association of Publications, which he worked to create during his sabbatical. He is executive director of the organization.
Jan Colbert will serve as the new head of the magazine department. Colbert is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism. She teaches seniors and graduate students in magazine design, magazine writing and media/women’s studies.
Interestingly, Colbert was the art director of the Columbia Missourian Sunday magazine, Vibrations, in 1974 when Ranly became head of the publication.
“She has just done everything,” Ranly said of Colbert. “She is wonderfully competent and a marvelous design teacher. She will do great things.”
Updated: March 17, 2020