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About Jim Merritt

James Willis Merritt was born on June 25, 1913, in Dundalk, Maryland. He began his career as an educator at the age of 18, teaching fifth graders while fulfilling the requirements for his Bachelor of Science in Education at John Hopkins University. After graduating in 1943, Merritt served in a US Navy Pacific fleet stationed in Makalapa, near Pearl Harbor, until 1945. Afterward, he resumed his elementary teaching in Baltimore County where he also served a short period as principal. In 1946, he married Helen Virginia Henry, and in 1947, he completed his Master’s in Education. He continued graduate course work on campus at Harvard until 1948, when he, Helen, and their young daughter, Deborah, moved to DeKalb, Illinois. In the same year, Merritt began work at what was then Northern Illinois State Teacher’s College as an assistant director of Elementary School Student Teaching. He later served as a professor of education as well as the regional chairman for the Area of History and Philosophy of Education. While in DeKalb, James continued to work toward his Doctorate of Education through Harvard University, which he completed in 1951. Until his retirement from Northern Illinois University in 1979, he participated in a variety of professional societies and conferences related to teaching and philosophy and continued graduate course work near home at University of Chicago and abroad at Cambridge University. He also served as a Fulbright elementary school lecturer for a year in Japan. After retirement, he completed a Master of Divinity degree at the Meadville Lombard Theological School, and carried out local pastoral care and services for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of DeKalb, where he was a founding member.

James and Helen came to spend much of their time in DeKalb involved in preservation and philanthropy. The couple was active in the preservation of the Gurler House and other nineteenth century homes in DeKalb. They donated forty acres to DeKalb County, which became known as the Merritt Prairie, and gave notable gifts to Hope Haven as well as the Northern Illinois University Library Book fund. The couple also donated multiple works of art to local libraries, schools and businesses, and endowed Northern Illinois University’s Helen Merritt Art Scholarship and Award for Distinguished Service in Philosophy of Education. James was also involved in local politics as a democratic precinct committeeman and through letters to the editor regarding local conservation and public funding issues. Due to their commitment to philanthropy and education, James and Helen received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 from the NIU Foundation. James passed away on December 20, 2010, at the age of 97.


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Philosophy of Education

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Leslie A. Sassone, Ph.D.

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815-753- 9334

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