The dedication of a local park was an early sign of a life committed to service.
Vicki Patryla is nearly 50 years removed from her time as a student, but her name will likely live on in Kirksville forever. She is the name behind the town’s Patryla Park, an honor bestowed on her at the ripe old age of 24.
A native of St. Louis, Patryla (Pa-TRY-la) quickly felt a connection to her college home.
“The faculty seemed very competent and very caring, and I just fell in love with the people of Kirksville,” she said. “I became more engaged and more committed to the city of Kirksville because of the caring feeling of the people.”
As a cheerleader and member of what is now known as the Residence Hall Association, Patryla (’69, ’70) was active on campus. She was also very committed to service in the community, particularly in regard to children. She routinely worked with kids in the residential area then known as Pickler Park, and saw a need to outfit the space with amenities for children. To help make the spot family friendly, she called on Campus Volunteers, an organization she created, to secure financial donations from local businesses and clubs.
After Patryla earned her master’s degree, much of the project was turned over to Campus Volunteers. By 1971, after years of work, the area officially became Kirksville’s sixth public park. Located on Decker Road, and tucked in behind Spur Pond, it was christened Patryla Park in honor of the young woman who put the entire plan in motion. Patryla was brought to tears when she received a letter notifying her of the designation.
“I had no idea it was going to be named after me,” she said. “I was more than overwhelmed, and I was truly humbled knowing that someone would think of me in that way.”
Throughout her childhood, those around Patryla instilled three important points in her: faith in God, belief in others and belief in oneself. While she may have already been on track to lead a life of service, she credits her work with the park in Kirksville for adding fuel to her fire.
Following her time at the University, Patryla earned a degree from the University of Leeds in England, where she studied on a Rotary International Scholarship, and she received her Ph.D. in special education from St. Louis University. Her career has been varied, but service has been at the core. She has taught education at six colleges in five states, often focusing on people with disabilities or special needs. Her efforts do not stop with the classroom. Patryla has served in administrative positions related to community outreach with no fewer than four non-profit organizations or corporations, and her charitable endeavors have led her to several countries. In addition to children and the disabled, she has poured her heart into causes for the elderly, veterans, international citizens and the mentally ill, among others.
After enough selfless acts, it can be difficult to avoid the spotlight. Over the years, Patryla’s efforts have earned praise from both sides of the political aisle. She has received letters of recognition from former Sen. Max Cleland and President Bill Clinton, to name a few, and her work with veterans garnered a call from a staff member for President Barack Obama. Organizations that have shown gratitude for her work include the March of Dimes, the Veterans Administration and the Salvation Army. While it’s nice to be appreciated, Patryla is not motivated by earning distinctions to pad her resume.
“Kindness is the most important credential,” she said. “Life is not about awards, honors and degrees. Life is about doing the work of the Lord. It is nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice. The best gift of giving is giving of oneself and the warmth of the human heart.”
Patryla is retired and now makes her home in Lilburn, Ga.