Jane Schulz, special education pioneer on WCU faculty, passes at 95

Jane Bolton Schulz, a retired Western Carolina University special education faculty member and 2012 recipient of an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the university, died Oct. 3 at her home in Kingsport, Tennessee. She was 95.

A native North Carolinian, Schulz studied art education, an endeavor interrupted — as for so many women of her generation — by World War II, marriage and family. One of her four children, Billy, was born with Down syndrome in 1956. At that time, there were few opportunities for children like Billy, so Schulz became a dedicated educator and passionate champion for all students, particularly those with special needs.

While raising her children in Columbus, Georgia, she worked as a secretary for Fort Benning schools and, as a “mature student,” attended night classes in elementary education at Columbus College. She became a kindergarten teacher in Georgia, all the while commuting to Auburn University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in special education and her master’s degree in psychology and mental retardation.

Always a civil rights activist, she created and taught programs designed to integrate students with special needs into mainstream classrooms. Because she wanted to pursue a doctorate and because Auburn required its candidates to reside in-state, she moved her family to Alabama to complete her doctorate in special education and elementary education in 1971 at the age of 47.

The family moved to Cullowhee, where she began her more than 20-year career as professor of special education. As she taught future and current educators, she co-authored several textbooks, notably the pioneering “Mainstreaming Handicapped Students.” The text would become foundational in the field of special education, providing techniques, ethics and scholarship to the understanding and appreciation of learners with special needs.

Known as an innovative educator with international influence, Schulz conducted countless workshops, engaged in the Council for Exceptional Children and other professional affiliations, coordinated Special Olympics events, and served on the boards of Smoky Mountain Mental Health and Webster Enterprises, even after retiring from WCU in 1989.

Former WCU faculty member Jane Schulz (right), who died Oct. 3, and her late son, Billy, became partners in the field of special education.

Her public presentations, particularly with son Billy, captivated audiences worldwide. Billy’s influence on his mother’s career was chronicled in her 2008 memoir, “Grown Man Now.” In December 2012, WCU conferred the degree of doctor of humane letters upon Schulz and posthumously upon her son for their efforts in improving educational, vocational and social opportunities for individuals with Down syndrome and other special needs. Billy Schulz, who worked for 21 years in WCU’s Hunter Library, died in September 2012 after a period of declining health.

“I never dreamed of receiving such an honor, and wish Billy could be here. He really deserved this more than I do,” Schulz said after being presented with the honorary doctorate. “Billy’s message, told in his unique language, repeated that every day was a good day, that we all have work to do, that we have friends everywhere, that it’s nice to laugh and relax, that you love your family, and that you go to church on Sunday because people are counting on you,” she said. “Even though he dealt with anxiety, frustration and health issues, just like the rest of us, Billy ended each presentation with ‘I got a good life.’”

A memorial service for Jane Schulz will be held at First Broad Street United Methodist Church of Kingsport on Saturday, Nov. 2, at 10:30 a.m. with a reception following. Online condolences may be sent to the family by visiting www.cartertrent.com.

The Jane Schulz Scholarship Fund at WCU was created upon her retirement to assist and encourage late-entry students pursuing inclusive education degrees. Contributions may be sent to the Jane Schulz Scholarship Fund, 401 H.F. Robinson Building, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, N.C. 28723 or provided online at http://give.wcu.edu/schulz.