Mary Jean LeTendre, former Director of Compensatory Education at the U.S. Department of Education and founder of the LeTendre Education Fund, passed away on Saturday, April 6, 2019. Mary Jean and her husband, André, shared a strong commitment to bettering the educational opportunities and overall lives of our children and youth experiencing homelessness.
I first met Mary Jean 21 years ago when I attended my first NAEHCY conference. I still recall vividly the luncheon session filled with attendees when Mary Jean shared the story of André’s work with youth and her desire to honor his memory by establishing a college scholarship for students who had been/were homeless. People around the room dug into their pockets and wallets as the hat was passed around (a real hat). The scholarship became a reality and the first six recipients were recognized at the 1999 NAEHCY conference. A Virginia scholar was among that first cohort!
As NAEHCY president from 2003-05 and then as chair of the LeTendre Scholarship, I had many opportunities to work directly with Mary Jean. She read all the applications and was actively involved in the selection process. She would ask about our scholars and how they were doing. As she experienced health challenges, Mary Jean continued to journey to the award ceremony to meet the scholars until she was unable to travel such distances. Even while in assisted living, Mary Jean was asking us to work on publications that would raise awareness of our students’ needs with her new neighbors! Mary Jean was a very special lady and she will be missed. I will miss her.
The legacy of Mary Jean’s vision continues with the SchoolHouse Connection Scholarship which held its award ceremony last Saturday, April 6th 20 years after the first awards were given. Her legacy includes hundreds of scholarships reaching students in need, college graduations, doctors, lawyers, teachers, social workers, and others who, despite a history of homelessness, have been able to achieve success. Barbara Duffield, Executive Director of SchoolHouse Connection, shared the following with Mary Jean’s family: “Countless futures are brighter, and will continue to shine, because of your mother’s dedication and profound love for children. Mary Jean set an example for what it means to lead, and she had a tremendous influence on my life.”
As James Stronge, Project HOPE-VA faculty liaison, shared with me, “Ms. LeTendre showed how a single person with a vision for good can make a difference in the lives of others."