Robert Warden, a former state representative who helped transition Joplin Junior College into a four-year institution, will be honored with the Richard M. Webster Medallion at 2 p.m. Monday, Oct. 24, in the North End Zone Facility at Missouri Southern State University.
The award, which was established in 2016, is presented to a legislator in recognition of their outstanding service to higher education in the state of Missouri.
Warden served in the state legislature at a critical time in Missouri Southern’s history, as a contingent of local and state officials worked together to expand beyond the junior college.
Along with Rep. Robert Ellis Young, Warden co-sponsored House Bill 127 in 1963 to create a four-year college in Jasper County. That bill was ultimately vetoed, but efforts continued behind the scenes to advance the idea.
“There were areas that already had state-supported schools and were not in favor of (a new college in Joplin,” Warden said in a 2017 interview timed to the 50th anniversary of the new campus opening on the former Mission Hills Estate.
“We were able to get members from the metropolitan areas in Kansas City to help us pass the bill, and the representative from Newton County was also in favor of it. Richard Webster used his influence to help it pass, and you can’t underestimate the importance of Fred Hughes and (other community leaders) in getting the legislature through.”
Warden was present when – on July 22, 1965 – then Gov. Warren Hearnes signed House Bill 210, which allowed for the creation of Missouri Southern in Joplin as well as Missouri Western in St. Joseph, Mo.
“Through his public service, Robert Warden has made a lasting impact on our region and certainly played a key role in advancing the mission and scope of Missouri Southern,” said Dr. Dean Van Galen, president of MSSU. “The university is deeply grateful for the impact he has had here – he is highly deserving of this prestigious recognition.”
The medallion is named for the late Richard M. Webster, who was elected in 1948 to Missouri’s House of Representatives – and named Speaker of the House in 1954. He later served as a Missouri State Senator from 1962 until his death in 1990. As a young senator, he played a significant role in transforming Joplin Junior College into a four-year school by sponsoring legislation that created Missouri Southern, and later to secure its funding from the House and Senate.
Dedicated in his honor, the Richard M. Webster Communications and Social Science Building was opened in August 1992.