May 1, 2013
“My high school teachers all programmed me to be a teacher. I knew from day one I was going to be a teacher,” said 73-year-old Ronnie Karraker. “I just loved school. That was my safe haven.”
Karraker grew up in a small town in southern Illinois and graduated from high school with 12 other classmates.
“I played percussion in the school band, but the band couldn’t play at basketball games because there were too many (basketball) players that were in the band,” he said.
Karraker pursued a master’s degree in psychology from Southern Illinois University and later earned a doctorate in educational psychology from Indiana University.
His first job after earning a doctorate was working as a professor for the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), where he continued to work for 20 years.
During the 1970s, his research helped pioneer behavior modification techniques for the classroom setting.
“Education was one (area) that hadn’t been explored extensively,” he said of behavior modification.
A number of his publications revolved around programmed learning on machines, which identified a student’s strengths and weaknesses, helped him or her to focus in the classroom and identified a program to deal with his or her deficiencies, he said.
“A lot of the things we pioneered are now just standard practices. There’s nothing really new about the techniques that we have now that we were exploring in the ‘70s and early ‘80s.”
Techniques explored during the ‘70s and ‘80s included the importance and power of positive reinforcement, learning how to ignore inappropriate behavior in the classroom and ensuring that social reinforcement came as soon after the behavior as possible, he said.
“There’s so many little things that we now take for granted, but it was new information back then,” he said.
Following working for UMKC, Karraker briefly worked as a counselor at a community counseling center and then worked for three years in guest relations for the Walt Disney Company. Known as the “best guest program,” the international guest contact center was located in Overland Park, Kan., and the building’s name was disguised as “On Stage,” he said.
“I had retired and was getting bored and wanted something entirely different,” he explained. “I wanted something that was entirely out of my comfort zone.”
His job entailed taking care of the “high rollers” and his case load included 20 clients.
“I knew what each person liked, so when something became available, like a new pewter figurine or snow globe or a cell from one of the new movies, when anything like that came up, I didn’t have to call them and ask them if they wanted it; I just sent it to them…
“These were people who just had tons and tons of Disney stuff and stock in the company. They were really wealthy people.”
Karraker called the Disney work atmosphere “fun oriented.”
One of his memorable clients served as a pastor.
“She loved the Disney villains,” he said. “Anything I had available about any of the Disney female villains, she wanted it. I thought that was interesting for a minister to be so involved in the evil parts of Disney.”
Now, Karraker is officially retired and resides at Glennon Place Nursing Center.
His favorite Kansas City pastimes include Gates Bar-B-Q, attending plays and checking out City Market.
“The staff (at Glennon Place) is very good, very courteous, very attentive and competent,” he said. “I’ve developed a lot of friendships with the staff.”