Diane Dreckman White is this year’s Jingle Bell Parade Marshal
Well-known community volunteer
Diane Dreckman White, this year’s Jingle Bell Parade marshal, is known for her big heart, bright smile and her ready willingness to help wherever she can. She is a familiar face to those who donate during blood drives, vote during elections, participate in Gainesville’s First Christian Church outreach and enjoy meals and activities at The Center – all places and events where Diane has been a treasured and dependable volunteer for many years.
She has also endeared herself to dozens of special needs children and their families through her work as a paraprofessional in Lutie, Thornfield and Rogersville schools.
Diane isn’t quite an Ozark County native, but she’s spent most of her life here. Born near Chicago in 1951, Diane and her brother, Dale, moved here with their parents, the late Bob and Jean Dreckman, when Diane was 3 and Dale was 6.
The family came to Gainesville at the urging of Bob’s father, the late Al Dreckman, who had moved here with his wife, Rose, to raise registered Angus cattle after owning a Studebaker dealership in the Chicago area. They bought 600 acres of land adjoining Gainesville along what is now Highway 181.
The Dreckmans were gregarious, community-minded people. Al Dreckman eventually donated land where today’s First Christian Church stands. Bob and wife Jean created a love- and fun-filled home where Diane and Dale’s friends were always welcome. Besides working and showing his dad’s registered Angus cattle, Bob Dreckman, a Marine Corps veteran, later worked as an auto mechanic and taught the auto mechanics class at Gainesville High School for several years. Jean worked for the late Roy and Addie Lee Lister at Lister’s Drug Store on the Gainesville square and then managed Lister-owned Terry’s Dime Store, which Jean and Bob eventually bought. One of Diane’s first paying jobs when she was a teenager was cleaning the store each week with high school friend and classmate Barbara Green Stevens.
After graduating from Gainesville High School in 1969, Diane completed a year of studies at what is now College of the Ozarks and soon afterward began her longtime association with blood donations during the time her brother Dale was serving with the Army in the Vietnam War. At the time, stateside relatives and friends were encouraged to donate as a way to show support for those fighting in the war. Diane has continued to donate since then as her time and circumstances allow, and she’s been a frequent volunteer when the American Red Cross holds blood drives here.
On Dec. 17, 1977, Diane married Ozark County native Darrell White, her Gainesville classmate since seventh grade. Today they have three daughters and three grandchildren: Mandy White is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist in Erie, Pennsylvania. Dusty Wrinkles, a Licensed Practical Nurse, lives with her children Lucas and Leann in Gainesville. Tiffany Schuler, who cares for special needs adults, lives in Springfield with her daughter, Khara.
As newlyweds, Darrell worked as a truck driver for Roadway Express out of its Springfield terminal, commuting from Gainesville to Springfield when needed, and Diane worked as an assistant in the office of Dr. Ed Henegar when it was located on the north side of the Gainesville square.
Volunteering – and starting a career that became a passion
During that time, she also became a volunteer at the Senior Citizens of Ozark County when the group’s headquarters was in its then-new building on Third Street. She was staying home with their youngest daughter, Tiffany, and recalled how “Irene Trent [then the Senior Citizens director] would call and say, ‘Your mom will watch Tiffany. We need a driver to deliver meals.’ Irene had already called Mom before she called me so I wouldn’t have an excuse that I didn’t have a babysitter,” she said.
The Senior Citizens Center at the time delivered hot meals throughout the county each weekday, a service that has evolved into today’s weekly deliveries of frozen meals for recipients to heat at home. Diane became a frequent driver for the program, delivering meals throughout the county.
Diane and Darrell eventually moved to the Rogersville area to be closer to the Roadway terminal. With their three daughters in school, Diane joined the Rogersville School District as an aide working with young, special-needs students – and started a longtime career that became her passion. Since then, Diane has completed several educational courses and certification requirements, including a class at the Missouri School for the Blind. She has developed a special love for working with children who have autism. “It’s wonderful to see them open up,” she said. “They’re in there if you can just take some time to listen and watch. There’s nothing like watching an autistic child do that. It’s so exciting.”
She recalled, in particular, a young Rogersville student who was deaf and had autism. “When you’re 4, and you can’t tell someone you want a drink of water or that your arm hurts or whatever, imagine how frustrated you’d be. We had been working with sign language for him for six months or longer, and all of a sudden one day, his eyes got bright, and he signed the word for a color. We said yes! He ran to another color and pointed to it and signed it. It was like his whole world had suddenly opened up in front of him. You just have to have patience.”
In the early 2000s, Darrell’s job took them to Mississippi. But that move occurred about the time Diane’s mother, Jean, was diagnosed with cancer. Diane came home to Gainesville to stay with her while Darrell continued to work out of Mississippi until he retired in 2009.
Diane’s dad had died in 1988, and her grandparents had also died by the time her mother passed away on Halloween night 2005. Soon after Jean’s death, Diane’s cousin, Carol Cooper, a longtime kindergarten teacher at Lutie School, recommended her for a job working with an autistic student there. Since then she has worked in the Lutie and Thornfield school districts when needed as an aide for special-needs students.
She’s also worked as an Ozark County election judge in Gainesville, another job she enjoys. “Being able to help people who want to vote is so rewarding,” Diane said. She especially likes helping elderly or disabled voters who find the trip to the second-floor of the courthouse challenging.
“Elections mean so much to some of these people,” she said, recalling one elderly voter who made his way up the courthouse stairs and then collapsed into a chair in the hallway, apparently unaware that an elevator was available. “He was sitting there, panting and sweating. We took the book out there and got him signed up. He said, ‘I can do this out here?’ We said, ‘Yes, sir, and next time, if you call us, we’ll come out to your car.’ He said, ‘I’ve never missed an election, and I didn’t want to miss this one.’”
Diane’s volunteer work with Senior Citizens of Ozark County led her to run for president of the board a few years ago. During her term, she spearheaded the board’s decision to buy and move into a former restaurant on Highway 5 at the Gainesville city limits – a larger building now known as The Center.
Although some people opposed the move, “it just made sense,” Diane said. “The old building was on a hill, and there were only three handicap parking spots by the door. We were getting such a crowd for meals and activities, and a lot of people with disabilities just couldn’t make it. It was scary-overwhelming [to borrow funds for the large purchase], but we felt like it had to be done so we could help more people. I know it hurt some feelings, but now I think people realize it was the right thing to do.”
Through Diane’s work with the Senior Citizens of Ozark County board, she became involved with Missouri’s Silver-Haired Legislature, which, among other things, works to find funding to support the state’s older residents. Most recently, she attended the Silver-Haired Legislature’s meetings in Jefferson City in October and in Branson in November. “We’re always looking for money to feed people, and now transportation is a problem too,” Diane said, explaining that several years ago the state cut funding for senior services by several million dollars, causing local groups to struggle to find enough money for weekday on-site and home-delivered meals as well as for OATS transportation services.
A personal challenge
Diane’s latest challenge is a personal one. A little more than a year ago, she started feeling ill and had agonizing bouts of severe abdominal pain. As she decorated their Gainesville home for the 2021 holidays, “I hurt so bad I was thinking it was my last Christmas,” she said.
She went through several doctor appointments and multiple tests. “And every time, they would give me a test and then say, ‘It’s not that,’ and they would just stop,’” she said. Then, one day last winter, the pain was so great Darrell took her to a hospital emergency room. And there, she finally got a diagnosis: pancreatic cancer. It wasn’t good, “but after fighting for three months to get a diagnosis, when they told me, it was actually a relief to finally know. Now I could get something to quit hurting, and I could have a plan.”
That plan has involved multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation that took her to Houston for treatment at University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where she and Darrell lived for six weeks during the summer. Now she is back home being treated by doctors in Springfield who are working with her Texas team. Her pain is under control most of the time now, and she is determined to keep going. She still works at Thornfield School when she can, and she and Darrell rarely miss their grandkids’ activities. Friday evening, she’s honored to serve as the Jingle Bell Parade marshal in Gainesville’s Christmas celebration.
It’s the season for counting one’s blessings, and despite the hard year Diane has had, her bright smile and quick sense of humor continue to shine through. She and Darrell feel grateful to have been blessed with so many supportive relatives and friends and especially that they remind her frequently that they’re praying for her. “Prayers are everything,” Diane said.
She’s also thankful for the 47 years she and Darrell have shared, including their love for traveling that’s taken them to all 50 states, Canada and Mexico. Despite the challenge facing them, Diane says they are “lucky people.”
In turn, Diane’s friends and family are thankful for her, remembering the supportive role she’s played in their lives. Daughter Dusty remembers how Diane pushed her girls to find an extracurricular activity they enjoyed – and then helped them participate. Dusty was into serious gymnastics when they lived near Rogersville, “and Mom made sure I was at the gym four nights a week for our four-hour practices and that I made all my meets.”
Tiffany appreciates that her parents “showed us what it’s really like to feel love and be loved.”
Mandy says she’s inspired by her mom’s remarkable courage and faith. “She has always set such a great example of compassion and kindness. She is one of the most community-minded people I’ve ever known and truly has a heart for service. Our family is blessed and thankful for her and all she does for us and everyone.”
By selecting her as parade marshal for this year’s Christmas celebration parade, Diane’s community shows that it agrees with her daughters’ praise and acknowledges her enduring devotion to helping others.
Editor’s note: Sue Ann Luna Jones and Diane Dreckman White have been friends since 1955, when they started kindergarten in Gainesville together.