MARYVILLE, Mo. — It was 2015, and Robert Sudhoff, a senior on the Speech and Debate team at Maryville High School, was working on his one-man show, “An Iliad.”
The show is a modern retelling of “The Iliad,” by Homer, ideally, complete with a wooden set and functional lights.
He had a general idea of what he wanted his set to look like, but hadn’t put much thought into finding the material and putting everything together.
His teacher, Trudy Kinman, though, had.
“I didn’t even know she was doing that until one day, she was like, ‘OK, here’s these wooden barrels and these wooden pallets,’” Sudhoff said.
Sudhoff, like many of Kinman’s students across her nearly half-century as a teacher, found himself encouraged to explore his interests through Kinman’s class and express himself in a way unique to him — through acting.
It earned him first place at the district competition for speech and debate in 2015.
Sudhoff wasn’t the only student she went the extra mile for as she did it for every single one of her students.
Years later, Kinman’s former colleagues and students all highlight one main attribute that stuck out.
Her dedication to her students.
“After teaching all day, she would stay at the school with the debate team until 8 or 9 at night to help us prepare cases or rehearse our pieces,” Emily Gascoigne, a former member of the MHS speech and debate team, said. “She is the most dedicated person I know.”
Maryville High School Principal Thom Alvarez said she was always the last one in the building and worked most weekends of the school year, taking students to tournaments or helping them with other educational endeavors.
“It didn’t matter if she had 10 students or one, she would always do what was best for her students,” Alvarez said.
In the 48 years Kinman taught, she bounced around to rural schools including South Nodaway, Northeast Nodaway, Albany and Maryville, where she taught on two different occasions that total nearly half of her teaching career.
She spent the first 10 years of her teaching career at South Nodaway, the same school she graduated high school from before moving on to Maryville. After a decade at Maryville, she joined her husband at Northeast Nodaway until he retired as principal in the late ’90s.
“That was going to be the end for me except my husband retired,” Kinman said. “The new principal said ‘I wish you weren’t here ... You’ll compare me to your husband.’ My husband was an excellent principal.”
Lo and behold, that very evening Kinman received a call from the Albany principal offering her an English position. She spent six years at Albany before returning to Maryville High School where she retired in 2019.
At each school along the way, she wove a common thread: a speech and debate program. These programs were the area Kinman shined in and that truly showed her dedication to her craft — and her students.
At each high school where she taught, Kinman started or rebuilt a speech and debate program, beginning with South Nodaway, where she took a handful of students under her wing and attended a couple of tournaments in Kansas City.
“It was unheard of in rural America, but we did well,” Kinman said. “... Then when I came to Maryville (the first time), they wanted me to rebuild the speech and debate (program). So I did. They were wonderful years.”
She carried on her knowledge of speech and debate at Northeast Nodaway and Albany but on a smaller scale with just a handful of students participating. Meanwhile, in the 16 years she’d been away from Maryville High School, its program had deteriorated enough that Kinman had to build it back up when returned.
“It’s probably the thing I enjoy doing the most, finding kids who are talented, who needed another outlet in debate or in acting,” Kinman said.
Kinman taught Speech I, Speech II and a Debate class for those involved in the Speech and Debate Club at Maryville. She also taught English classes at the other three schools, and at each stop, her classes allowed students to explore their interests through class assignments, which included demonstrations on things such as cooking or how to change a tire.
At Albany, for example, she recalled a couple of students reenacting “Romeo and Juliet” with a cardboard recreation of one of the scenes and using homemade sock puppets for the characters.
“I kind of liked that, that they get to pick,” Kinman said.
When Kinman hit her 70th birthday, as she whistled during her drive to work, she came to a decision she wasn’t expecting to make already.
“I’m a believer that you need to whistle on your way to work,” Kinman said. “When you quit whistling, you might (need to make some changes).”
Thinking about the year she was born, 1948, and how that year corresponds to her wrapping up her 48th year of teaching, she decided it was time to retire and informed Alvarez of her decision when she arrived at the school that day.
“I really don’t know why,” Kinman said. “I was still whistling. It’s just, my granddaughters were getting to the age where they were lots of fun and I could take them and do things. My husband’s health was failing ... The real reason, the number one reason, is technology.”
With new technology constantly being introduced into the world, and, specifically with new software coming into the classroom in terms of updating grades and creating and uploading lesson plans, Kinman said it was challenging for her to fully understand the programs.
Looking back, she said she’s thankful she retired when she did and did not have to navigate teaching her speech classes and speech and debate students through Zoom.
“It was probably for the best,” Kinman said. “So now I have cattle and grandkids and an alive husband.”
Kinman said the Speech and Debate program has deflated slightly since her departure as it is no longer in the daily curriculum and it is strictly an after-school activity now.
Since retiring, Kinman continues to occasionally be involved in the Speech and Debate program when a student needs extra coaching or the annual Maryville High School debate tournament is held, which was renamed in 2019 from the Spoofhound Classic to Maryville Pride Lions Kinman Classic Speech and Debate Tournament. But her daily presence is felt still both in the program she helped create, and in her absence.
“For me, personally, I miss Trudy being in the building,” Alvarez said. “She pushed me to be my best.”
Those interviewed said Kinman pushed everyone around her to do their best and always believe in themselves, both in and out of the classroom. She supported students in all their endeavors and struggles by helping create sets for performances, being with students as family members passed or even visiting a former student in jail as he awaited trial and took time off of work to be moral support for the student throughout the trial.
“Her commitment to her students is what allowed her to make her mark on so many people,” Gascoigne said. “If anyone was going to be behind you and supporting you, it was Mrs. Kinman.”