In June, 2001, Dr. Dorothy Watson and Dr. Kathy Lofflin met at Park University (located in Parkville, Missouri, in the northern area of the Kansas City metropolitan area). The occasion was Park University's annual Alumni Weekend. Dr. Watson, a Distinguished Alumna of Park University, received her bachelor's degree in 1952 from what was then Park College, and often returned to join friends at the annual festivities. Dr. Lofflin, an Associate Professor at Park, had been on the full-time education faculty there since 1988.
Dr. Lofflin had long been acquainted with Dr. Watson's work within the whole language view of literacy, but had never met Dr. Watson. Pam McNally, then with the University's Advancement office, contacted Dr. Lofflin before the 2001 Alumni Weekend and suggested that Dr. Lofflin attend so that she could meet Dr. Watson. The introduction was arranged, Dr. Watson and Dr. Lofflin met, and they talked about their shared views on and love for literacy. They discovered that they shared a similar theoretical orientation to literacy, the whole language perspective developed by Dr. Watson's mentors, Ken and Yetta Goodman, and for which Dr. Watson had long served as an international advocate and spokesperson.
Out of that conversation, and many others that followed it, the Dorothy Harper Watson Literacy Center was born. Dr. Watson, who had recently retired from a long career at the University of Missouri in Columbia, told Dr. Lofflin that she wanted to "do something for literacy at Park." She wanted to make a gift to Park based upon funds from fees and royalties she had acquired from speaking and from co-authoring several books on literacy. In a very real sense, Dr. Watson was "giving back" these funds to promote literacy.
At first, the talk centered mainly around providing a new classroom/meeting facility that would be a comfortable place for teaching the University's literacy courses using a collaborative model rather than in small, lecture-style classrooms as had been the necessity in the past. As the relationship between Dr. Watson and Dr. Lofflin blossomed, the idea developed into something with much more lasting potential. Over the next year, the Literacy Center became more than just a place to teach; it became a living entity with four strands:
Although the teaching/meeting facility is still an important component as the Center's "headquarters," the Center really transcends the place, and is becoming more about the people who are increasingly involved in the Center, and the learning and work they are doing and will do.
Dr. Watson approved the original outline of the proposal in April 2002; further revisions were made shortly thereafter, with the current version of the proposal being completed in June, 2002. In 2002-2003, Dr. Lofflin worked further on the development of the Center. During spring, 2003, she worked full-time on planning the new facility, researching and ordering a core of resources, attending conferences and consulting with a variety of individuals, and formulating the Center's Advisory Board, a diverse group of educators and community leaders help guide the Center's activities. This Board began its advisory function in Summer, 2003.
The Literacy Center facility was dedicated in June, 2003, and opened officially in the fall of 2003. As the Literacy Center grows older, the level of activity is gradually increasing, with numerous classes and meetings being held in the facility, continual growth of the resource collection, the development of a slate of professional development opportunities, and the launching of outreach projects within schools and community organizations in the Kansas City area. Dr. Lofflin served as the Director of the Center from 2003 until 2014. Dr. Shannon Cuff was appointed to serve as the Literacy Center Director in August, 2015, coordinating the continuing development of the Center with the input of various University administrators and faculty as well as the Advisory Board.