Mary Jo Wynn has been a part of Missouri State history since she started attending the school. She graduated in 1953, and went on to create women’s athletics programs for the university.
Many faculty members have come and gone, but few have left a lasting legacy like Wynn.
Since 1998, Missouri State has hosted the Dr. Mary Jo Wynn Invitational, a volleyball tournament hosted at Hammons Student Center. This tournament was named after Wynn, and without her there wouldn’t be a tournament — or even a women’s sports program.
“Dr. Mary Jo Wynn is absolutely a one-of-a-kind person,” said Jamie Adams, who played volleyball at Missouri State from 2004 to 2007 and basketball from 2007 to 2009. “She is a woman ahead of her time. I’m so thankful she had the foresight to look at a school like Missouri State and say, ‘What this place needs is some women playing ball.’
“I just love the legacy she has left here at Missouri State and for the country as a whole.”
Wynn was the backbone of one of the most progressive and successful women’s athletic programs in the country at Missouri State. Not only that, she was a national pioneer for the cause of women’s sports.
This year marks the first Dr. Mary Jo Wynn Invitational without its namesake. Wynn, who died in January at the age of 87, was honored after the tournament at the awards ceremony on Aug. 31.
Assistant volleyball coach Sara Thomas-Dietrich said not having Wynn at this year’s tournament was strange.
“She was always here to hand out trophies, All-Tournament trophies, take pictures with the winning team and all the athletes that got on the All-Tournament team,” Thomas-Dietrich said. “It was really special that Coach (Linda) Dollar stepped in. I know those two were very, very close and both were so significant.
“They played huge roles in our program.”
Thomas-Dietrich returned to Missouri State as an assistant coach in February 2018. During her playing career for the Bears, she helped Missouri State to three NCAA Tournaments, including a trip to the second round in 2006.
As a player, Thomas-Dietrich first crossed paths with Wynn during her freshman year in 2004 at the maroon and white scrimmage. That is when she first heard the upperclassmen and former head coach Melissa Stokes talk about the legacy of Wynn.
“You just heard so many good things,” Thomas-Dietrich said. “That is the one thing that makes me sad is that all these freshmen and upcoming Bears don’t get to see how special and who Dr. Wynn was, and how involved she was in the community. Not just in the volleyball program, but other sports here at Missouri State and how she just touched so many people’s hearts and pushed for women’s athletics to get to where they were.
“I hope by me still coaching here I can continue telling her story and her legacy. I’m making sure people don’t forget who she was.”
Though Wynn retired in 1998, her impact and legacy are still seen by female athletes and others attending Missouri State.
Take junior volleyball player Laynie Dake, for example.
“We wouldn’t be here without her,” Dake said. “She did a really good job of getting everything started and on the right track. We will miss her a lot. We already do. Dr. Wynn would always sit up in the stands. It was always so cool to look up and see her. She was smiling. She was always so happy for us.”
Interim head coach Manolo Concepción recognizes the impact and legacy left by Wynn after spending the last six seasons as the head coach at Evansville.
“She had a huge impact on this program and after it,” Concepción said. “As an opponent in the same conference, we knew the impact she made. She didn’t just make an impact at Missouri State, but with Title IX with women’s sports in general. She impacted and inspired so many women to be better everyday.”
Without her back at the Hammons Student Center for the first time, many of Missouri State’s coaches and players used the tournament to look back on Wynn’s life and remember all the contributions she made to the school.
Adams said it was rumored when she was in school that Wynn bought a car with her own money to transport the teams back and forth to away games. That is something that stuck with Adams.
“It just tells you what kind of a person she was — not only a coach, but an advocate,” Adams said.
Thomas-Dietrich said her favorite memory was when she was named MVP in the Dr. Mary Jo Wynn Invitational, and she took a picture with Wynn. That moment is something she will cherish forever.
“I just remember her telling me how proud she was of me,” Thomas-Dietrich said. “That picture of us is actually hung in (JQH Arena) and at the Dr. Wynn academic center. That means a whole lot to me.”
Dake said her favorite memory of Wynn was when the team took pictures with her at the end of every Dr. Mary Jo Wynn Tournament.
“She was the cutest little woman,” Dake said. “She was so small and she would always be smiling. I will miss those moments.”
And that smile from Dr. Mary Jo Wynn will forever be remembered.
“At this point, everyone has probably seen the pictures of Dr. Wynn waving and smiling,” Adams said. “That smile was not just for the camera. I think she had that smile on every time she walked into Hammons Student Center.”
Amanda Sullivan contributed to this article.