Emilieann “Cookie” Vargo and Bart York: 30 Years of Dedication to Wayne Township’s Children

For 30 years, the Wayne Township Education Foundation has served schools in a variety of ways: supporting teachers with grants, providing scholarships for students, and recognizing achievements of students and teachers alike. But there was a time when WTEF did not yet exist. And without the pioneering work of people like Bart York and Emilieann “Cookie” Vargo, WTEF may have never come to be.

In 1986, Wayne Township resident Bart York began to notice that other school districts in Marion County were creating education foundations. He took the idea to the MSD of Wayne Township superintendent at that time, and to Mr. York’s surprise, initial interest in the idea was not strong.

“With a couple of meetings, he finally agreed to meet and discuss if I would gather a handful of community leaders who also believed in the benefits of a foundation for our community,” Mr. York said. “Eventually the superintendent agreed to initiate the necessary documents to develop a not-for-profit organization.”

By the time WTEF was officially formed as a legal entity in 1991, another Wayne Township resident, Emilieann (Cookie) Vargo, became interested in the concept of an education foundation to support the school district.

“I grew up in Wayne Township and attended Wayne Schools,” Mrs. Vargo said. “My parents attended Drexel Gardens Elementary, and so did I. I had knowledge of our school system that I thought could be helpful to the community. And I thought WTEF could make a real difference.”

Both Mr. York and Mrs. Vargo worked tirelessly in the early days of WTEF to help get it off the ground. More than 30 years later, they continue to bring hard work and new ideas to the organization.

“Like all start-ups, we struggled getting the word out. We tried to change the culture of the township by showing the benefits of the foundation and how eventually the kids would benefit from grants and scholarships,” said Mr. York.

Mrs. Vargo said the persistence of the organization’s founders paid off. “More and more people became engaged,” she said.

In the beginning, the Foundation funded projects that focused solely on recognition. The Seniors’ Choice Awards, the Excellence in Academic Achievement and Teaching Banquet (otherwise known as the Top 30 Banquet) and the Evening of Excellence are programs that the Foundation continues to fund.

In 1994, the WTEF Board of Directors had a vision to create a teacher grants program and turned it into a reality. This program allowed teachers and students to apply for grants that would fund educational opportunities that go beyond the normal classroom curriculum.

The support of organizations such as the Marion County Education Foundation Network, the Indianapolis Foundation and Lilly Endowment helped WTEF grow financially. Today, WTEF has a small paid staff and a 20-member board of directors, which still includes Mr. York and Mrs. Vargo. The organization also has a healthy endowment that will support ongoing grants, scholarships and recognition programs well into the future.

“It is a great organization and just another facet that makes Wayne Township a special place to live,” said Mr. York. “We enhance our already great schools and help provide connections within our community.”

Lisa Baize, WTEF executive director, agrees. “Bart and Cookie were the trail blazers that got us started. I’m blown away by the love and commitment they’ve given to our community. They touch my heart and inspire me to be my best,” she said. “If it hadn’t been for their tireless dedication 30 years ago, WTEF wouldn’t have been able to make a difference in the lives of thousands of students and teachers. We owe these pioneers much gratitude as we look at the contributions WTEF has made over the past three decades.”

The Wayne Township Education Foundation (WTEF) provides community leadership to enrich, engage, and stimulate teaching and learning in the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township. WTEF accomplishes this by supporting school programs and resources, while recognizing excellence among students and staff. To learn more about WTEF, call 317-988-7966, visit wtef.wayne.k12.in.us, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter @WayneTwpEdFound.