Nita Wyatt Sundbye Sewell passed away Tuesday, August 4, 2015 at the Neuvant House for Memory Care, Lawrence, Kansas. Nita was born in Calico Rock, Arkansas, February 28, 1932, to Ewell C. Wyatt and Eltha Sears.
Nita graduated from high school at the age of fifteen having been advanced several times at the urging of her teachers. She attended Arkansas Polytechnic College where her older brother went, graduating in 1952.
There was never a doubt that Nita would be a teacher. At age eighteen, Nita taught for one year before graduation to earn money to be able to finish college. She taught first grade which influenced her career focus in reading. Following graduation, Nita taught for five years in Johnson County, Kansas. During this time, Nita attended summer school sessions at The University of Kansas, completing her MS degree in 1956. Nita was invited to stay in the School of Education as an Instructor and completed her EdD in 1960. During the summers, Nita taught remedial reading to elementary students.
There were no positions available at the University of Kansas School of Education when Nita’s doctorate was completed so she took an assistant professor position at Central Missouri State College in Warrensburg for one year, then returned to KU, where she taught for forty years, retiring as Professor in 1998.
From the beginning of her career, she was interested in remedial reading. Both her thesis and graduate research focused on reading and why children had problems learning to read. The research she conducted on phonics and the teaching of reading was major at that time in the history of teaching reading.
During Nita’s tenure at KU, she served as Chairperson of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and Assistant Dean and Director of Teacher Education in addition to teaching, supervising practicum, and leading research in the field of remedial reading. She served as project director of a US Office of Education research program with twenty-five leaders of research in reading early in her career which gave her many opportunities for publications and contacts.
Through her research in the other areas of language arts, Nita wrote scripts for Centron, preparing film strips for fifth and sixth graders on the history of the English language.
Nita made significant contributions to the field of reading through her publications. One such contribution was the publication of a reading program for remedial readers, The Essential Sight Words Program which is still in publication and used in teaching remedial reading. Nita remained connected to her masters and doctoral graduate students as they followed their careers.
Nita received many honors throughout her career, some of which include: Outstanding Young Women of America in 1967, KU’s Women’s Hall of Fame in 1972, The Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Teaching in 1992, and finalist for the HOPE Award.
In 1970, Nita married Ronald Sundbye, minister of the First Methodist Church in Lawrence, who died in 1994 following many years of illness. Early in retirement, Nita married Ed Sewell, a former art teacher from Minnesota, who died in 2007. They enjoyed many travels together.
Nita is survived by two brothers, Don (LaRue) Wyatt, of Overland Park, Kansas, and Benji (Flora) Wyatt of Charlottesville, Virginia; four step-children, Kevin (Kelly) Sundbye of Topeka, Kansas, Kris Sundbye, of St. Paul, Minnesota, Eric (Deborah) Sundbye of Castle Rock, Colorado and Eirn (Lonnie) Snodgrass of Paragould, Arkansas; five grandchildren; two nephews, Brent Wyatt, Kansas City, Missouri, and Kennon Wyatt, Olathe, Kansas, three nieces, Wendy Matousek, Seattle, Washington, LeAnn Timmons, Broomfield, Colorado, and Jami Wyatt, Charlottesville, Virginia, and three great nephews.
Memorial contributions may be sent in her name to the Kansas University Endowment Association, for the Nita Sundbye Scholarship for graduate students in Reading, School of Education and may be sent in care of Warren-McElwain Mortuary.