I gave you a tour of the new Dani Heathington Activity Building the other day (“A Hard Hat Tour of the Dani Heathington Activity Center,” July 31, 2023). So, you might ask,  who is this Dani Heathington? Well, if you’ve been in Muleshoe or part of the MISD school system lately, you know. But if you haven’t been, or even if you have, let me tell you about Dani Dunham Heathington.

Dani Dunham is the first born of Jack and Bobbie Nell Dunham. Shelly, Rhonda and Michael followed. Pictured below are Rhonda, Michael, Dani, Shelly with Mom and Dad seated.

Photo courtesy of Dani Heathington

Dani graduated from Muleshoe High School in 1978 where she was a cheerleader and stayed busy with basketball, tennis, track, Student Council, and Future Teachers of America. Future teachers? Interesting how that played out!

Photo courtesy of Dani Heathington

Photo courtesy of Dani Heathington

She attended Texas Tech University for a year and then married Don Heathington in 1979. Don was six years older than Dani and was farming cotton, so Dani helped with the cotton crop that season. Then she decided to change jobs and worked at Muleshoe Area Medical Center for the next year as a pharmacy tech.

Photo courtesy of Dani Heathington

They started their family, and Dani had the pleasure of being a stay-at-home mom for Krystal, Mindy, and Tatom. Stay at home moms are usually good cooks, and Dani certainly was, well, still is, for that matter, and enjoyed cooking. So she and Jana St. Clair started a catering business which flourished for the next ten years.

When Tatom started kindergarten, principal Barbara Finney convinced Dani to be a teacher’s aide at DeShazo, which she did for three years. This refueled an interest in education, so she went back to school for the rest of her basics at Clovis Community College, then earning her BS from Eastern New Mexico University in May of 1997.

After that, her career with MISD continued, first at Dillman Elementary as a second grade teacher for two years, then the special education teacher there for eight years. Then she moved to Watson Junior High for two years as the student service coordinator, or to those of us in education from the old days, the counselor, more or less.

During this time she earned her Master of Education Degree from Wayland Baptist University in 2009 and served as assistant principal at the junior high for one year, then their principal for two years. From there she went to Dillman again, but this time as the principal for three years. From there she moved up to assistant superintendent where she stayed for seven years. So Dani has been a familiar face in MISD for a long time.

Dani lost Don in 2017 to an unexpected aneurysm while she was serving as assistant superintendent. Don had always been a big supporter of Muleshoe sports, and they had always enjoyed following school sports, attending the football and basketball games in particular. So between following the teams and continuing her assistant superintendent role, Dani kept busy while coming to terms with that change in her life.

But then, in 2022, she decided it was time to retire. She showed me this picture of all her grandkids and smiled, “This is why I retired.”

Photo courtesy of Dani Heathington

But right before she retired, the school board, along with input from the community, was debating building an all-purpose activity center and she was involved in those discussions. Dani was in favor of making sure part of that floor plan included a room for school-related meetings, a conference room, if you will. She also saw the need for that room to be equipped with a room that would handle food. After all, meetings always involve refreshments in some form or fashion. So, a conference room makes up the north end of the building, complete with a serving room and store room and television monitors for presentations.

Unknown to Dani at the time, however, the school board also made the decision to name the building in her honor, and she got to be the person who christened the official ground-breaking for the building back in 2022. “It came as a complete surprise to me,” she said, “It was very humbling.” But Superintendent R.L. Richards and the school board thought it was very fitting to honor her for her years of service to MISD.

Photo courtesy of Brandi James

Now Dani is free to enjoy the activities of all those grandkids she retired for. Myndi lives in Muleshoe, so those kids are easy to spend time with. Krystal lives in Abilene and Tatom lives in Burkburnett, so she regularly takes road trips from Muleshoe to Abilene, stays a couple of days and then up to Burkburnett for a few days and doesn’t miss a thing with all those kids!  When she isn’t on the road to see family, she likes to garden and uses her crops for canning and cooking.

And extended family gatherings are fun to plan and enjoy. The Dunham family has for years always had a family Christmas. “They all still come home,” she said as she showed me this picture from December 2022. Out of the 45 people in the picture, she was proud of the fact that 31 of them are either a current Muleshoe student or a Muleshoe graduate.

Photo courtesy of Dani Heathington

Now life goes on for Dani without class bells and board meetings, but school is still  a part of her life with those  grandkids’ activities. She has become active with the Oneida Wagnon Senior Center where she helps with fundraising. She is still a busy face around town.still supporting the Mules and is still active at First Baptist Church, She told me very seriously, “I still don’t think there is any better place to raise and educate your family than in Muleshoe and Muleshoe schools.”

This quote from Albert Schweitzer hung in Dani’s office every time she changed positions: “One thing I know; the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

There you go. Dani has served. Dani is happy.

Photo courtesy of Myndi Heinrich

Thanks, Dani.

Thanks to Brandi James, Myndi Heinrich, and Dr. Richards for your help with this story, and thank you, Dani, for sharing your story with me.