DARE Mentor Rodney Collins hosted his final DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) graduation ceremony Wednesday night at St. Paul's Lutheran School, 701 S. Massachusetts, attended by around 40 people, including his parents (Shirley & Nelson) and two sons (Cody & Ryan).

Collins is now a reserve police officer after having served the CIty of Sedalia for close to 31 years. He was honored by Mayor Stephaen J. Galliher and the City Council, as well as Chief John DeGonia on Tuesday night during a regular City Council meeting.

Collins began his serivce as a DARE officer 25 years ago.

"For me, DARE's been an incredible ride. When I first did this back in 1991, when Cindy (Harrell) Carson she got me involved doing DARE, told me what DARE was about, I went through this incredibly long, two-week course to become a DARE officer, I had no idea I would be doing DARE this long. In fact, at this point, I had no intentions of ever leaving, but the opportunity presented itself. And here we are," Collins told KSIS after Wednesday night's graduation of 11 fifth and sixth grade St. Paul students.

That opportunity was working for Sedalia School District 200 as a security officer at Smith-Cotton Junior High School, 312 E. Broadway, just across the street from St. Paul's School.

"It has been an emotional evening for me, seeing those kids, it get's my heart," he said.

"I've taught DARE in all the elementary schools at one time or another -- Washington, Parkview, Skyline, Horace Mann, Heber Hunt, SMS, Sacred Heart and here at St. Paul's as well," Collins said, adding that he runs into his forner DARE students all the time.

Case in point, he saw Matt Gardner Tuesday night at the City Council meeting. Gardner was one of his first DARE students and is now in his mid-30s. Collins later taught his daughter in DARE, and would have taught his son had he remained in the DARE program full time this year. "I guess I'm still considered a DARE mentor, but I'm not sure what's going to happen," he said.

With Collins' departure from the local DARE program, the SPD now has DARE officers Bradley Beard, Michael Elwood and Derek DeSalm.

As for his time spent teaching DARE classes, always on his days off from the department, Collins said he has had a blast. "First of all, I thank the good Lord for blessing me to be able to gety to do something like this, and my family, obviously. In fact, Collins still serves as DARE's state treasurer through the end of the fiscal year. He has also served as state president

Both of his sons have graduated from the 10-week DARE program. Cody is now a freshman at Smith-Cotton and Ryan is a senior. Ryan, 18, serves on the DARE youth advisory board for the state of Missouri. He was one of two guest speakers Wednesday night. Ryan told the St. Paul students that what they learned during the course will affect them in the future.

The other guest speaker was Pettis County Sheriff's Deputy and District 200 school resource officer Sgt. John Cline, who told the Biblical story of David & Goliath. He concluded his talk by saying "Just because you're young, doesn't mean you can't make a difference, You can be strong. Be strong in the Lord. Don't be fearful of the challenges you face," Cline said.

During his remarks, Collins told the young students that "Someday, someone will offer you drugs. It's going to happen," he said. "Make good choices."

St. Paul's Principal John Nail noted how all his students looked forward to being in Collins' DARE classes.

DARE students are required to complete their workbook and write an essay to be judged. The three top winners recited their essays to those attending Wednesday night.
First place went to Brayden Holt, second place was Peter Adermann and Elijah Schulze was in third place. Each received special recognition and a DARE medal.

Other students who completed the DARE course included Isabella Corwin, Dominic Torok and Jeremy Weber in fiftth grade, and Molly Colvin, Nathaniel DeFord, Bethany Holt, Lukas Miller and Alyssa Platt in Rhonda Tull's sixth grade class.

"Race Car" Bob Hiller and Maybelle Koeller were recognized for their undying devotion to raising thousands of dollars for the Sedalia DARE program through their annual DARE Car Show, which is scheduled for April 2 this year. Hiller, owner of the well-known street-legal DARE race car, noted that 100 percent of the money raised every year goes directly to the Sedalia DARE program.

Officer Beard noted that Sedalia is the only city in Missouri that offers a DARE scholarship. Collins, who recruited Beard 19 years ago as a DARE officer, thanked Bob & Maybelle for their organizing efforts. "We are very fortunate to have them," he said.

St. Paul's Pastor Jeremy Freeman provided the Invocation and Benediction at the ceremony.