Editorial: Wayne Wallingford recognized with 20th Spirit of America Award

Each year on Independence Day, the Southeast Missourian recognizes an individual with the newspaper's Spirit of America Award. The honor goes to a person who embodies much that is good about this country patriotic, entrepreneurial, civic-mind, philanthropic and faithful, just to name a few qualities.

This is our 20th year to present the award. Some years, the honoree has embodied one of these traits with great distinction. And other years the recipient has made contributions in many areas. A number of recipients have served in the military, though that is not a requirement. Others have made an impact in the business community. And each one has made some significant contribution to their community.

This year the Southeast Missourian received 16 nominations, and we also considered nominations from 2021. We encourage individuals and organizations to renominate candidates again next year as we seek to honor those who have made significant contributions to their country, state and community.

Past winners include: Stephen Limbaugh Sr., David Cantrell, James Blair Moran, Raymond Buhs, Pete Poe, Jim Bollinger, Jerry Ford, Mary Kasten, Kenneth Bender, Kent Zickfield, David Hitt, Rob Callahan, Harry Rediger, Jane Randol Jackson, James Harnes Sr., Neal Edwards, Melvin Gateley, Dan Cotner and John "Doc" Yallaly.

This year, the tradition continued with another deserving honoree: Wayne Wallingford. A decorated veteran in the Air Force, Wallingford flew 300 combat missions in the Vietnam War. He would go on to serve 25 years in the military, including a stint as the chief of the Intelligence Division for the Air Force's contingent at Royal Air Force Base Mildenhall in the United Kingdom.

Among his military honors, the lieutenant colonel received a Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross and Defense Meritorious Service Medal.

Though his military service is impressive on its own, Wallingford also had a great career in the business world serving in various roles fo Taco Bell Corp. and later with McDonald's Southeast Missouri, where he was the chief people officer.

Wallingford served as a state senator in the Missouri General Assembly from 2013-2020 and had two different stints in the Missouri House before being tapped by Gov. Mike Parson to serve as the director of the Department of Revenue.

His community involvement is also impressive, having served on a number of local boards and being an active member of his church.

Wallingford delivered his acceptance speech Monday evening at the Great American Fourth of July celebration in Cape Girardeau via a pre-recorded message. The always humble veteran talked about accepting the award on behalf of his fellow veterans who didn't make it home.

"In accepting this award, I do so with respect and humility on behalf of myself and my family, but also on behalf of them those honorable men who paid the ultimate price and thus were denied the opportunities I have been able to enjoy," he said. "It has always been my mission to do them proud, so to speak. This award gives me hope that I have."

Wayne Wallingford has dedicated his life to serving others, whether through his time in the Air Force, public service in Jefferson City or community involvement. It's our honor to recognize this decorated veteran, talented businessman and humble public servant with the 20th annual Southeast Missourian Spirit of America Award.