The American Heart Association recognized Gina McNeese, an instructor of health and physical education at Northwest Missouri State University and the Horace Mann Laboratory School, with its Mission Impact Award for her commitment to physical fitness instruction and 30 years of leading students through the organization’s Kids Heart Challenge on April 12.

Stephanie Jumps, a youth market director with the American Heart Association, presented a medal and plaque to McNeese in front of a crowd of more than 400 third and fourth grade students and teachers from schools throughout Nodaway County. McNeese was leading them through fitness activities during the Hy-Vee Kids Fit event at the Carl and Cheryl Hughes Fieldhouse on the Northwest campus.

The American Heart Association’s Mission Impact Award recognizes volunteers who achieve milestones in their commitment to the organization’s cause.

“Gina McNeese has been instrumental,” Jumps said. “She has not only taught her elementary students but she has taught the values of teaching, learning and helping others with her university students. She has mentored so many PE teachers who then go on to have the same types of programs in their schools. She just really is such a role model for our cause and for the Kids Heart Challenge program.”

McNeese joined the Northwest faculty in 1994. Prior to that, 36 years ago, she began her teaching at Stanberry and then South Nodaway. She received a bachelor of science degree in physical education and health as well as a master of science degree in physical education from Northwest.

McNeese was recognized in 2016 by the Missouri Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (MOAHPERD) as the Northwest District Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year for 2016. She noted she has a daily workout scheme.

Outside of her teaching, McNeese conducts CPR, first aid, lifeguard training and water safety workshops in Missouri and Iowa as well as at Northwest. She also leads multiple church youth groups, summer youth programs and swimming lessons and she volunteers for community improvement and cleanup projects.

With the sponsorship of Hy-Vee in Maryville and Northwest as well as the involvement of a variety of local partners, Hy-Vee Kids Fit helps students develop fitness knowledge while teaching them fun activities to improve their health and physical education. Dairia Driftmier, director of Hy-Vee Kids Fit and Hy-Vee Fitness, shared with the children workout tips to make fitness funs. The students also enjoyed a healthy meal, provided by Hy-Vee.