The Bond of Bronze and Blue

One Family’s 93-Year Central Legacy

By Kyla Carter

Legacy. Something handed down from the past to the next generation. For some, a legacy is represented by an item or piece of property, but for the Hurt-Kusek family, legacy meant something much more – the bond of a Central education that would continue through four generations and span 93 years.


Grace Rice Shaw

In 1930, Grace Rice Shaw received her teaching certificate from Central State Teacher’s College, now known as the University of Central Oklahoma. During that period, the institution solely provided curriculum to train teachers. Shaw’s passion for teaching and dedication to learning brought her back to campus 27 years later, where she graduated with her bachelor’s degree in education.

“My mother passed away when I was 7 years old, so I don’t have a lot of background,” said Charla Hurt, daughter of Shaw. “But I do remember all the kids in the neighborhood who went to my mom’s in-home play school [early childhood day center] – it was called Shaw’s Play School.”

“I grew up with a chalkboard in my living room. I was always playing school with my friends – I was always playing the teacher.”

The energy of the students’ laughter, the nostalgia of white chalk on a blackboard and the memory of her mother educating young, vibrant minds created the perfect path for Charla to follow in her mother’s footsteps – continuing to build upon her mother’s legacy and educate the next generation.


Charla graduated high school and began dating the boy who lived across the street – Gary Hurt. The couple shared common interests. Both wanted to become teachers and knew exactly where they wanted to attend college – Central State. Charla and Gary didn’t pursue the typical college experience; they tied the knot just after completing their freshman year. Central offered married student housing on campus at the time, which Charla and Gary decided would be the perfect place to start the next chapter of their lives. When asked about their experience living in married student housing, they both looked at each other adoringly, both knowing what the other was thinking.

“We didn’t have much money at the time, so a night for us included popcorn and card games with our friends. We would walk together to class, and it was nice not having to deal with parking,” Gary said.

Gary and Charla, outside married housing, at graduation.

Three years after becoming husband and wife, Charla and Gary graduated from Central in 1972, both receiving their bachelor’s degrees in education. After graduation, Charla and Gary began their careers as teachers for Mid-Del Public Schools.

After gaining a few years of teaching and real-world experience, they both decided they wanted to pursue advanced degrees and made their way back home to Central.

“I was able to be a part of a summer course that included master-level work. I fell in love with the class and knew I had to continue the program,” Charla said. But life presented a different direction. “

It took a while to complete the program — I was currently teaching, and we had an addition to our family, our first son.”

Like many Central students, Charla and Gary had to learn how to navigate the delicate balance between home, work and school obligations. In time, they were able to complete their master’s degrees.

Charla received her degree in early childhood education, while Gary pursued a secondary guidance and counseling degree at Central.

“After 20 years as an art teacher, I thought becoming a guidance counselor would be another interesting career. You listen to the students’ stories and talk them through different topics,” Gary said.

Through decades of changing students’ lives, it was finally time for the next generation of educators to take over. Gary retired as a guidance counselor in 2001, and Charla retired from teaching in 2003, both from Mid-Del Public Schools.


When it was time for Casey Hurt, Charla and Gary’s son, to begin his college career, he opted to follow a different path from his parents. However, the Central legacy would find its way back to the Hurt family, when Casey met his future wife, Rachel Kusek.

Rachel was a budding educator whose interest in teaching was inspired by her mother Vikie Kusek’s teaching career.

“My mom had gone through the special education program at Central, so it was a very natural choice for me to apply to the university and begin my journey. I got to spend some time with her in the classroom and with students, and immediately knew that was what I wanted to do,” Rachel said.

Vikie took an untraditional route when pursuing her bachelor’s degree. Nonetheless, she was determined to become a teacher, no matter what challenges persisted.

“I didn’t go back to school until I was 35. I finished my bachelor’s degree in three years while working two jobs and raising a family.”

“I was a late bloomer,” Vikie said, laughing.

After teaching at Mid-Del Public Schools for several years, Vikie decided to pursue a master’s degree in bilingual education, so she could provide educational opportunities to students who did not speak English as a first language.

Vikie retired as a school psychologist in 2020. Rachel now works as a children’s compliance specialist, where she combines the best of both worlds – education and leadership.


As Emily Hurt donned her Bronze and Blue regalia, signifying her status as a class marshal at the May 2022 commencement ceremony, she reflected upon her lineage and the generational connection to Central. Her great-grandmother, Grace Rice Shaw, took the same steps across campus, walked the exact halls of Old North.

Emily, the daughter of Casey and Rachel Hurt, was continuing the legacy her great-grandmother started, but it was also the beginning of creating her own story. She found her calling in psychology and forensic science, but held close to her family’s background.

“I feel like I did tie education into my college journey because I was a teaching assistant for the Department of Psychology — but I wanted to do something outside of education. I have always been interested in investigations and analyzing evidence and thought forensic science was a perfect fit.”

She reflected upon her time at Central and smiled, knowing that her family also experienced the same feeling of community on campus.

“UCO does an excellent job as it continues to change and adapt as times change. The professors want you to succeed, and I did because I had this great community of support.”


Kusek-Hurt Family

Although the passion for teaching in Emily’s legacy still holds, she witnessed the changes in education and how it shaped her family.

“All my family members who are educators have loved it, but I think I saw firsthand how, after a while, it can be a career that wears on you,” Emily said.

Throughout the decades, there has been a complete shift in education from in-person learning to virtual teaching. Teachers have had to adapt to the constant changes, all while keeping the students’ education top priority.

“We’ve been through a lot of cycles in education, and this is just a really difficult time. There are amazing teachers, and they teach with kindness. But the shift in how we teach has brought on many challenges,” Charla said.

When asked what advice the Hurt and Kusek family have for students considering a career in education, they were honest.

“Make sure pursuing education is something that you love and want to do. It’s not about the summer and holiday breaks. It’s about loving teaching and wanting to better the minds of children. That’s the only way,” Charla said.

In addition to having a passion for the career, the topic of supporting your current teachers and professors made its way into the conversation.

“We must remember to advocate and support teachers because they do deserve better. I loved my job. I loved those kids. I wouldn’t have stayed in my career for as long as I did if I didn’t, but I have seen a decline,” Vikie said.

“One of the most rewarding things I experienced as a teacher is when I saw a student of mine who graduated six years ago run up to me in the grocery store and hug me so hard and told me that I saved his life.”

It’s important to remember the teachers who have impacted our lives. The teachers who helped us expand our minds guided us through challenges and supported our journeys. This family’s story mirrors the university’s progression, with four generations of Central graduates — whose love for education is constant in this changing world.