An unusual twist unfolded Monday night at the Van Buren School District Education Foundation’s annual Academic Recognition Banquet.

The banquet, which honors the top 40 graduating seniors of the Class of 2014, had a 41st honoree.

Debbie Thomas, executive director of the education foundation, took to the podium after the scholars recognized a VBSD teacher, coach, principal or counselor whom has had a significant positive influence on his or her education and life.

Thomas said it was her privilege to recognize Dr. Merle Dickerson, retiring superintendent of the Van Buren School District, who she affectionately calls "Dr. D" because when she first met Dickerson she thought his name was too long.

"The education foundation was a dream of Jimmy Bell, Paul Gant and Lonnie Myers," Thomas said. "And, the foundation came to be in 2000. Under Dr. D’s administration, it has flourished. He possesses a great leadership skill to let people do what they do best."

Thomas said one of her fondest memories of Dickerson occurred on one of the foundation’s Pointer Patrols.

"Dr. D was walking through the schools with a big red Santa hat and jingle bells ringing loud, high-fiving kids and passing out candy," she said.

Thomas said children’s interests and education have always been first in Dickerson’s heart, a legacy she hopes will continue in the Van Buren School District.

"He’s a band geek," Thomas said. "His first love is playing the drums and now he will be retiring to ride his bike and hang out on the beach. Dr. D is pretty awesome in my book."

Scholars and honored teachers are:

Noah Spear - Brad Ball; Sarah Coles - Elizabeth Williams; Ethan Johnston - Heather Dean; Taylor Rackley - Deena Dunn; John Elijah Mills - Ron Smith; Sydne Tursky - Jana McCain; Morgan Stites - Sherie Cormack; Nathan Garrett - Brad Reeves; William Chance Mitchell - Angie Thompson; Brandon Jones - Mike Kneeland; Fallon Haaser - Valerie Burns; Macy Greb - Dusti Hurst; Whitney "Alex" Gladden - Jessica Fisher; James Masters Jr. - Michelle Hefner; Caleb Bauman - Drew Cone; Madison Wagner - Renee Henson; Jordan Landry - Pam Bibbs; Alexander Anderson - Greg George; Gina Southchay - Stephanie Dunn; Ashley Meuangmany - Janice Lawson; Callie Burcham - Paige Hammond; Nathan Whitlow - Rod Ray.

And, Nayeli Suarez - Terri Burton; Makayla Trentham - Brandy Mosby; Caitlin Hicks - Mary Beth Duncan; Jimmy Michael Cureton - Teddy McMurray; Paula Hamby - Gayle Selby; Caleb Faries - Tom Banhart; Syndey Ford - Renee Risley; Carly Jo Riggins - Karen Allen; Cayla Crider - Jeff Belcher; Brianna Gill - Kara Holland; Tyler Mayhew - Dawn Nichols; Morgan Poague - Mari Newby; Dustin Emmert - Pam Scarbrough; Joshua Hamby - Richard Jiminez; Abby Burgess - Kellie Salyer; Savannah Leonard - Rick Endel; Jordan Newell - Brad Rotert; and Kristin Hayes - Cindy Nelson.