August 11, 2021

Missouri School Counselor Named 2020-2021 ‘LifeChanger of the Year’ Grand Prize Winner!

High school counselor Johanna “Sue” Day receives $10,000 cash prize for demonstrating outstanding leadership and dedication to student success.

Sue Day, the school counselor for Joplin High School in Joplin, MO, has been selected as the Grand Prize Winner for the 2020-2021 national LifeChanger of the Year award.

Sue, who recently retired after working for 48 years in education, earned the $10,000 national Grand Prize as a result of her tenacity and dedication to setting students up for success. She was chosen for the award out of nearly 750 nominated teachers, administrators and school district employees from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“Whenever we have a student in need of assistance at our high school, Sue Day is someone who frequently comes to mind. Over the years, Sue has helped many students find safe places to live, medical or emotional assistance, and scholarship aid. With consummate skill, she has given her heart and soul to make a positive difference.”

Sue’s superintendent and nominator, Melinda Moss


Sue played a vital part in helping thousands of students pursue their dreams of attending college. She maintained the school’s chapter of the Missouri A+ program, which helps students enter Missouri junior colleges with free tuition and books. She worked with many families in need to enroll their students in the program, monitor their progress, and help them reach their goals of being first-generation college students. Sue also implemented the Innovation Campus program, which allows students in financial need to enroll in college-level courses while in high school.

As a counselor, Sue wasn’t afraid to hold students accountable for their actions, but she also demonstrated kindness and compassion to everyone she encountered. She was known for helping students find safe places to live, locating resources for pregnant girls, helping with college applications, and taking the time to listen to those who were struggling. Years later, many of Sue’s former students still have contact with her because of her willingness to go above and beyond.

“Every student has that one instructor who can, almost without effort, bring a smile to their face. For me, that person is Ms. Day. (She) always made it a priority to remind me of just how much potential I possess. Every time I stepped into her office, she greeted me with excitement and an embrace. In all of our encounters, she made one thing very clear: she believed in me.”

Krusha Bhakta, a former Joplin High School student


In 2011, when Joplin High School was destroyed by a tornado, Sue went above and beyond to rebuild the counseling office. The school temporarily relocated to an abandoned department store, and Sue spent the next 18 months putting together a fully functional Counseling Office on the fly, all while counseling hundreds of traumatized students who had lost homes, family, and classmates. When the new high school construction was completed, she successfully transitioned the counseling department to the administration building and again rebuilt a fully functional office.

“Sue exemplifies what it means to be a LifeChanger and servant-leader. We are inspired by her invaluable mentorship and dedication to student success. She leaves behind an incredible legacy, and we wish her the best in retirement.”

Mehran Assadi, CEO and President of National Life Group

Learn More About Sue Day Here!


About LifeChanger of the Year

LifeChanger of the Year is an annual program sponsored and run by National Life Group, a more than 170 year old financial services company that serves K-12 educators nationwide. For decades, National Life and our distribution partners have been helping school employees retire with dignity. Seeing the work that our nation’s school employees do, the passion behind that work, and the lasting outcome of it keeps us inspired. We created the LifeChanger of the Year program as a way to shine a light on the field of education, celebrate school employees and provide them with the resources they need to succeed while they’re in the classroom and beyond.

LifeChanger of the Year winners are selected by an independent committee comprised of past winners and education professionals. To be considered for a LifeChanger of the Year award, nominees must:

● Make a positive impact in the lives of students
● Enhance their school or district’s atmosphere, culture and pride
● Demonstrate exemplary leadership at the school and/or district level
● Possess a proven record of professional excellence
● Show commitment to building a nurturing environment that supports learning
● Adhere to the highest moral and ethical standards

In addition to Sue, four other educators from across the country were recognized as 2020-2021 LifeChanger of the Year Grand Prize Finalists.

Each Finalist received a $2,500 cash reward with a matching $2,500 donation made to their schools.

Azineth Buan – Math Teacher/Department Head
Memorial High School
Port Arthur, TX

Lindsey Ison – Cafeteria Supervisor
Fairhaven School
Niles, OH

Lani Matsumura – Fourth Grade Teacher
Laurelwood Elementary School
Santa Clara, CA

Traci Thibodeaux – Founder and Director
Rêve Preparatory Charter School
Houston, TX

Twelve additional cash awards were given out to LifeChanger of the Year winners from Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and Texas.

Complete Listing Of This Year's LCOY Winners

In Texas, due to regulatory concerns, National Life Group will donate similar items to the winner or a nonprofit group of NLGroup’s choice that supports the winner’s school.