Remembering Terry Shay: A special honor for International Dot Day pioneer

Remembering Terry Shay: A special honor for International Dot Day pioneer

Jennifer Onuigbo /
Ellen Shay with her husband's award alongside family, Peter H. Reynolds and actors from "Dot Dot Dot: A New Musical."

“Make Your Mark and See Where It Takes You.” This message from New York Times #1 best-selling author Peter H. Reynolds’ book “The Dot” was featured prominently on Monday as the award-winning author presented an honor to the family of the late Terry “TJ” Shay for his work as the founder and champion of International Dot Day. 

Calling Shay “the ultimate dot connector,” Reynolds presented the award to Ellen Shay, Terry’s wife, in a special presentation before the Gallagher Bluedorn’s Kaleidoscope performance of “Dot Dot Dot: A New Musical.” This show, produced by Theatreworks USA, is based on a trilogy of Reynolds’ books (“The Dot,” “Ish” and “Sky Color”) that celebrate creativity, courage and confidence.

Terry Shay, a UNI alum and former music teacher with the North Tama School District, first introduced his classroom to “The Dot” book in 2009. Dot Day, a day celebrating the power and potential of creativity, was conceived shortly thereafter. With the support and endorsement of Reynolds, the concept grew into International Dot Day in 2011, celebrated annually on or around Sept. 15. In the 15 years since inception, it has reached 200 countries and over 29 million people across the globe. 

Shay was well known in northeast Iowa for his work with International Dot Day. In fact, Shay had recently retired from North Tama, which allowed him to expand his collaboration with Reynolds’ team as “The Dot Connector,” a role that would continue his work on support International Dot Day, and build up his new venture as School Visit Dot Connector - where he would facilitate school visits for children’s book authors and illustrators. 

In the spring of 2023, the Gallagher Bluedorn learned that “Dot Dot Dot: A New Musical” was touring, and planning began with faculty in the College of Education, the Richard O. Jacobson Center for Comprehensive Literacy and Peter H. Reynolds’ FableVision team, to honor Terry at the show. Denise Tallakson, instructor with UNI’s College of Education and one of the collaborative partners in the project, said, “Terry Shay was the essence ofThe Dot.’ He encouraged creativity in everyone he met.” Unfortunately, Terry passed away unexpectedly in the fall of 2023, and plans quickly shifted instead to honoring Terry’s legacy. 

The honor was presented to an audience of 1,300 school children, local educators and Shay’s family members. Over 200 of Shay’s students from North Tama attended the show, and many had the opportunity to chat with Reynolds before the performance began.

Reynolds said, “Terry loved ‘The Dot.’ He is the one who decided to activate the book in his classroom. He dived deep into the book and its themes of creativity and bravery.” He added, “International Dot Day is really a holiday – a celebration of creativity – a day for us to take all these things we’ve learned to make the world a better place.”

The award presented to Ellen Shay had a story of its own. The brass statue featured “The Dot” logo and was designed and poured at the UNI Metal Casting & Foundry 4.0 Center by a team of staff and students led by Nathaniel Bryant, assistant project manager. Bryant said, “This was a great opportunity for us to collaborate with some incredible people across campus. It was fun to bring their ideas to life and create a meaningful award for such an impactful person."  

In addition to the formal award presentation, other Dot activities included a second day of “Dot Dot Dot: A New Musical” performances, a professional learning session attended by 150 current and pre-service teachers, a free community night event with a film screening and eight creativity stations, and the One-Minute Books program, where elementary students had the opportunity to work with the FableVision team to create their own storybooks. In total, over 3,200 people attended one of the Dot-themed events over the two-day span. 

Ellen Shay said, “Terry hated the spotlight, but would have been thrilled to see all of this. This was his dream – to see the community celebrating creativity – and to see it all happening like this is so touching.”  Ellen will continue Terry’s work on his School Visit Dot Connector venture:

A scholarship has been set up in Terry's name to support students in his local community where he taught for so many years. Donations can be made here:

Terry Shay Scholarship Fund 
Farmers Savings Bank & Trust 
611 2nd Street
Traer, IA 50675