A salute to teachers for helping along a now-aging student body

Published 8:45 am Friday, September 10, 2010

by Clarence Foster

The two people who raised me — Maggie Fulgham Sprewell and Herbert McKinley Sprewell — were graduates of St. Paul’s College Class of 1930.

He was from the backwoods of South Hill — Bracey — and she was from the backwoods of Ivor — Zuni. People coming together at these small colleges, a mishmash band of hopefuls, forged bonds for a lifetime. A small measure of their kinship might be illustrated by an afternoon back in 1952.

Uncle Herbert was hollering in a loud agitated voice, “Run boy! Run! Run.”

A tall runner was racing down the far sideline. He had a curious rock to his gait as he fought for all his body could give him. He was carrying an oblong object, obviously of great value. Pursuing him was a costumed gang of determined ruffians, three or four of who were gaining on him.

The frantic Uncle Herbert and the multitude of maniacs he stood with, matched stride for stride with the doomed runner. They were all caught and brought down, some 50 yards down field. Uncle Herbert, Aunt Maggie and I had made the 75-mile pilgrimage to Lawrenceville that morning. We would return home, renewed, that evening.

We were playing Bluefield. Blue Field? Fascinating imagery to a 7-year-old country boy.

Uncle Herbert and his buddy, Danny Hester, had manned the interior line, both ways, for the Tigers in the late ‘20s. They were still there, and there they would remain, forever.

Uncle Herbert was born in 1898. By the time of his gridiron days, he had already been off to Steubenville, Ohio, and Buffalo, N.Y., in search of a future.

Aunt Maggie (1906-1971) had done domestic work in New Jersey. [There were some distant relatives there who knew of such jobs. A carload of them (Gray (s), I think) were present for a family reunion in the mid-‘50s. Never saw them before or since] — sending much needed clothing home to nine younger siblings.

Yes, they were all there. The alumni, an upscale engine, home for the weekend, purring and growling, like tigers. It was all the makings and maintenance of a genteel class of community workers. Teachers by trade, but much, much more.

To all of this, and all of them, I offer a salute.

Easter Bonds Davis, the sole teacher of all seven grades of the Crumpler Crossing School, was also pianist emeritus at Gilfield Baptist.

Mr. Lee Mitchell, distinguished Ivor School Principal, before and after the transition from the old three-roomer to the new school.

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Howell Warren, my first-grade teacher at Ebenezer. She and her sister, Penny, married brothers Shelby and Lord. All the more fascinating, given a Berlin to Holland courtship, 90 years ago.

Lucy Fulgham Haynes (my aunt), taking advantage of an early ‘50s posting on a Norfolk Post office wall, taught Native American youths in Oregon for years.

Mildred Sykes McClenny, noted librarian, G.P.’s wife, and belle of Newsoms.

Sadie Doles Wyche, local aristocrat, and Hayden doyen, who famously hosted a Nigerian student (a name sounding like Miami with an N____) during the mid ‘50s. I’ve heard it said that her father, A.B. Doles (1863-1946), a light complexion grandee, could negotiate favors.

Josephine Johnson Chapman (cousin Josie), a 1915 graduate of the present-day Hampton University, and an ancient family heirloom.

Mary Powell on Beulah Land’s Long Branch School. There’s this Franklin bowling league. One Tuesday, I asked the 89-year-old Louise Hood Bryant if her bowling competitor, Mary Powell, an 80-plus former student, had been difficult. A feisty Mary Powell, her eyes flashing, displayed a charming umbrage.

A thousand or more of these early to mid-century wunderkinds marched through the county, carrying us along with them.

That casual wearing of Sunday clothes, everyday, inspiring the imagination to look beyond the horizon. That personal rectitude, the arcane rules of etiquette — on constant display and silently and wistfully monitored by one and all.

The use of schoolhouse English, on and off the school grounds, and the pressure on those within earshot to conform.

The reading and writing of correspondence for many adults who came for help.

Educators and exemplars of current ways and means to health and hygiene.

Symbols of the relative profit in tangibles, and intangibles if one is studious, ambitious and courageous.

That indirect attachment to another world. The placing of all of us a little closer to the Virginia states, the Hamptons, the Elizabeth Cities, the Howards, the Shaws — the professional world.

Last, but hardly least — their lifelong embrace of all their children.

For all these gifts, lavished upon an all too unresponsive, and now aging student body, we offer a hearty thanks, from a deep appreciation forged over a lifetime.