By Steve Flairty
This week, I’d like to talk about one of those “circle of life” times I experienced a couple of Saturdays ago. My wife and I drove over to Winchester, where I lived and taught school from 1975 to 1995.
We attended the ninetieth birthday celebration event for Joyce Rogers, held at the First Baptist Church. Joyce played an important part in my early days as an educator.
The time at the party spurred lucid, and mostly positive, thoughts of the first three years I taught—a reservoir of experience from which I’ve often drawn perspective.
That first classroom position was in special education at Trapp Elementary, a small, rural school in the south-eastern part of Clark County. It was memorable in several ways. First, I was a greenhorn teacher and, at age 21, also a greenhorn adult learning how to “grow up.” I was excited that the school building reminded me of the one I attended as a child, Grant’s Lick Elementary. That was a good thing, bringing a familiarity to blend with the rigors of teaching.
Another good thing happening was being around humble, folksy people in the Trapp community—many of them just like the neighbors where I was raised around Grant’s Lick and Claryville, in rural Campbell County.
Caring souls around Trapp such as Joyce Rogers, and others like her, positively influenced me during the three years I spent there.
Joyce and her husband, Harold “Babe” Rogers, were community members who ran the historic Fox’s Store, in “downtown” Trapp — a store and a few houses — and a few hundred yards from the school. Besides having some groceries and merchandise, they offered a few breakfast items, too. I’d stop by Fox’s before school and pick up a sausage biscuit and maybe a small orange juice or coffee.
Babe was usually there in the morning, and he’d greet me with a big smile that signaled he’d already been up and about for a while. In my early twenties, I was dragging on those mornings, not long out of bed before leaving for my thirty-minute drive from my apartment in Winchester to school. In time, Babe generously helped me procure funds from his Rotary Club to use for my classroom; he helped me feel welcome and valued.
Joyce, also friendly, was more likely to be working at Fox’s during the afternoon. She happened to be about my mother’s age at the time, an immediate connection for us. Through short conversations we had in the store over time, she brought me in tune with the conservative values and local mores of the Trapp area citizens.
That was important because I had been elected president of the Trapp School P.T.O. during my second year of teaching, and it was crucial to understand the people to be effective — and not get in trouble. I admired both Babe and Joyce Rogers. I found out only recently that Babe passed some twenty years ago, and Joyce later moved from Trapp to Winchester, where I became reacquainted with her in the last year.
Others who helped during those first three years included Mrs. Grace Woods, a first-grade teacher and community icon, who was nearing retirement. She’d occasionally stop by my classroom, look for something positive to say about my work, and often share an anecdote about her teaching experiences.
She must have thought I was a genuine whippersnapper “work in process,” but she didn’t talk down to me and, I believe, looked for the best and surmised what I might become someday. She recognized my passion and knew that I needed polishing but understood that would probably come with experience.
Some who made a difference gave me quite pointed, though beneficial guidance — Patty Ferguson and George Carpenter. Patty, a PTO member, unapologetically schooled me on some issues about the organization — and how I needed to improve as president.
George gave me sound advice on creating a yearly agenda for the PTO, something that hadn’t (gasp!) occurred to me at such a young age. I’ve seen Patty a few times in the last year; we’re now friends and we laugh about those times at Trapp School when I referred to her as “Queen of the Thornbushes” in a skit I did for a school talent show.
George passed long ago, but I’ll never forget his advice regarding doing careful long and short-term planning while leading groups.
Alice Quisenberry lived in the area and was the cafeteria manager. She often fed me extra government cheese for a snack during my breaks and we became friends. She was approaching retirement age but was still hard-working and energetic.
I recall taking her for a Sunday drive a couple of times — she reminded me of my grandmother — as she gave me an informative tour around the Trapp area. Wilma Haggard, the school secretary, was easy to converse with and very patient with my many questions. Perhaps she saw me as a young boy who reminded her of her son rather than as a grown man.
I’ll not forget my principal, Melvin Howard. Not only did he support a young teacher who made a lot of mistakes — though not for lack of trying — he took a personal interest in my life and was always approachable and kind.
We took in some state basketball tournament games and he also invited me to his church for a special singing event. In a way, he was an important father figure as my own dad lived a few hours away. Out of respect for the principal, I called him “Mr. Howard” even when we were outside of the school realm. He passed a few years back, and I think of him often.
I was invigorated by attending Joyce’s birthday get-together. It reminded me to be appreciative of those who have acted in good stead for me. Even better, those thoughts inspire me to be mindful of how I might help those coming of age today.