By Pam Bone Whitlock
993 East Avenue, Madison, GA, is just a flat piece of land. Upon that parcel of ground stands Morgan County Primary School, formerly Madison Elementary School Thousands of Morgan County children were first educated here. Hundreds of educators were the inspirational force behind them. Strong administrators including W. B. Neal, Marie Bass Martin and Dr. Wayne Myers encouraged and expected the best from students and teachers.
The past few months 993 East Avenue has virtually been silent. There’s been no sounds of happy children on the playground, no lunchroom clatter, and no sounds of buses’ engines and brakes pulling through to load and unload their cargo. It has been quiet.
I spent many years on this piece of land: a student in first grade through seventh grade, then as teacher for a little over 30 years. The building has evolved over the past 60-plus years but parts of the main hall remain the same.
This article is not about my teaching experience, but a few bits and pieces of memories I have of those who helped educate me. Hopefully some of these memories will ring a bell with you or spark a memory you have of your early education. I’ll be going back over 60 years in some cases, so here goes . . .
First Grade – Mrs. June Thornton: She was rather petite. Had a raspy voice, could be loud if needed and walked with a purpose. She reminded me of actress Barbara Stanwyck. Mrs. Thornton would write OK in the top corner of our workbook pages. We strived for that OK! We learned to spell electricity as a spelling word. When electricity was finally mastered, I never forgot how to spell it. But more importantly, Mrs. Thornton is the one who taught me the beginning fundamentals of reading. She introduced me to the world of Alice, Jerry and Jip. What beautiful pictures those little paperback primers had! I wanted to visit and play ball with Alice and Jerry. I wanted to choose a red coat or a blue coat with Alice or a big cookie or little cookie from the story’s bakery shelf with them. Thank you Mrs. Thornton.
Second Grade – Mrs. Guy Wilson Mrs. Wilson was gentle, older than Mrs. Thornton. She would read us chapter books and poetry. She also wrote poems about us. She would allow us to go barefooted at recess on warm days. We worked on reading with expression. She wrote on my report card that I liked to daydream and stare out the window too much. I was probably wondering what fun things my mother and baby brother were doing at home without me. Mrs. Wilson lived by herself in a two-story boarding house once located in the SunTrust parking lot. She later moved into a duplex on Pine Street. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I still like to stare our the window and daydream.
Third Grade – Mrs. Mae Blackwell Mrs. Blackwell was rather tall. She smiled easily. She expected us to complete our classwork on time. We worked hard for her: practicing counting coins from a cigar box on her desk, correctly using prefixes and suffixes, placing accent marks on the correct syllable. We had our first math workbook and began learning the multiplication tables. I remember Mrs. Blackwell and fellow teacher, Mrs. Frances Biggers, seemed to be good friends.
Fourth Grade – Mrs. V. Brown and Mrs. Lynne Paul Neal This was our first year to have two teachers. I mainly stayed with Mrs. Brown all day but went to Mrs. Neal for math. Mrs. Brown was older, soft spoken and rather easy on us as there were a couple of students who could talk her out of classwork and homework. Mrs. Brown assigned us sentences to correctly write on the chalkboard. This was a treat. She was the first teacher who began instructing us on Georgia’s history. None of our classes had air conditioning but I never remember this being an issue, but Mrs. Brown always opened the windows and situated the electric floor fan so we’d all feel a little breeze on hot days.
One special memory I have of Mrs. Brown involves a little boy named Charles. The county fair was in town that week, and Charles’ parents worked and traveled with the fair. He came on a Monday and left on Friday afternoon. I can’t remember what I ate for dinner two days ago but I remember details of Charles and Mrs. Brown. He had dark hair that was combed and parted to perfection. He wore tan pants and brown lace-up shoes. Mrs. Brown assigned a couple of the boys to be his special friend for the week. I also remember when we would do independent classwork she would call him up to her desk for extra tutoring. I strangely remember this and her kindness to him made an impact on me.
Mrs. Neal was always impeccably dressed. She had beautiful dark hair. She was a general in the classroom, requiring us to complete all our math assignments before going out to recess. I missed a lot of recesses that year. She drilled us on the 100 basic addition and subtraction facts. I learned the following year how beneficial quick recall of these facts would be.
Fifth Grade – Mrs. Isabell Hatchell
What a beautiful, distinct voice she had. She enunciated her words and her voice was strong. We continued our studies in reading and math but I remember the world geography booklet we made. Every day after lunch she read us a chapter from a Nancy Drew mystery. We always begged her to read us another chapter, but she’d just laugh and say, “Tomorrow”. I remember Mrs. Hatchell also being a Morgan County basketball fan. She’d make comments to us on recent games.
Sixth Grade – Mrs. Barbara Thompson and Mrs. Sara Herndon
I stayed in Mrs. Thompson’s room most of the day. She wore beautiful lipstick and high heels! She could be strict, a no-nonsense type teacher. There were few discipline problems in her class. We worked on fractions in math I remember. I also remember working from the SRA Kit with multi reading levels with matching color pencils. Beautiful colors such as emerald, sapphire and coral were used in the levels’ names. Mrs. Herndon taught us science, health, and social studies. She had a calm voice and wore skirt and sweater sets. She used charts and diagrams. Mrs. Herndon liked to give tests on Fridays but allowed us a little free time afterwards. She was happy for me when my new sister was born! This is also the year President Kennedy was assassinated. We were returning from recess one November afternoon when we received word he’d been shot. I remember Mrs. Thompson and Mrs. Herndon standing outside the classroom doors being visibly shaken.
Seventh Grade – Mrs. Mary Bell This was our final year at Madison Elementary School. Mrs. Bell had a beautiful hand writing because I remember our chalkboard being full of work for us to do each day. She was very patriotic. One of our assignments was to memorize and recite the Gettysburg Address. Mrs. Bell liked order and things done in a certain way. Rarely did she deviate from this. We sat in ABC order and all that year I looked at the back of Henry Barrow’s head. He had blonde hair and the most stylish duck-tail a guy ever sported. That spring we visited Morgan County High School and were truly like fish out of water because we’d soon be leaving the only school we’d known since we were six years old.
Well, I’ve used some of my shelter-in time to reflect on the past. I’ve read the future of our schools will most likely look different. Due to children wanting to learn, educators eager to teach, and Principal Wyatt ready and willing to lead, 993 East Avenue will successfully adapt. Of this I am sure.
Pam Whitlock is a life-long Morgan County resident. She is a former Morgan County System Teacher of the Year and nominee for a U.S. Presidential Teaching Award in Math and Science.