A tribute to Lelia “Lucille” (Brillhart) Garman
May 23, 1920 ~ January 23, 2019
“Old School” was originally published September 2018.
This article relates to the school history from 1928-1981 and some insight on the students, teachers, cooks and custodians. It is designed to take you down a memory lane as stories are retold by some of the former students.
” Where Have All the Children Gone”
Catawba School just sits there. It appears lifeless, non-living, inanimate which in a way is properly stated. Most inanimate objects are referred to as “it”. We do not have a gender pronoun for inanimate things. They are just called “it”. I am going to change that right now.
“She” sits there clothed in the same red brick she has worn for 90 years, staring at the Methodist church across Rt. 779 looking at the North Mountain looming skyward in the background.
What are her thoughts? Does she think perhaps she was decommissioned in 1981, much like the USS Missouri Battleship would be in 1992, considered to be obsolete? No longer needed with no legacy to leave to the good people of Catawba Valley? And where have all the children gone?
If Catawba School could speak what stories would she tell? I was born and raised in a small house in 1940 which was located right beside the School. I have an experience of personal history with her that most do not and I will take the liberty of speaking on her behalf. She turns ninety this year having been built in 1928, so she has served as a high school initially and an elementary school later on for a total of 53 years. Hundreds of students would have attended school there over that period which ceased to be a high school in 1939-40 when those above 7th grade headed to Andrew Lewis High School. Catawba School would have been solely an elementary (1st through 7th) grade school at that time until its closing in the Spring of 1981.
The 1920s were called the roaring twenties with the economy growing like never before. In this decade for the very first time, more people lived in cities and towns than on farms. It was recognized nationally that schools needed to be upgraded to reflect adequate space, plumbing, heating, and other modern amenities. Monies in the form of grants were made available to states including Virginia. Roanoke County officials would declare that Catawba had the oldest schools in their county and it appeared a new Catawba school was a priority.
This was a huge thing for Catawbians to get a very modern school building erected with up-to-date facilities. Other than what was happening at Catawba Sanatorium this was the biggest thing to happen to Catawba in its history.
I would argue that it had the greatest impact since it affected all the children of Catawba Valley over the years, as well as all the citizens of this mountain community.
On April 16, 1928, Roanoke County approved the construction of a four-classroom design and budgeted $15,500 for construction. The project was advertised for bids and the Roanoke Lumber and Construction Company was awarded the contract and construction begin most likely in May of that year. The school would end up costing $16,670 (construction plus furnishings).
The school was well constructed with a brick veneer and quality workmanship throughout. It also had modern classrooms, desks, bathrooms, and a cafeteria. Many would have access to indoor plumbing that was absent at home and a hefty hot meal served at mid-day, which they may or may not have gotten at home.
Although lunch was not offered in the first few years it would eventually be offered. Add in an auditorium with a stage for organized events and plentiful space on the playground and you have a very nice campus. All the children of Catawba by age and grade could interact with each other and develop lifelong relationships. This Grand Old School made a huge impact on Catawba’s families. A significant number of students over the years would go on to colleges or trade schools. Highly qualified teachers would be hired giving all the children the opportunity to develop the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic plus more challenging courses to maximize their learning potential in grades one through twelve.
Interscholastic sports were organized for boys and girls who would compete with other county schools. Basketball and softball were the two sports that fielded boy and girl teams. Legend has it that they did very well.
By 1940 the students beyond the seventh grade at Catawba School would be going to Andrew Lewis High School in Salem. The year 1954 would bring Catawba black elementary students to the school. In the 1960’s graduating seventh graders would be going to Northside High School. In the Fall of 1981, Catawba Elementary would be closed and Catawba students would be going to Mason Cove School and Northside High School.
I believe that Catawba School was more than a school from the very beginning. It was a community center before it became a Community Center. More than just education happened there. The old Catawba Methodist Church held Easter Pageants there many times. It was normal to have fundraising ice cream suppers there which were heavily attended.
Country bands like Reno & Smiley and others would play at the school auditorium to packed audiences. The school itself had children events scheduled there for parents and community to attend. Baseball was played on the lower part of the property most every Sunday afternoon. The school was an institution that served many purposes, as they should. Little did we know that in 1986 it would become in reality the Catawba Community Center. And rightfully so I might add. May it be so forever.
As for the Carroll family, we have special feelings for the Old School because we lived closer to it than anyone. We shared a property line, and our back door was less than a minute to the side door of the school. Our mother cooked at Catawba School for a couple of decades and at another county school for a few more years. She cooked for a total of 26 years and was recognized by Roanoke County for her lengthy service. We also played over there with other children who lived in walking distance during the summers. It was our playground year round. I have told many people over the years that I walked to and from school for seven years. Sometimes I would clarify that, and sometimes I would let the statement stand on its own.
I could write as many stories as there were number of students who went to Catawba School. With that being impossible and impractical I will share a sampling of some things folks have shared. The starting point would be some of my own experiences.
I suppose every first grader could tell a “first day of school” experience. Actually, I have one that I would like to share.
TEDDY – First grade, the first day of school
At age six I would enter the first grade in the Fall of 1946. At that time I was as shy as shy could be. That would stay with me until I was in the ninth grade at Andrew Lewis High School. But into the school I would go, entering the first and second-grade classroom where Miss Lucille Brillhart (Miss B.) was waiting. At first glance, she looked very professional, nicely dressed and I almost smiled. Then I saw it! She had it in her right hand slowly tapping the open palm of her left hand. Tap-tap-tap the maddening rhythm continued. I had heard the stories of Miss B. and her ruler, and there it was 12 inches of hard hickory. It was legendary that you did not want to get on the wrong side of Miss B. or she would take your hand, bend the fingers down with your palm exposed face-up and the tap-tap became rat-a-tat-tat over and over. You would go to your seat with a numb palm, and if that was your righting hand then forget doing cursive that day.
To say I was scared to death would be an understatement as she gave me that Clint Eastwood look where he says, “make my day.” I turned away from staring and quickly (but not too fast) headed to my designated seat beside Orval Garman whom I knew, making me feel much better already. Orval was one of my buddies, and I knew I could count on him. This first day was looking better already. Looking around I saw that cute girl Peggy Taylor in the second-grade section. Teddy, you are ready. My how that would soon change—-big time!
Both first and second graders had arrived and were seated. Miss B. got up from her desk walked front and center and gave us instructions on how things would be for the next nine months. I did not catch much of anything she said until near the end. She said, “If anyone has to go to the bathroom before recess or lunchtime, and you cannot wait, then you shall raise your hand and ask to be excused.” She told it in such a way that discouraged anyone from wanting to do that. I panicked. I immediately was thinking, what if I have to go and just couldn’t hold it until recess? Well sir, it was one of those moments when thinking about it would bring reality. Being in the first-grade room not quite an hour, sure enough, I had the urge to go. Teddy was not ready for the first day of school after all.
With my confidence shot, I did what any six-year-old boy would do, I panicked. I remembered Miss B. saying, raise your hand and say “Miss B., can I go pee?” No, no, that’s not right, –gotta calm down here. She had said to ask, “May I be excused.” Okay, take a deep breath and size up the situation. I could try to hold it until recess and go down to the bathroom then. But what if I couldn’t, and end up wetting my pants. The embarrassment certainly would last my whole life, and I was only six. The nicknames that I might be called like Teddywetty or Pee-pants would be devastating. And, I could just forget Peggy ever looking at me again. There was only one choice, and that was to get Orval to raise his hand and say “Miss B., can Teddy be excused?” Yes!
Miss B. turned to write something on the blackboard, and I quietly turned to Orval and asked him to make the request for me. Like a good buddy, he said yes. Miss B. turned around, and Orval raised his hand and made the request “can Teddy be excused?” Somebody snickered, one of the girls giggled, and I froze. What was I thinking, to ask Orval to do this? This was the worst case scenario ever. Why didn’t I just pee my pants to start with? For a moment Miss B. wasn’t sure what was what, but she recovered quickly. “If Teddy Carroll wants to be excused he should be the one to ask.” This was going downhill fast and turning into a spectacle, quickly. Miss B. then looks at me and says, “Teddy, do you need to be excused?” I was speechless so I shook my head as to say no. I could feel Orval glaring at me. Miss B. announced that if anyone needed to be excused, that recess would be in just a few minutes. Class resumed, and I exhaled.
It did not seem very long until the recess bell sounded and we lined up for the bathrooms, boys down the left side steps and girls down the right side steps. I was overdue and could not wait to get relief.
As I went down the steps, I could see Miss B. at the bottom with the wooden ruler in her hand. Let me describe the boy’s bathroom door for you. There was no door! No, you did not misread something, because there was no door, just an entrance. So Miss B. could see into the boy’s bathroom? Yes and no. About four feet inside the bathroom was a panel, tall enough to block a view but that was all. Boys would enter and then turn left and straight ahead to the three stalls and at the far end the trough.
The trough was like a large rain gutter although made of porcelain. It had a higher end on the right compared to the lower end on the left. The lower end was attached to a pipe that went straight down into the concrete floor and from there to an outside, underground pipe leading to a septic tank. Picture pouring a glass of water into the trough at any point in the trough and it would, by gravity, flow to the left and out. Not exactly an engineering masterpiece, but highly functional. The boy’s bathroom was dark, musty and stinky, but it was indoors!
Miss B. (and other teachers I am sure) expected each boy to march into the bathroom, use it, and march back out and up the steps to the classroom, promptly. The first few boys went in and I was about to follow. Miss B. grabbed my arm and asked, “Teddy, you know the rules, don’t you? I immediately raised my arm and said, “Miss B. may I be excused?” She did not like that answer, and frowning, gave me a little push and told me to go on in and hurry up. I arrived at the trough and I prepared to relieve myself. Nothing happened, which surprised me since I needed to go badly. I stood there and waited, but nothing was happening. Now what? I got an immediate reply——
Miss B.: Teddy, are you using the bathroom?
Teddy: Yes Miss B., I am trying.
Miss B.: Are you in a stall?
Teddy: No Miss B. I am at the trough.
Miss B.: You should be out by now.
Teddy: I am really trying.
Miss B.: Well, try harder, you have had enough time.
Teddy: What should I do? I did not know how to pray at that age, but I did remember my Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Fringer who always told us that God sent a man named Jesus who loved children and would help us little children. She read to us from the Bible that Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” I was suffering for sure, but before I could have another thought I heard Miss B. like she was closer than the door, saying———
Miss B.:——– Teddy if you don’t come out of there right now, I am coming in to get you.
Teddy: That did! The “dam” burst and relief followed. Thank you, Jesus.
Epilogue: For the remainder of my years at Catawba Elementary I never raised my hand or requested in any way to be “excused.” Miss B. and I got along well, and I don’t ever remember getting the ruler applied to my hand or backside.
William Ellett Smith was a legendary figure at the Catawba School when it was built in 1928 and from all of my searching, it appears that Smitty was the original custodian. He would have been 48 years old at that time and remained at the school until the 1950’s before a fatal sickness that would cause his death June 16, 1960, at age 79.
I saw him a lot during my growing-up years living beside the school. He was tall and skinny, and his typical daily outfit was bibbed overalls and a toothpick in his mouth. Smitty lived just across the road in a humble wooden house that resembled a rectangular outbuilding on the lot where the Methodist Parsonage is today. After his death the building was removed intact, being winched up the hill and into the woods behind where the old Catawba Methodist Church had been. It was put there for the newly organized Boy Scout Troop to use.
Smitty was born in Montgomery County to Harriet Dowdy on July 2, 1880. He would soon settle in Catawba as a young man and remain there until his death. Not much of his life is known during his thirties and forties, but he apparently was gainfully employed and courted the ladies. He had a cot in the boiler room at the school and slept there during the cold nights of winter and fed many shovels full of coal into the hungry mouth of the furnace.
My mother knew him quite well and would joke and “carry on the fool with him”. Mama could break through his usual quietness, and I think he liked that. In later years he seemed to be such a quiet, lonely man. He drank some and often pulled a weekend “bender”.
Several years before he passed away he asked my mother and June Keffer to put some flowers on his grave when he died, since no one else cared about him. He died June 16, 1960, and was buried in the Brickey Cemetery in Craig County. My mother and June placed flowers on his grave. Gone, but not forgotten.
While at the Farmer’s Market earlier in the summer, I walked into the old boiler room and stood for a moment, halfway expecting Smitty to walk out of the old coal bin area. Memory makers depart us but they leave memories behind. Thanks Smitty for leaving me a few.
MAMA’S HOME COOKING
When you had lunch at Catawba Elementary through the years, you could boast that it was just like Mama’s “home cooking”. There are some of us who could say that, literally! For instance: Virginia Garman was, I believe the first cook at the school, and she had four children there who would have had “mama’s cooking.” Likewise, Elizabeth Carroll Eakin had four children who could say the very same thing. And sister Barbara filled in during 1970-71 and ate her own “cooking”.
Everyone who had lunch there, to a person bragged about the food served in the cafeteria. Now, it’s hard to believe that all children would like the food and maybe a few didn’t, but as yet I have no testimony to that. Martha Brunk cooked at the school probably in the late 1960s and very early 1970s. Various women would substitute from time to time, but the food quality never changed.
Mama and Aunt Virginia would log the most years with Elizabeth leading the way at 26 years of service as a Roanoke County Schools Cook. From talking to some early students, it appears the hot lunches started in the 1940s, and we know that meals ceased to be served during the years 1960-1967. I do not know why. Elizabeth also cooked at Mason’s Cove School for a few years. She and Aunt Virginia were not just cooks, they were like mamas to all those kids. Always smiling (both had great personalities) and talking, joking with the students. And those homemade rolls! I venture to say no child would miss school ever, knowing that those warm, buttery rolls were being served. I think the cafeteria helped keep attendence numbers up!
You know the food service at Catawba School was special when you could remember the cook, yet not remember all your teachers. As for the teachers, I do not remember any of them being very thin. (They ate those “country cooked” meals, also,—–just saying.)
The Principal of the Catawba School
Should I ask cousin Willis Taylor about the principal of Catawba Elementary, he would give this answer: “As a principal, she should be your pal, but in her case, she had a principle that if you were sent to her office you got a butt whipping.” Willis, by his own admission, spoke from vast experience, starting with his first day of school. The moral here is you get to see the difference between principal and principle. It can be painfully different.
There are as many stories as there are folks who ever attended Catawba School. I will jot down a few that folks have shared with me.
Interior decorating of a school bus
Mary Strouth was dealt an injustice and got blamed for an act that others (think family) committed. I give her credit for originality in thinking up a way to get even. She gathered up cow piles and decorated the school bus with them. It took three days to clean it out. When sharing this, she did say she was sorry. I would say, don’t mess with Mary.
My sister Barbara Shelor got her hand spanked multiple times for talking in class. Whenever she saw Lucille coming, she put her hands in the “cubby hole” of the desk. I could do a long list of people who got hand spankings by Lucille Brillhart.
The principal of punishment
Willis Taylor got spanked on the first day of school, and by his own words, oftentimes after that. Willis said that it did not take long to figure out what it meant to be called to the principal’s office. It meant that you were going to be paddled. The spankings did not bother him nor deter him from further mischief. He did worry that when the PTA meetings were held, at which time his parents would attend, they would be informed that Willis had received spankings. He feared that since he would probably get another (harder) spanking at home. The principal and teachers that spanked him never told his parents. What happened in the principal’s office, stayed in the principal’s office.
Blame all the wrongs on a Wright
Fred Wright was older than me and several grades ahead, but I can remember like it was yesterday about Fred’s reputation at Catawba School. Don’t take that last sentence the wrong way because we all have a reputation, good, bad or indifferent.
First a little background. I am not saying that he never pulled a prank or two, although I have no specifics on that. I would say that he was a boy back then who enjoyed life at school and others were drawn to him because of that personality. I am not sure the teachers saw that as a good character trait like most of us did. Fred never did anything that would hurt or put down someone else. But teachers have this unwritten rule that no act shall go unpunished. They reasoned that if mischief occurred, like a mouse showing up in a teacher’s desk, then someone had to be held responsible, or else others would feel safe in doing pranks. So, if the culprit was not found or confessed, then it had to have been Fred and he would pay the price guilty or not. Not kidding folks and it happened time after time. Those of us who were younger looked at Fred as having the likeness of a “Rock Star” as you always look up to an underdog or someone you think is wrongly treated. Fred, we had your back then and still do. You are, indeed, a Catawba School Legend and most likely have more name recognition than most as a student there.
Hilda has a shocking stage appearance
Hilda Taylor Wright remembers when Miss Brillhart would paddle the boys at school. She and cousin Jo Taylor would cry when it happened to the boys they liked, like Buddy and Johnny Hall. I think the boys got paddled on purpose so the girls would feel sorry for them.
Students would frequently perform on the big stage in the school’s auditorium. Once when Hilda was little and doing a program at school, she was up on the stage and accidentally put her finger in one of the light sockets that was missing a bulb, it gave her a shock. She never wanted to go back up on the stage again.
Sandra’s first week of school
Cousin Sandra Taylor Abbott would have been very happy to just forego school and stay home with her mother, Pearl. But she had turned six and absent being homeschooled she would have to enter Catawba Elementary that Fall. Sandra was the last of the nine Taylor children, so naturally, Sandra would be attached to her mother. She was a special child and everyone today would consider her to still have that designation as an adult.
Arriving at school would be a cultural shock, and she had no desire to be a teacher’s pet since she was Pearl’s pet already. Upon arrival her first day, Sandra decided she did not want to go to school and asked that arrangements be made to take her back home or someone to come to get her. Principal Mabel Hall said no, and Sandra cried every day. Mabel won the battle as she took Sandra into her office to stay each day, which ended up being the whole first week. By that time, Sandra saw she was going to have to remain in school and realized that the first grade would be better in the classroom than hanging out with the Principal. She adjusted even though she would find out that the cafeteria was no longer open and would not be during her seven years at the school. It was a rough enough start, spending the first week with Mabel but finding out she would not be eating any of Aunt Elizabeth’s homemade rolls was even worse.
Merry-go-round annual runaway
The merry-go-round was the focal point of the playground. There was a see-saw, a chinning bar,(monkey bar) and swings at the playground also.
Early on when I was starting school, it was a given fact that come Halloween night things would happen at Catawba School. Oftentimes the trees nearby would have toilet tissue dangling from the limbs, while sometimes the school windows would get soaped; and all the time the merry-go-round would be lifted off its center pipe and deposited elsewhere, on Halloween night. The key word here is elsewhere. Sometimes it would show up on the baseball field, in the school’s front lawn, the Sanatorium farm hayfield, the church parking lot across from the school and, occasionally, behind the school bus garage. But the most unusual place happened when it showed up in the Keffer Store drive-through gas pump area. The culprits on that particular night did return the next morning and toted it back to the school. As I recall, it would always be returned to its rightful place. Usually, teenage boys would volunteer to put it back. I believe that they probably were the very same ones that took it off.
But in the end, the merry-go-round would get its revenge, with some help from two friends. It was in the late fifties as I recall that Hamp McPherson was the custodian at the school. Typically, the custodian would “guard the school” on Halloween night at least until around midnight. I think the result of doing that was just a loss of sleep by the custodian.
Hamp and I had become friends during his time working at the school, and of course, he knew Dad and Mom from way back. So he asks me if I would stay up with him at the school on one Halloween night and help watch out for pranksters. I agreed and joined him at the school not long after dark. We watched out of the westside windows and from time to time the other vantage points, but nothing happened. Vehicles would occasionally go by on Rt. 779 but none stopped or parked at the church area. It was getting close to midnight and we both were getting bored and sleepy. Hamp felt that once we left someone would come by, lift the merry go round off and carry it somewhere. Then he came up with an idea. He had some leftover green paint in the storage area and some brushes. His plan was for the two of us to paint the underneath of the merry go round seat boards and if they came to lift it off, they would get paint on their hands. It worked, as we discovered the next day that the merry go round was gone and deposited on the school grounds nearby. Later, word spread rapidly that some of the locals showed up at Buddy Garman’s store late on Halloween night to get gas to clean the green paint off of their hands. I don’t remember the merry-go-round ever being removed again. Hamp said afterward that the next year we would use cow manure instead of paint. Only in Catawba, folks.
Catawba school stinks
My last Catawba School story is a classic, the likes of which I have never heard. I will be very forthcoming in telling you readers the source of this story. That would be Cousin Willis Taylor. According to Willis, he had no role in this event on that day. He did know every detail of it which furrows my eyebrows more than a little bit. You be the judge of that as I take you through the episode. Willis and Leighton Hodges were friends during those school days and remain so to this day. They both live in Catawba, and both are well known and well liked. I asked Willis if Leighton would approve of me using this story and he said yes, go ahead and write it. Just wanted to put that in writing. And Fred will not blamed for this one, either.
Willis gives this account of what happened one day at Catawba School: It started the day before when He and Leighton had a dead skunk. And that skunk would have a small glandular bag on its body containing its liquid odor. When a skunk is threatened it will, in defense, spray odor on a person or another animal. Just the way God made them. This spray gland has four compartments, and the skunk can fire off one at a time. Usually, it just takes one dose of spray so that the skunk can keep some in reserve. Willis said Leighton removed this gland from this skunk and “milked” the odorous liquid into a very small bottle. It could have been a liquid ounce or more, depending on the age and size of the animal. So the stinky liquid is contained in a small bottle, and by unscrewing the top, the odor can be released.
Willis and Leighton boarded the school bus the next morning with the bottle in Leighton’s hand. Somewhere along the bus route where several people got on at one time, Leighton unscrewed the bottle lid releasing an instant skunk odor, which appeared to others as having been on the kids who just got on. If you get the feeling this is going to be an interesting day at Catawba School. That would be a major understatement.
Arriving at school Leighton picks his moments and locations where to release some odor. I believe Willis said maybe two places in the school before his final placement. Imagine the teachers and students wondering if a skunk had somehow got into the building and where was it. Finally, Leighton probably knew his luck was running out and he might be nabbed at any moment. So he removed the lid and set the bottle in a place where it would affect the whole inside of the school. The entire student body and staff evacuated the building and recess came early that day at Catawba School. After the air cleared from within the school, all the students (including Willis), teachers, etc, returned to the inside, minus one. Leighton was sent home.
[Note: I got sent home when I was in school in the seventh grade. I went to school with skunk odor on me. I was trapping during that time and did not get cleaned up good enough before school. I would get some tomato juice, scrub my hands and arms and report back to school.]
Two Hall of Fame Teachers
I remember all the teachers, custodians, and cooks during my seven-year experience at Catawba Elementary School and hold them all in high regard. However, I single out two I would credit with the overwhelming success in quickly taking the education of Catawba’s children to an immediate higher level. It would be Principal Mabel Hall and first and second-grade teacher Lucille Brillhart Garman.
Mabel Leonard was born in 1915 and after graduation from high school attend Radford College to study Education and receive her degree in 1935. She was forward-thinking in that respect since no one would be issued a teaching certificate without a degree come 1942. She took her first teaching job at Catawba School in the Fall of 1936 and taught for 3 years before being promoted to Principal in 1939. She would serve as Principal for 22 years until 1961. After that, she taught at Mason’s Cove for nine more years before retiring after 34 years as a teacher and principal.
Mabel was a highly respected, professional, and Christian woman. She gave leadership to Catawba School for 22 years resulting in the students reaching a quality level of education with a significant number going to higher education and into the Military. She carried on the stability of Catawba School that her predecessor Robert James had established during the previous eight years. For 13 years between 1948 and 1961 the teaching staff she supervised remained largely the same people. That is a huge compliment to whom she was as the CEO of the school. Need I say more!
Mabel Leonard would marry Clay Hall who was a 1935 graduate of Catawba High School and a native of Catawba. After graduation, he would enlist in the Army and serve his country in World War 11 as an M.P. in Great Britain. After his service years he returned to Catawba and on July 13, 1946, he would marry Mabel Leonard. Clay would work over the years as a mechanic for Magic City Ford and Diamond Chevrolet. He also worked for Minor Keffer as a hauler before the legendary, Big Six Thomas. He was appointed rural postal carrier after the death of Rosser Fringer, working in that job for 20 years before retirement. People tell me he was the best mail carrier ever, staying on almost the exact time schedule day in and day out.
Clay and Mabel were workers in the Catawba Methodist Church over the years as well as active in all Catawba community affairs. Very highly thought of and respected by all who knew them. The Halls had two children Charlotte and Steve. Steve and his wife Pam are following in the same path that Steve’s parents did by being active in the Catawba Farmer’s Market for years and remain key workers to this day in the Catawba Methodist Church.
When I asked recently on the Catawba School Reunion page, “Who would be your favorite teacher(s),” I was not at all surprised to get numerous teachers listed. I feel that this reinforces my belief that Catawba School was blessed with many good teachers. Some folks felt that they liked all their teachers. So why would I want to do a profile on any one of them?
I used different criteria to select my MVT (Most Valuable Teacher), in order to make my selection. I would choose Lucille Brillhart as my MVT. When Catawba School became operable in 1928 it signaled an entirely new concept to those of us who were Catawba citizens at that time. We were going to be among the first to have a 1900s modern school building, fully equipped, trained teachers and strong Roanoke County support through Roland Cook, Superintendent of Schools. What does that have to do with my choice for MVT? I have already applauded Mabel Hall as being the right “CEO” of Catawba School as principal and director of the teacher team and educational operations. Although not the first principal of the school I felt Mabel initially, and Donald Thompson later on (for 16 years) were tremendously effective in educating two generations of Catawba kids.
But it all started with Lucille Brillhart starting in 1943-1972 (two years off) did serve 27 years as a teacher. She was the 1st and 2nd-grade teacher for her first 15 years and would be the one who got the children first as they entered Catawba School. Being the teacher of the first two years of a child’s educational experience would have been very important to the parents during this time. Lucille was a native and had a great interest in preparing those young lives to get them started off right in school. Kind of an “as the twig is bent, so shall it grow” concept. She was strict and maybe at times a little too strict, but in most cases that was justified. And she believed in the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic to install a solid foundation as they advanced. And that is why I give her not a favorite teacher award, but the more important Most Valuable Teacher award.
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