Educators Hall of Fame winners revealed

Published 9:28 am Monday, April 18, 2016

Contributed Photo  This photo was printed on a post card in the 1920s with Educator Joe Taylor pictured with students at his school. Ronnie Taylor, his son, believes this may have been taken at Midway School, and noted the varying ages of the children and the condition of the schoolhouse.

Contributed Photo
This photo was printed on a post card in the 1920s with Educator Joe Taylor pictured with students at his school. Ronnie Taylor, his son, believes this may have been taken at Midway School, and noted the varying ages of the children and the condition of the schoolhouse.

Every year, the legendary educators of Carter County are nominated by community members and former students for honorary induction into the Educator Hall of Fame. The Carter County Imagination Library Board is tasked with the duty of selecting four winners from a pool of highly qualified educators.

One retired and one deceased educator from both the city and county are selected and announced prior to their dinner and celebration. The dinner will take place on April 23 at 6 p.m. at First Christian Church. Proceeds will benefit the Carter County Imagination Library which provides books to children in Carter County. To reserve a seat at the dinner, contact Lilo Duncan at 423-542-5690.

The winners from the city are Wanda Bass and Judy Little, and the winners from the county are David Buck and Joe Taylor.

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Joe Taylor began teaching in the early 1920s, and over the course of his career, he taught at Buladean Elementary, Elk Mills Elementary, Shell Creek Elementary, Midway School, Estep School, Hunter Elementary and Unaka High School, where he was Principal for a number of years.

His career spanned 44 years and began with a goal and fierce determination.

Grammar school was the highest level of education available in Stoney Creek when he was growing up, his son Ronnie Taylor said. To obtain his high school education, Ronnie said he had to walk to Butler Academy across Iron Mountain, which was the only high school in the area.

“He braved many dangerous conditions, weathered many storms and traveled often in darkness,” Ronnie wrote in a memoir of his father.

“He said when he first started teaching, he would walk from his home in Rome Hollow to Buladean, four miles, would build a fire, get out of school and walk back home, for a minimum amount of money — less than $50 a month,” Ronnie said.

But before he got that teaching job, he worked in logging camps, sending money home to his parents and saving some to go to East Tennessee State Teachers College, Ronnie said. While in college, he earned his room and board on a farm near the school where he milked a woman’s cows, fed her chickens and maintained the farm.

“He walked about everywhere he went,” Ronnie said.

Well, he did until he got a truck, which became the school bus when he was teaching in Elk Mills.

“He would pick up the students, and mom said they would call it the hog box — that’s what they called their school bus, which was daddy’s truck,” Ronnie said.

Taylor taught every person in his family including his wife and son Ronnie.

“I took his history class and he would teach just like he had lived it; he was just a super person,” Ronnie said.

Teaching was always his passion, from his first job earning very little and walking to school daily, till he was the principal and boys and girls basketball coach.

“He told me about the hard times he had, but school was his life,” Ronnie said. “He loved students and he loved his school. He’d be the first one to school and the last one to leave, and if they had any kind of activities he’d be there.”

Ronnie said when he took the job of Carter County property assessor, he had numerous people tell him they would not be where they are today were it not for the kindness of Joe Taylor.

“He’s been gone 30 years, but he still helped me get elected by the kind things he did for people in the schools,” Ronnie said. “I’ve never heard one person say a bad thing about him, he was just a good man.”

Taylor taught Sunday School at Stoney Creek Baptist Church for more than 60 years.

“Students were his love and teaching was his life,” Ronnie wrote.

After he retired in 1962, he continued to substitute teach for years until his failing health forced him to retire for the last time

“I’m proud of him for the man he was,” said Ronnie.

Wanda Bass, a teacher at Elizabethton High School for 14 years, also had a reputation that preceded her, and a legacy that is not soon forgotten. Her daughter Jamie Schaff said she taught until her health forced her to discontinue teaching. She passed away in 1991.

“What stands out the most is she’s been dead for 25 years, and I never go more than two weeks and someone doesn’t tell me what a difference she made in their life,” said Schaff.

When she became ill, Schaff said students would visit call and ask if they could go sit with her.

She taught college preparation and English and supervised the annual staff in her time at EHS.

“She was just a very loving teacher, so for her to get this honor shows she made a great difference in a lot of people’s lives,” Schaff said.

Her influence and love of education lives on in her two daughters and granddaughter who work in various capacities at Harold McCormick Elementary School.

“Education stayed in the family since her passing,” Schaff said.

Judy Little retired in 2005 after teaching for 23 years at EHS, after some years teaching at Keenburg Elementary and Unaka Elementary. She worked for five years after teaching at EHS at T.A. Dugger as the library media specialist. She is a Career Ladder Level III educator and attended the Governor’s School for Teachers of Writing.

At EHS she taught all levels of English and perhaps touched more lives than she knows by sparking passion in her students.

Her nomination for the Hall of Fame was submitted by a student whom she had not seen in almost 30 years.

“I’m really thrilled,” said Little. “It’s nothing that I ever thought would happen for me. One of my former students that I haven’t seen in 27 years nominated me. She said I taught her how to write and she never stopped writing.”

Holly Burton submitted the nomination, and Little said it must have included an excellent letter. Little, still surprised, invited her to be her guest to the dinner.

Regarding the affect a teacher can have on one of his or her students, Little said, “You just never know.”

Assistant Principal, Coach and school board member David Buck was one of the charter students in Central Elementary School during his fourth grade year. His first teaching position was at Central as an 8th grade teacher.

“I was fortunate enough to go back to my home school that I’d gone to as a boy, and the principal that I got to work for was the man that had taught us down here in the 8th grade, J.L. Norris,” said Buck. “I always aspired to be as good a teacher as he was to us.

Buck taught all subjects when he began and later taught 8th grade Reading and American History and 7th grade World Geography.

He coached girls basketball for a very long time and also helped coach boys basketball. After retirement, he continued to help coach the girls team with one of his former players and said they were very successful.

He was the Building Level Teacher of the Year three times and was Carter County Teacher of the year in 2002. He said his 8th grade 4-H club was the club of the year more than 10 times.

His mother was a teacher in Carter County for 32 years, and he said he was fortunate to teach across the hall from his wife.

“I was telling somebody the other day that I’m not even the best teacher in my family because I think my mother and my wife are better teachers than me,” Buck said.

After retiring, he was elected to the Carter County School Board, where eight years later he holds a seat.

“[Being inducted to the Hall of Fame] means a lot, I’m very appreciative of the folks I got to work with, the students I got to teach and the parents in the community that I represented for so many years,” said Buck. “The cheerleaders over at Central have a cheer where they say, ‘Are you proud to be a comet?’ And the crowd would respond, ‘Yes I am!’ And I am very proud to be a comet.”