The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 18, 2013

Family marks five generations at Concord graduation

The Back Porch column

The classroom my niece will walk into as a rookie teacher will be quite different from the one her great-great-grandfather walked into a few years after the Civil War.

Today, Michelle Young becomes the fifth generation of our family to graduate from Concord University with a degree in teacher education.

James E. Keadle, through Michelle’s paternal grandfather’s line, began teaching in 1871 at the one-room Buffalo School. The log schoolhouse had rough-hewn benches for seats. It was a time of McGuffey readers, slates and horse-drawn transportation.

According to family records, he attended Concord for at least two terms in the late 1880s. It’s not clear whether he was finishing his degree or getting his normal teaching certificate. In those days, people who graduated from high school could attend an institution of higher learning for two years to obtain a normal teaching certificate. They were not required to have a bachelor’s degree in education.

Keadle was elected superintendent of schools in Monroe County in 1889. He taught in Monroe County for 25 years before teaching in Summers County.

He was an educator for 57 years, served a term as elected superintendent of Summers County schools and even pulled a hitch on the Summers school board after he retired at age 76.

The second generation comes through Michelle’s paternal grandmother’s side.

Bessie Canterbury never knew a time she didn’t want to teach. She boarded in Greenville to attend high school there. She walked, hitchhiked or rode a horse to visit home.

When she graduated from high school in the 1930s and announced her plans to attend college, her mother said they didn’t have the money. Her father was a traveling salesman, and the family survived on a typical Appalachian subsistence farm.

Canterbury thought her dream was dead. Her mother walked down the hill, talked to a neighbor who agreed to co-sign a bank note because women could not borrow money on their own credit and took a loan for $30 to cover tuition.

Canterbury bought one new pair of shoes and shared room and board with her older brothers who were at Concord. Her boyfriend, who was earning his way as a farm laborer, visited her on the weekends and stuffed change into her purse so she could enjoy an occasional milkshake at The Sweet Shop.

Canterbury got her normal certificate and started teaching in one-room Monroe County schools. At her first stop, she was paid $100 a month. The school board provided coal for the stove, but she provided the kindling.

She married that boyfriend, Gilmer Wallace, and kept it secret for a year because teaching jobs were reserved for the male wage earners in the county. But for one school board member who took her part at the hiring meeting, she may never have finished a 50-year career where she served in many communities in western Monroe County. She returned to Concord after her daughter was born and finished her degree.

For years after she retired, she sat on her front porch and cried as she saw buses arriving at Greenville School for the first day of the term because she loved and missed teaching that much.

That love was not lost on her daughter, Norene Wallace, who often accompanied her mother to those one-room schools before she was of school age herself.

While women of the 1950s had more freedom than those of the 1930s, it was thought that women went to college to earn their “Mrs.” Norene did that and finished at Concord College with the help of her husband, Weldon Young.

She spent almost all of her 20-year career in Monroe County schools in special education. She taught her children to look out for the ignored or invisible and that they had a duty to more than themselves.

Her son, Jeff, learned that lesson. Few were more shocked than his family when this man who had not been especially enamored of his school days decided to major in elementary education and spent a decade in the classroom before retraining as the computer network administrator for Giles County, Va., schools.

And now the mantle passes to Michelle.

It’s a much different world for women and teachers, but young people are still the same. They need someone to take an interest in them, to encourage and love them and to occasionally practice a little tough love in challenging them to reach higher goals.

Michelle has learned that lesson and will do well with the family legacy.

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist and proud aunt. E-mail: ynerissa@frontier.com.

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