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- General Interest
By Sue Curry Jones, as told by Cinita Brown
In August of 1937 a new school term was to begin at Robertson School, District 87, located about seven miles south of Ava. At that time there were 105 rural schools in Douglas County. Robertson had between fifty and sixty students. A portable partition was placed down the center of the schoolhouse forming two rooms. Aileen Adams was the teacher for grades one through four, and Beulah (Mrs. Glennie) Kyle taught grades five through eight.
One very excited first grade student was Cinita Ruth Davis. Her mother, Gertie Day Davis, had made her five new school dresses. Her father, Coma Davis, had taken her to Ranse Ferrel’s General Store where they had purchased a new lunch bucket, a nickel tablet, two new pencils, and a box of eight shiny new crayons.
Cinita can still remember the excitement of that first day of school. She loved her teacher and was soon telling her parents, “I’m going to be a teacher just like Miss Aileen when I grow up.” And, strangely enough, she never lost sight of that vision throughout her school years. Seven of these years were spent at Robertson where Cinita remembers great teachers such as Mr. Selbia Brooks, Mr. Bernie Lewis, and Mrs. Reba Hamby Hobbs.
Bernie Lewis and Selbia Brooks were the teachers for the 1941-42 school year. A somber group of students arrived at the schoolhouse door Monday morning, Dec. 8, 1941. The previous day had been spent glued to the radio, searching any old maps or geography books that happened to be in the various homes around Robertson School. Where was Pearl Harbor? What could students learn about Japan? Who in tarnation was Hirohito? This little community was just a part of the big picture, and the world that had been torn asunder by the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
As elementary students, Cinita and her friends arrived at Robertson School on that Monday morning expecting teachers to help them find answers to some of their questions. Students were shocked to see that both teachers, Selbia Brooks and Bernie Lewis, had their girlfriends with them.
The teachers combined both rooms so they could talk to all of the students together. Their news was indeed a shock. They said their girlfriends would finish teaching the school year because they both were leaving to enlist in the army that day.
Selbia Brooks passed his physical, but Bernie Lewis was classified as 4-F because of a heart murmur from rheumatic fever. Mr. Lewis came back and finished the year, and also taught the next year. Mr. Brooks quickly finished basic training and was soon fighting somewhere in Europe. He regularly wrote letters to the students at the school maintaining interest in his former students, and the students actually felt like he was teaching geography as they followed his movements from country to country.
During that time, the little world Cinita was familiar with definitely expanded beyond the Robertson School community. Her teacher, Mr. Lewis, helped students “fight the war from the classroom.” He led the students through current events as reported in the daily paper and on the radio. Students had scrap iron pick up days, bond drives, Red Cross drives, and made cookies to send overseas to “our” soldiers.
Many of the students had brothers who enlisted or were drafted into the service. These boys had all been former students at Robertson School. Some of the ones Cinita remembers included: Ronnie and Russel Hamby’s brothers Rex and Ray Hamby; Bobby Thompson’s brother Lawrence Thompson. The Huffman twins, Nova and Nola, saw all three of their older brothers, Lawrence, Luin, and Calvin, go away to war. Lawrence did not come home. Billy Dugan’s Uncle Martin Lane was gone as was Cinita and Paul’s half-brother Raymond.
Events associated with World War II were very real to the students at Robertson School. Truly, the word patriotism was meaningful to the group of students.
Cinita attended Whites Creek School in 1943-44, and Dorothy Walker Spurlock was her teacher.
Whites Creek School had what she considered to be a vast library of almost 100 books! And, Miss Dorothy permitted Cinita to spend most of her school day reading the wonderful children’s classics such as Heidi, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Girl of the Limberlost. Cinita feels certain her parents knew why the flashlight batteries burned out so fast, and yet, she doesn’t remember getting in trouble for spending much of the night snuggly tucked under the covers while reading by flashlight.
In April of 1944, sadness engulfed the Davis home. Cinita’s mother Gertie Day Davis died. Her brother Paul was eight years old. Her father, Coma Davis, had promised his wife before her death that he would see that the children were kept together and sent to school. The next year, in 1945, Cinita passed her eighth grade examination and graduated from Robertson School. She started Ava High School in August. How big Ava High School seemed! She feared getting lost in the hall shuffle between classes and not getting to class on time.
In 1945, C. W. Parker was superintendent and Emmett Norman was principal of Ava High School. Cinita has fond memories of them as well as a deep sense of appreciation for teachers like Rev. Charlie Phillips (math), Una Ellison, Rev. Woodruff (world history), Florence Garrison, Mary Bressie, and Albert Hart.
The school year of 1948-49 was the last year that a class called “teachers’ training” was offered as a part of the curriculum. A new law requiring teachers to have some college hours in order to obtain a teaching certificate had passed. The law required a teacher have at least eight hours of college credit to obtain a certificate, and it was to become effective in 1949. The number of credit hours was to increase by increments of eight hours each year until the teacher had at least sixty credit hours. Before 1949, one could take teachers’ training in high school, pass the teachers’ examination, and obtain a teaching certificate. So this new legislation requiring college credit ended the necessity of a high school offering teachers’ training classes as a part of the curriculum.
In 1948-49, Albert Hart taught the teachers’ training classes that included psychology, methods of teaching, and history of American schools. As part of the class work, each student was to do two weeks practice teaching in a rural school. In late February all of Ava’s student teachers were ready to become “real teachers” for two weeks. Well, Missouri’s weather took care of those plans. A huge snowstorm moved in on the first Monday morning and there was not a school in the area in session a single day for the next two weeks.
The 1948-49 school term ended and Cinita Ruth Davis graduated. She signed a personal note and Jim Reese at the Citizens Bank of Ava loaned her $200. She registered for the eight week summer term at Southwest Missouri State Teachers’ College in Springfield. The $200 paid her tuition for eight credit hours, a full load for a summer term. It also paid for her books and her rent of $3.00 per week for a room near the college that she shared with Mona Gaulding (Decker).
The summer term quickly ended and Cinita came back to her home in Ava, a home she shared with her dad and brother Paul. The question, “What do I do now?” was foremost in her mind and the $200 bank loan seemed like a fortune to repay.
However, in a few days, her uncertainty was answered by Mr. Parker. He came by the Davis home and said, “Cinita, Lorene Rippee, high school librarian, has resigned. You’ve probably read more of the library’s books than anyone in town and you plan to be a teacher. How would you like to have the job as librarian?”
Cinita was pleased beyond words to have what she believed to be the ideal job. It paid $70.00 a month! By December, Cinita had paid off her $200 student loan. She remembers hearing banker Jim Reece say, “I had confidence in you, girl, and I knew you would come through.”
By the last of May Cinita had saved $200, and with money in the bank, she was ready to start another summer term at SMS.
In 1950-51 Cinita taught grades 5-8 at Walnut Grove. Pauline Burton Sellers taught the lower grades. Today Cinita recalls, “I suppose the students learned in spite of the teaching. I know that I certainly learned a great deal.”
Some of the Walnut Grove students whom she sees and enjoys reminiscing with are Lavon Cunningham McGinnis, Kirby Mackey, Nelson Mackey and Judy Mackey Morrisett, Dall Haden, Naida Goodnight Haden and Faith Goodnight Haskins, Donald Gene Kester, and George Blakey.
And, when any of them talk of Walnut Grove school days they always remember the cook and fire builder, Mike and Gertie Atwood. They fondly recall Gertie’s wonderful homemade rolls and the delicious vegetable soup that was always ready for lunch.
After a year at Walnut Grove, Cinita began teaching at Mt. Tabor. She was teaching there in 1952 when her dark and handsome knight (no shining armor) came along. She and Logan Brown were married October 22, 1952.
Jack Haden enjoys telling “Logan Brown was the best teacher that I ever had.” He further explains, “Miss Cinita got sick one morning and Logan came to school and was our teacher. We played ball all day.”
Cinita hastily adds, “And Logan was my substitute teacher for only one day!”
Names she recalls from her days at Mt. Tabor include: Herrell, Cox, Applegate, Jenkins, Hutchison, Hicks, Rist, Cotton, Denny, Adams, Lietch, Englehardt, Hunsaker, Addy, and Hodges
Later, during her years at Ava Elementary School, Cinita taught the children and grandchildren of some of her rural school students, this included three generations of family members –– Donna Cox Nichols, Lisa Hall Johnson, and Stephen Johnson; Janice Adams Posey, Dennis Posey, and Jessica Posey Boyd. Also in this three generation count is Bill Herrell, five of his six children, and then Bill’s grandson, Cody.
Cinita retired in 1999 after spending 44 years in the classroom.
From 1959 to 1964 Cinita was a stay at home mother for her three children, Keith, Lynne, and Jane. She returned to the classroom in the fall of 1965 after graduating from SMS in the summer of 1965.
She enjoyed all of her years in the classroom including rural school teaching, three years at Norwood, and the last thirty-one years as a fourth grade teacher at Ava Elementary.
When recalling these years she promptly says, “The best part of my entire school experience was the time spent in rural schools. I am happy to say I am a product of Douglas County’s rural schools and privileged to have experience teaching in them.”
Cinita has deep warm feelings about rural school days, “a rural school district is where you found the real sense of community — a connection and relationships that last throughout the decades. In fact, the people in a rural school district were like one big family truly connected to one another. You don’t often find that in today’s world.”
In May 2011, during the 107th Alumni Banquet celebration, Cinita was inducted into the Ava High School Alumni Foundation Hall of Fame. She was recognized and honored for her commitment to the field of education, her devotion to students and 44 years of service.
As it should be, she now joins the Hall of Fame and those special teachers like Mary Bressie and Una Ellison, and school administrators Emmett Norman and C.W. Parker that she admired –– the people who helped shape and influence her life. The teachers who made a difference.
And, if you talk to her students, they readily substantiate Cinita also made a difference in their lives and to honor her is an appropriate fit –– and that’s the best distinction of all.