Favorite Teacher: Thompson Honored Three Decades After Retirement
BY MELANIE COUGHLIN
Special to The Pilot
Not many fundraising efforts exceed their goal in this economy. However, the West End High School class of 1962 did just that last year and used the excess money to honor one of its favorite teachers.
The class donated the money to the library of West End Elementary School in the name of Sarah Ruth Thompson, their teacher and school librarian, who turns 92 this summer. The donation came from the class' campaign to raise money for a sign marking the location of their alma mater, which no longer exists.
"We felt that we would like to somehow make note of the fact that West End High School had existed," says Annette Thompson, a member of the class of '62 who is also Sarah Ruth's daughter. "We collected money from our classmates and put a marker there on N.C. 211 where the school had stood."
Their goal met, the class wondered what to do with the leftover money. One of Annette's classmates conceived the idea of donating the money to the last school at which Sarah Ruth Thompson worked.
Thompson, a native of Jackson Springs, spent her whole life in the Moore County school system, first as a student, then as an educator until her retirement in 1983. She started school in Jackson Springs at the age of 7. Her parents wouldn't let her attend before then because of the one-mile walk required to get to school. In the meantime, she taught herself to read.
"I learned to read because I used to read the funnies in the newspaper," Thompson says.
The delayed start to her education didn't hurt Thompson. Her teacher moved her to second grade halfway through her first year of school, and the fourth-grade teacher moved her to fifth grade. The fifth-grade teacher attempted to move her to sixth grade, but Thompson's mother put her foot down, protesting that her daughter was already two years younger than her classmates.
Thompson graduated from West End High School in 1937 as the youngest of her 25 classmates. At the age of 15, she traveled south to attend Louisiana State University.
"I knew I had to graduate in four years," says Thompson "I had a scholarship from the Kiwanis Club, and I had to promise to teach in Moore County for four years to repay the scholarship."
One week after graduation, the ink barely dry on her diploma, Thompson received a visit from the West End High School principal. Accom-panying him was the principal of Farm Life High School.
"He needed an English teacher and said, 'Are you interested?'" Thompson recalls. "I told him I didn't even have my reciprocity to teach in North Carolina yet, and he said, 'Well, you'll get it.'"
Thompson started her career as an English teacher, and she was younger than some of her students. She was young for a teacher due to her accelerated elementary education, and some of her students were older due to family responsibilities to take breaks from school and help with farming.
Later, Thompson returned to West End High School, where she not only taught English and French, but was also the school librarian.
Charlotte Gaddy, a member of the West End High School class of '62, says of the former educator, "She was a very good teacher. She touches almost every family in Moore County. She's a really good friend and a mentor."
Thompson's daughter agrees. Annette and her mother have been living together in Florida since Sarah Ruth left Jackson Springs two years ago.
"She's my best friend," says Annette, adding with a laugh what she told friends and family in her Christmas letter: "I wrote, 'We've been permanent housemates for two years, and nobody has been injured yet.'"
Annette recalls that her mother, who is spry and well-spoken, was a teacher that her peers liked.
"Most everybody enjoyed her classes," Annette says. "When she taught English lit, she made it fun."
That is why Annette's fellow classmates wanted to use their excess fundraising dollars to honor Sarah Ruth Thompson. When the class president approached Annette about how to best do it, she suggested they donate it to a school library.
"My mother remembered many occasions when there were things she would have liked to have bought, but the money was always earmarked for something else. This (the donation) was unrestricted money," says Annette.
Annette, Gaddy and several classmates presented a check to Catherine Locklear, the librarian at West End Elementary School, at a small gathering last month. Thompson stood by, humbled by the gesture.
"It was almost surprising," says Thompson. "I knew they were going to do it, but I didn't really think about how I would feel. I was highly honored to have it given in my name."
She and Locklear compared notes about their careers as librarians, and Thompson told Locklear she was happy she would have money to use at her own discretion in the interest of the children.
"I told her that I wanted her to use that money for something she wanted that she thought the kids would enjoy, and that the money didn't have any strings attached," Thompson says.
Locklear appreciates the donation, saying, "With all the recent budgetary constraints, it's wonderful to have money to spend as I see fit for the children."
Thompson and Locklear share that commitment to the children. Even today, 29 years after her retirement, Thompson thinks often of the students she taught, saying, "I miss the children."
Her daughter is by her side to keep Thompson busy with new pursuits, and after growing up seeing her mother's commitment, Annette wants to honor her mother in her own way.
"She's at a time of life," Annette says, "when she deserves to have someone look after her a little while."
Contact Melanie Coughlin at email@example.com.
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