REMEMBERING MONROE'S

“PIED PIPER” OF EDUCATION

 

In today’s world it seems we have lost sight of many important topics folks in my generation and those before me were taught. Things like social graces, those wonderful old books of the classics and Shakespeare, appreciating fine music from generations ago and what the Bible means and stands for.  Some things we took for granted and appreciated in my days in school have long since vanished, giving way to other less valued ideals.

        Over the last couple of years whenever my columns would mention the name of Nell Mashburn, who was the beloved and iconic “Speech Teacher” to generations of Monroe students during her sixteen year tenure in Monroe, I have been asked to please write about her life and the influence she had on those who had the privilege of “sitting at her feet and soaking up her knowledge”, as one student’s mother said back in the ‘40’s.

        Nell Denton Mashburn lived in Monroe from 1948 to 1964 and was loved, admired and revered as one of the most special of teachers, one who illuminated the lives of her students in ways we never imagined. 

        It has been 54 years since she left Monroe and 38 years since her death at age 93 in Valdosta.  For those who knew and loved her, it only takes the mention of how we

 

        In today’s world it seems we have lost sight of many important topics folks in my generation and those before me were taught. Things like social graces, those wonderful old books of the classics and Shakespeare, appreciating fine music from generations ago and what the Bible means and stands for.  Some things we took for granted and appreciated in my days in school have long since vanished, giving way to other less valued ideals.

        Over the last couple of years whenever my columns would mention the name of Nell Mashburn, who was the beloved and iconic “Speech Teacher” to generations of Monroe students during her sixteen year tenure in Monroe, I have been asked to please write about her life and the influence she had on those who had the privilege of “sitting at her feet and soaking up her knowledge”, as one student’s mother said back in the ‘40’s.

        Nell Denton Mashburn lived in Monroe from 1948 to 1964 and was loved, admired and revered as one of the most special of teachers, one who illuminated the lives of her students in ways we never imagined. 

        It has been 54 years since she left Monroe and 38 years since her death at age 93 in Valdosta.  For those who knew and loved her, it only takes the mention of how we referred to her, either “Nell Mashburn” or “Mrs. Mashburn” or “Mrs. Henry Mashburn”, and the memories flood our minds and heart’s as the years melt away and once again we find ourselves, if only in memory and our hearts, sitting in her studio as she passed on to us things we never learned in school and after all these years, her students still are left wanting more.  One of her students once remarked years ago, “Being in her “studio” as she called it, was the only time I was really happy.”  How well I can relate to those sentiments.

        For those who wanted to know who Nell Mashburn was and what she was about, I give you her story.

        Nell Mashburn was a 60 year old widow from the small town of Rochelle, Georgia when she arrived in Monroe the summer of 1948.  She was a native of Milledgeville and in her early years had been an elementary school teacher and principal.  When she married her husband, Henry, she gave up her teaching career to begin a new life with her new husband in Rochelle.

        In her youth, Nell had been exposed to the finest education for the time and learned to love and enjoy all things cultural as well as educational.  As a newcomer to the small town she found herself, she happily shared her knowledge among her friends and citizens helping to illuminate their lives by the education and experiences she had been witness to.

        When her husband died suddenly in 1944, the loss she felt was immeasurable; she felt adrift on a great sea with no direction or destination as to how to regain the appreciation of life she had so loved.  As she searched for ways to once again make her life meaningful her friends rallied around her, offering up their children for her to instruct.  They told Nell, “You want something to do to give purpose back to your life? Take our children and let them sit at your feet and soak up your wisdom like you did with us.”  Nell had taught many of them in Sunday school and helped coach them for various events.  At the age of 56 she returned to a career she had loved as a young woman, albeit teaching these children in quite a different manner.

        Monroe School Superintendent Horace Odom was a man with a mission; he wanted his school system to have the best, smartest and most respected teachers in the area and went to great efforts to achieve this mission.  In 1946 he began hearing about a lady in the small town of Rochelle who was making news among educators with regards to her teaching methods.  The more he heard of her the more impressed and intrigued he became.  He wanted very much to meet and talk to Mrs. Henry Mashburn.  Luck was with him in the early summer of 1948. Mr. Odom and school Principal Earl Carson were in Athens for an educational conference at the University of Georgia where Nell Mashburn was also attending classes. Both Mr. Odom and Mr. Carson were introduced to her by mutual friends and Monroe history was in the making.

        Upon being introduced to this elegant, cultured, white-haired lady with bright sparkling eyes and infectious laughter, both men were smitten as they chatted about what they had heard concerning the unique classes she was teaching in Rochelle; something outside of the ordinary classroom curriculum which seemed to have a lasting impact on her students long after leaving her classes.  After hearing what Mrs. Mashburn described of her classes, both men were in total agreement: Nell Mashburn had to come to Monroe.

        Superintendent Odom offered her a teaching position on the spot but Nell graciously declined the offer saying she was quite happy in Rochelle and had never given any thought as to leaving her students or the city.  Laughingly recalling this event years later, Nell said she learned quickly Horace Odom was not a man who took “No” for an answer.  During the weeks she was in Athens taking classes, Mr. Odom pursued her with the vengeance of a suitor, calling her, returning to greet her again on campus begging her to reconsider his offer to teach in Monroe.

        Being enchanted by his fervent pleas, she agreed to drive to Monroe for a weekend to meet with him and see the city. After seeing the schools and being promised “whatever it will take for you to accept my offer and come teach in Monroe,” Nell agreed to come for what she anticipated to be a “trial basis.”

        When the school bells rang the first week of classes in September, 1948 in the old red brick junior high school building on Church Street, Nell was sitting in her new classroom which once housed the school library.  Her classroom was now called “the studio” which resembled a large comfortable living room full of sofas, chairs, ottomans, oriental rugs complete with rocking chairs and bookcases which lined the walls and books spilling to the floor along with stacks of books on tables as well. A large globe sat on one table and a large bust of Shakespeare looked down on the room from its lofty perch atop one of the bookcases.  It appeared that even Mr. Shakespeare was curious to hear what this lady had to say to her students.

        Nell was seated in an antique rocker, leafing through a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”, as the students began peeping into the room, noticing at once the vast difference in this teacher’s classroom from all the others. Liking what they saw they asked to be signed up for her classes. Nell Mashburn’s classes were different in that the parents paid for their children to be her students. The courses she would be teaching these children were outside the normal school curriculum.  At first Nell had only grammar school and junior high students as she had done in Rochelle, offering up fables, stories, poems and tales geared to the young. She also organized recitals for them to participate in to help make the students feel comfortable in large groups and be sure of their speech when speaking before an audience. Pageants were also organized so the students would have a chance at portraying some of the legends they learned about through their classes.  It was because of these venues she was dubbed a “Speech Teacher” though the term came nowhere close to adequately describing her teaching techniques.

(Learn the impact Nell Mashburn had on Monroe’s students in my February column)