“PIED-PIPER” OF EDUCATION

REMEMBERED – PART TWO

 

        When Nell Mashburn arrived in Monroe to teach her special classes, one of the first things she did was to find a reputable car dealership to service her car. She was directed to Walker Motor Company on Broad Street. The first person she met was service manager Mell Conner who welcomed her to town. Explaining to Mell her purpose in town, he said he had a son, Jimmy, who might benefit in what she had to offer. Nell said, “I will sign him up. He will be my first student.” Nell’s second student was Jan McGarity, daughter of the late Mr.& Mrs. Caldwell McGarity and the list grew rapidly from there.

        As Nell’s classes began, loose leaf notebooks the students referred to as “Speech Notebooks” were handed out to hold page after page of printed material Nell expected them to read, learn or recite in her classes.  Brightly colored stars were pasted on the pages when an exceptional rendering of a poem, fable or story was delivered.  These notebooks grew large as the years passed and more binders were needed to continue holding all the pages as the students returned year after year.

        The enthusiasm and success of Nell’s classes spread rapidly through town and it was not long before parents of the high school students were pressuring Mr. Odom for Nell to teach their children as well.  By 1950 Nell’s classes ranged from first grade through high school. The subject matter was enhanced to include the older, more mature studies which delighted Nell.  She spent summers attending classes in Athens, Milledgeville & North Carolina taking a variety of subjects she felt would be suited for her high school students. Notes from these courses were gathered into her own notebooks which she transcribed to pass on to her upper level students.  Just like her student’s notebooks, hers grew heavy with material filling binder after binder.

        For those students Nell sensed had an artistic or dramatic flair, she organized and sponsored a local chapter of the National Thespian Society in high school so their voice and talent could be further illuminated by the various plays she chose to fit their individual talents.

        Should a parent or visitor had taken a quick peek inside her studio on any given day, they would have found her teachings ranging from children’s poems & fables to Shakespeare, Greek & Roman classics, poetry, Gibran, Goethe, biographies of famous authors along with current literature and prose of the day along with art history and art.  And, quietly nestled among these subjects, she taught them the importance of the social graces; the art of the letter, how to pour and hold a cup of tea, the majestic beauty of the operas and how to properly interpret them, how to properly cut fried chicken with a knife & fork, the correct way to talk on the telephone and the importance of friends and friendships and what it takes to be a friend.

        It seemed she knew everything and how she smiled as she imparted all this valuable wisdom to her eager young charges whose minds she carefully tended.  She was often  referred to as “The Lamp of Knowledge” with her students being her candles, ready to be lit with the knowledge she passed on to them forever changing their lives by what she taught them. One of her early Rochelle students dubbed her “The Pied Piper of Education” and likened her as literally waltzing out of a school building onto a wide road, very similar to the “Yellow Brick Road”, lined with books as her students followed merrily behind her down the road into the sunset as she tossed page after page of notes to them, material vital to their educational and cultural well-being.

        Nell’s studio changed venues several times over the years, from the old red brick school building to a small church building on High School Avenue to the old Monroe High School and ending up at her home on Broad Street, going full circle, so similar to where it all began back in 1945 at her home in Rochelle.    

        A “sweet memory” was enjoying a lemon drop before classes from an antique glass turkey sitting on a table or chest. Next to it was a small metal “treasure chest” where coins could be deposited to help “feed the turkey”, always keeping it full of lemon drops for everyone to enjoy.

        The popularity of Nell’s classes soon caught the attention of parents in Social Circle who wanted their children to absorb the wonder and wisdom so unique to this wonderful teacher. In the early 60’s Nell rearranged her evening schedule to accommodate the Monroe high students and the students from Social Circle who would drive to her home and join the others as they received lessons like none other.

        Shortly before her husband’s death in 1944, Nell sustained a horrible fall which left her severely bruised and broken; her arm in a cast from her right wrist to her shoulder. Arthritis set in causing unending pain and discomfort. As the years passed the arthritis spread, transforming into a type of immobility which resulted in the use of a cane or physical assistance.  Her Monroe physician, Dr. Philip R. Stewart, often fussed at her for not closing down her classes and taking better care of herself. She would not hear of it, her students were her life and she was determined to keep going for them. In late 1963 Dr. Stewart strongly advised her moving to a warmer, more Southern climate would help ease the pain she wore on a daily basis.       

With great reluctance and sadness, in the spring of 1964 she closed the door to her studio and students, packing her house of furniture, books and memorabilia and moved to Valdosta to live with her sister. Prior to her departure she was honored at a farewell reception where a large part of the Monroe community came to express their love, devotion and appreciation for all she had meant to her students and the town. When Anita Sams’ county history, “Wayfarers in Walton” was published, she sent Nell a copy, inscribing it to “One of Walton County’s most loyal, distinguished and influential wayfarers whose absence is greatly missed.”

                One of the greatest lessons Nell taught me came from her own experiences, saying “Happiness really has little to do with wealth. Look around you and find things that you love and share them with others; you will not be disappointed.”     

        I asked Nell’s first Monroe student, Jimmy Conner, to share his memories of what she meant to him. A recent email begins to explain the essence of Nell Mashburn.  Jimmy wrote: “She was the epitome of grace, culture and elegance, the likes of which I had never experienced.  I loved her but there was always formality in all she did but she never came across as being “superior.”  She kept us spellbound.  I wanted to hear her stories and whatever else she had to say. She took us to Shakespeare plays in Athens and Atlanta.  She was one I wanted to do well for, wanted to make her proud of me. I loved her maid, “Levy”, always attired in her black & white uniform, pushing in the cart from which Nell served tea.  She was without a doubt, “one of a kind”. I adored her and miss her still.”

Nell would be thrilled to know Dawn Griffin of Liberty First Bank and Patti Souther of State Farm along with assistance from Communities in Schools have formed a class in helping Monroe Area High School football students learn the essentials of etiquette. An editorial from the October 25, 2017 Tribune states: “No matter their background or gender, such etiquette skills would stand all our youth in good stead going into the future. Many more of Walton County’s youth need to be taught such skills, not just athletes.” 

        The granite marker covering Nell’s grave in Morningside Cemetery in Rochelle carries a sentiment, from an early student who knew her so well, and attributed to Archibald Rutledge, beautifully sums up her life: “She was one of life’s extras.” Her students and friends were the fortunate ones who “soaked up the knowledge” she passed along to us.