From student to teacher – Leach remembers it all
It doesn’t take a stack of yearbooks to help retired teacher Carolyn Leach, of Green Bank, reminisce. Her memories – from childhood to teacher – remain in her heart and mind.
Leach, born in Charleston in 1925, is a daughter of the late Ethel and Noah Reese.
“I’m a notch baby,” she said. “In the 70s, Congress reorganized Social Security. Well, they left a glitch and if you were born between 1917 or 1918 and 1926, you don’t get as much social security as you should if they hadn’t made that mistake. I was born in ‘25; that got me in right under the wire.”
Leach started school in 1931, during the Depression. She was an fast learner, skipping parts of her grade school classes, until her mother intervened.
“I skipped half the first grade and half the third grade,” she said. “They wanted to skip me somewhere and my mother said, ‘enough is enough.’ I never did learn the nines multiplication table. I still don’t know them.”
The grade school and junior high school Leach attended took up an entire block in West Charleston.
“The grade school didn’t have any electricity,” she recalled. “It had great big windows and had a bell on top. That bell speeded me up several times. The board of education sold the whole block to Kroger. Of course, the buildings are torn down now. Kroger has the bell on a pedestal out in front of the store.”
Leach went on to graduate from Stonewall Jackson High School in 1942.
“I wanted to be a lab technician until I took chemistry in high school, and I changed my mind,” she said laughing. “There were only 93 elements then and you could not split an atom. What was so funny, when I graduated, [Union Carbide Corporation] sent me a letter saying they wanted to hire me and here I came through chemistry with Cs.”
Leach met her husband, Sam, in high school, but didn’t really expect to marry him.
“My husband was in class behind me,” she said. “We knew each other before that. I don’t know what it was, we just clicked I guess. He had a girlfriend. I don’t know what happened to her. When he’d come home on leave or three days pass or before he went overseas, he would come see me, too. I didn’t think anything of it; we were great friends.”
During World War II, Leach went from senior in high school to college graduate.
“Pearl Harbor was the middle of my senior year,” she said. “You talk about excitement. The boy across the street, he sold newspapers and I heard him out there hollering with the Charleston Gazette. I was doing my Latin homework in the middle of the floor. I was still in college when the Germans quit and Franklin Roosevelt died in April that year. I was home for the celebration when the Japanese quit, that was in August. The whole town of Charleston was in an uproar. They were expecting to invade.”
Instead of graduating from high school, Sam fought in the war. Later, when the couple visited their alma mater, principal Tom Horner gave Sam his diploma.
With Sam away at war, Leach attended college in Harrisonburg, Virginia, at Madison College, an all-girls school. The college is now unisex and is known as James Madison University.
“My mother had a friend whose children went there,” she said. “She wanted to get me out of Kanawha Valley during the war. [Away from] all those chemical plants. There aren’t as many now as there were then. One of the radio stations used to say, ‘WGKB, Chemical Center of the World.’”
Leach traveled by train to Staunton, Virginia, where a man from the college met her and took her to the campus.
After receiving her Bachelor’s degree, she earned a Master’s degree from West Virginia University. During her college years, Leach began her school related career with jobs in school offices.
“When I was in college over in Harrisonburg, I worked for thirty cents an hour,” she said. “I worked in the office of the Dean of the Faculty. Then, when I worked in the office of University High [School] in Morgantown, I made seventy-five cents an hour. That was minimum wage. When I worked in the office of University High School, they asked me if I’d ever used a Xerox machine and I said ‘oh sure,’ and I had never even seen one.”
At the age of 21, Leach went from student to teacher with her first job at Sissonville High School.
“I had boys in class out there that were bigger and older than I was,” she said. “They were coming back from World War II, and they were no trouble.”
Eight years later, Leach married Sam and moved with him to southern Illinois for several years. The couple had two sons, Samuel Kenton, Jr. and Charles Patrick. Leach was expecting when Sam passed away, three months prior to daughter Mary Ann’s birth.
When Mary Ann was Kindergarten age, Leach moved to Pocahontas County and reentered the workforce as a language arts and Spanish teacher at Green Bank High School.
“My first year at Green Bank High School, I taught Spanish,” she said. “I hadn’t taught Spanish ever, so I called my old high school Spanish teacher and I said, ‘Help.’ Grey Cassell was superintendent and he sent me to Durbin. I loved it at Durbin. You had ten, twelve in a class. I liked the kids. I taught language arts and fourth grade and anything else they could think of.”
When Durbin and Green Bank consolidated, Leach returned to GBHS.
At Green Bank, Leach had two duties she did not like to perform – hem measuring and the attendance register. The girls and boys were in separate homerooms to make each duty easier on the teachers.
“Every morning in homeroom, they had to put their knee on the chair and we had to measure two inches above the chair,” she said. “[One girl], the first time she wore one that was too short, they made her stay in the gym all day. The second time she wore the same skirt, they put her in the gym, and Allen Stewart had a talk with whoever the teacher was and she went to class. [After that] I refused to measure my girls.”
Leach remained at GBHS until the county high schools – GBHS, Marlinton High School and Hillsboro High School – consolidated in the fall of 1970.
“Superintendent [Carl] Holland came and asked me one day if I would teach first grade at Green Bank. They had too many English teachers down there and not enough first grade. I had such a fit. I said, ‘just because I’m certified doesn’t mean I can do it. It’s not fair to me or the kids,’” she remembered. “So then Kenny Vance called me in the meantime and wanted me to take Grace Jane’s [Wigal] place [at Pocahontas County High School]. So that’s how I ended up there.”
Leach’s classroom was in the PCHS Annex, or “outhouse” as she refers to it.
“It was an old garage and they had put in ceiling tiles or something, and they hadn’t used screw eyes that were long enough, so the ceiling in my room fell before school started,” she said. “Donna Pennington’s, next door, fell on a class.”
When the school’s consolidated, Leach said she saw positives and negatives in the move.
“In a way, it’s better but in a way it destroyed the neighborhoods,” she said. “You could have a Christmas program at Green Bank High School, you had to get there early to sit down. The lot would be filled. They had dances, Snow Balls and things like that they don’t have now at the high school.”
In her time at PCHS, Leach said she had a lot of great students that were very nice and entertaining.
“I’ve taught two game wardens, two undertakers, numerous teachers and they retired before I did,” she said laughing. “I taught Diane Irvine and Mike and Judy Kane, and Louise [Stark] and Howard Shinaberry. There were a lot of them that became teachers. I had quite an entertaining homeroom. Randy Sharp, he entertained me for four years. He came to the prom with a top hat and cane and tails. Randy says, ‘why are you looking at me?’ I said, ‘I’m waiting to see you pull a rabbit out of that hat.’”
Although she still remembers her students, Leach doesn’t always recognize them now when she sees them.
“I don’t recognize them,” she said. “You know, they graduate and, Tweard Blackhurst told me, ‘they’ll come back ten, fifteen years later, hairy and fat.’ Now, if they tell me who they are, I can tell them what they did or did not do in school.”
After 40 years in the education system in West Virginia, Leach retired in 1989. She is now a member of the Pocahontas County Association of Retired School Employees and continues to share her memories of her days in the school system with anyone who wants to hear a good story.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at email@example.com