HendersonvilleNews Stories

Five more join HCEF Hall of Fame; banquet is Thursday

These five retired educators are the newest Hall of Famers: Flat Rock High English teacher Julia Justus Lappin, Fletcher Elementary principal Shirley McGee, Balfour Elementary’s first librarian Barbara T. (Susie) Brown, Balfour fourth-grade teacher Peggy C. Simmons, and Flat Rock and Rugby Middle science teacher Shirley Ray Whitmire.

New this time, the annual spring banquet is in the Blue Ridge Community College Conference Hall with food catered by Carrabba’s Italian Grill.

The event starts at 5:45 p.m., with a reunion of all Hall of Fame honorees. “Fifty-eight are still living,” new HCEF Exec. Dir. Dr. Paul Knott said. “We’ll visit with them, to give continuing honor.” The five new inductees bring the total to 114 people, in 13 years starting in 2003.

Other guests are invited to arrive at 6 p.m. There induction ceremony will be briefer than before with a brisker pace and firm ending time (8:15 p.m.), Knott said. “We want this to be an enjoyable evening — quick and to the point. Not on and on.”

Further, the Hall of Fame committee has set a policy of honoring no more than five people per year for significant contributions to local education. Nine were inducted a year ago.

Knott started in January, after three years as founding director of Lenoir-Rhyne University’s Center for Graduate Studies of Asheville. “I am thrilled to continue the organization’s mission of enhancing our community’s quality of life by supporting the Henderson County Public Schools and our partners at Johnson Farm and Bullington Gardens.”

He succeeds Dr. Don Jones, who retired last year after greatly expanding HCEF efforts and revenue for 14 years. The number of HCEF scholarships rose in that span, from four to 63. Retired teacher Tom Orr, a pivotal local historian, was HCEF president when launching the Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame banquet is HCEF’s main fundraiser for its scholarships, grants and various programs. There is now even greater emphasis at gaining revenue from it, Knott said. Thus, he said, HCEF’s per-meal expense was substantially reduced. The ticket price remains $40 per person. Reservations exceed 200 guests.

With the banquet so close ahead, those interested in going should promptly call the HCEF office at 698-8884.

More on each new inductee:

• Barbara T. (Susan) Brown was Balfour Elementary’s first librarian and media coordinator, in 1974. She guided students and other teachers into the computer age, in teaching those skills in addition to a love of literature. She then went to the new Clear Creek Elementary, developing its large media center.

Corum Smith, who was Balfour principal, credits her “personal initiative and strong desire to think outside the box and explore new approaches. The library became a beehive of exciting, creative and wonderful opportunities for children to learn.”

• Julia Justus Lappin taught high school English and drama, in Flat Rock School starting in 1950. Her students include nationally best-selling author Robert Morgan of Green River. Her English composition students wrote about personal experiences. Morgan figured he only knew about his farm and mountaineers, she recalled. “‘I said, ‘You chose good subjects. That will be important to you and your writing someday.’” She was right.

Morgan said she motivated his creative writing. “She encouraged her students to think and remember and connect. By permitting us to write short personal essays, she let us bring our writing alive — finding words that were bright, significant, true.”

She directed student dramas, and was senior class advisor. She was awarded several National Defense Education Act (NDEA) fellowships.

• Shirley McGee rose to principal of Fletcher Elementary for 10 years. She retired in 2007, after 35 years. She encouraged teachers to send students to her principal’s office, for special recognition. Mars Hill University Pres. Dr. Dan Lunsford as her superintendent recognized her “strong work ethic, and positive engagement with parents. She demanded quality from the students.” She was also Apple Valley Middle assistant principal.

Earlier, McGee taught at all three levels — at Fletcher Elementary, English at Rugby Middle, then language arts at West Henderson High. Peers chose her in 1988 as Rugby and Henderson County teacher of the year. James Case, her principal at Rugby, commended her “deep compassion and concern … her devotion and understanding … Her classroom was alive because of her high energy level.”

• Peggy C. Simmons taught Balfour fourth grade for 30 years. She patiently developed academic and behavioral excellence, including in the many behaviorally-challenged students placed with her. “She taught us with her soft voice to respect others, listen carefully and wear our thinking caps,” former student Andrew Riddle recalled. “She reached beyond the required curriculum and nurtured life’s lessons for students to grow and become responsible adults.”

• Shirley Ray Whitmire taught middle school science for 30 years, in Flat Rock School/Junior High in 1960-75 then Rugby Junior High/Middle School in 1976-89. She was honored as outstanding earth science teacher for N.C. in 1979 and in the Southeast in 1981. She also taught academically gifted students at Rugby, and sponsored the Quiz Bowl team. As her Rugby principal, James Case felt “pure joy to go into her classroom and watch her perform her magic with her students. Shirley had the rare and unique ability to personally relate to each student in the classroom.”

Reserve banquet tickets for Thursday by promptly calling HCEF at 698-8884. Check for more about HCEF, at hcefnc.org.

Share this story
Show More

Related Articles