Hello, Pell City!

My column this week is going to be dedicated to the 60th Anniversary of Iola Roberts. I hope you enjoy the article I've written about the occasion – it was such a joy to interview all the former students and teachers of Iola Roberts and hear the stories they shared about their memories of the school.

I attended Iola in the early seventies (1971-1974) after coming from the kindergarten at Avondale Mills. My first-grade teacher was Mrs. Wright (amazingly, no kin to me) and I thought she was the coolest woman I had ever met. She had long red hair and wore short mini skirts and white go-go boots – the epitome of style back then. Like most young children starting a big, new school, I was scared and nervous when my mom, Annette Barber Bowman, took me to registration.

I vividly remember the smell of the classrooms, the size of the staircases (much like Martha Mitcham, I was in awe), and the one thing that convinced me to come back – the Curious George book that Mrs. Wright promised me she would teach me to read. I love to read, and by the time I was in the third grade at Iola Roberts, test scores showed that I was already on a college reading level. To this day I credit Iola Roberts, my mom, Mrs. Wright, and Curious George for my love of reading.

Another favorite memory from the first grade was the Halloween Carnival that we had, and the crowning of the King and Queen of each room. I didn't make queen that year, but I was named a princess, and what 6-year-old little girl doesn't dream of being a princess.

Second grade at Iola Roberts was even better than first. I had the most beautiful teacher in the world, Mrs. Isabella Perry Hazelwood. She was so young and pretty and had been a former majorette at Pell City High School. I think my class was the first she ever taught.

She divided us up into reading groups – my group was called "The Purple People Eaters" after a popular song in the 70s. It was also during her class that I learned how to plant a seed in a white styrofoam cup and watch it grow into a tomato plant, and watch the miraculous transformation of a pet caterpillar we kept in a jar in the room into a beautiful butterfly.

My little world in second grade at Iola Roberts was idyllic, and it wasn't until many years later that I truly understood when Mrs. Hazelwood wrote a word on the blackboard and helped us pronounce it – that word was Vietnam – that not everyone was as fortunate as my classmates and I.

My only bad memory of Iola came back to me in a flashback while interviewing Pell City Schools Superintendent Michael Barber. I had forgotten about the immunization shots we had to get in the lunchroom. Today, I still have (as I'm sure many of you reading this do also) that little circular, pitted mark on my arm made by the immunization gun. Thanks a lot Michael, for helping me remember that traumatic event.

Third grade at Iola Roberts may have been the highlight of my life. First of all, my best friends and first cousins, Wendy Bradshaw and Melinda Bowman, were assigned to the same class as I – Mrs. Dorothy Eden's class. We were just a few weeks apart in age and had grown up together. It was like putting identical triplets in the same classroom.

It has always been my understanding that never since has that happened again with any cousins. I know for a fact that Wendy, Melinda and I never had the same teachers again after that in any grade.

Dorothy Eden was born to be an educator. She was fantastic! It was in the third grade that I learned all about politics. We had an election for Class President, and I won the nomination for the girls. My opponent, Keith Rich, won the nomination for the boys.

Problem was, our class was evenly divided between boys and girls, and every time we voted it was straight down party (aka gender) lines. We took recess, and while out on the playground I promised one of the boys that I would make him Vice-President if he crossed lines and voted for me. He did, I won. I named my cousin Wendy Vice-President, and that boy got harassed on the playground when word leaked that he was the one who cost Keith the election.

Hindsight is 20/20 – I missed my calling when I didn't go into politics.

Speaking of politics, it was in the fourth grade at Iola that I announced my intention to run for President of the United States. Mrs. Jessie Armstrong was my teacher and she was tough as nails. She didn't put up with any nonsense, but at the same time she was fair and encouraged children to follow their convictions. In the fourth grade, Alabama History was taught, and I learned of Andrew Jackson's decision to remove all the Indians and the famous "Trail of Tears.” I worked myself into tears thinking of how bad we treated the Indians, and I stood up in class and loudly proclaimed I was going to become President and give them all their land back one day.

Mrs. Armstrong promptly sent me to stand out in the hall and told me I would get a paddling if I didn't calm down. Many years later, just months before Mrs. Armstrong passed away at the age of 97, she and I talked about that incident and she said she had been just as stunned as I was, when I spoke out in class like that.

Iola Roberts brings back memories of The Bookmobile, trips to Montgomery to visit the State Capital, ice cream in little cups with wooden spoons and friendships made that have lasted until this day. I remember the playground (which was at the back of the school then) with the tall slides and monkey bars, the games of dodge ball, and the big, green parachute that we would use in PE Class. I remember dancing around the May Pole, Christmas Plays with Old Mother Hubbard, and these famous words – See Jane. See Dick. See Dick and Jane run.

I learned that Coach Crimm is alive and doing well, and that Mrs. Cunningham is also alive and in her late 90's now. I remember crying when Mrs. Hazelwood passed away from cancer years ago, just weeks before she had sent a baby shower gift for my first child, Whitney.

Dorothy Eden retired from teaching and spent years working as a Pink Lady at the hospital. Her son Andy followed in her shoes and is currently working at Ragland High School.

I lost track of Mrs. Wright shortly after first grade. Someone told me that she had moved on to the bright lights and big city of Birmingham.

Have a great week, and hope to see many of you at our alma mater, Iola Roberts Elementary School on April 28!

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