Educators reminisce about their careers

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 22, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Dr. Hawthorne Irving &uot;H.I.&uot; Tucker, 88, fulfilled two dreams and goals and held two major careers as a minister and an educator. His wife, Helen was also an educator, but both contributed much in the field of education before their retirement.

In the spring of 1962, Hawthorne Tucker came to Suffolk for the first time on a shopping trip with a friend When they entered the city limits, they observed a new school on Route 460 whereby construction was almost completed.


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According to Tucker, at that time he said to his friend, &uot;I’m going to place an application for a job at that school because I would like to be the first principle there. If I get the job, I will try to make it best one in the school division.&uot;

At that time he was still a principle at L.P. Jackson High School in Surry County, and said that he kept thinking about that new school.

His next move was to submit an application to the superintendent which he did during the Christmas holidays in 1962, and when Easter 1963 arrived he had a contract to become the first principal at the new school, Mt. Zion Elementary when the school session began that fall.

&uot;This employment brought joy to my soul. When I reported to the superintendent, I let him know that I was available to help in any way that I could and he immediately assigned the task of planning the dedication service of the building that took place the first Sunday before the opening day of school.

&uot;Being in a new school and in a new environment was a new experience for me. Many of the students did not have books, so the first thing that came to my mind was to outline a book rental plan to present to the faculty which would motivate the pupils to have a desire to study and learn.

&uot;A book rental system was adopted and was very successful. Through this system, students were able to get book at the beginning of the school year and soon this plan was adopted through the entire school system,&uot; said Tucker.

In 1964 he and teachers had a big adjustment that they would have to face – integration.

He held meetings with teachers several days before white children arrived to motivate them to help students to adjust and ask any questions that may be on their minds.

&uot;I told them these that kids are not accustomed to each other and it may be a little hard at first but we should recognize each student and teacher as people and not as being black or white. Do you know I didn’t have a big of trouble between students when integration began, and one white student even told me that she wished that I was her daddy. I have always been the kind of person who has gotten along well with children,&uot; he said.

Tucker said that during his tenure as principal, Mt. Zion Elementary School was the only and first school to have departmentalization in the sixth- and seventh-grades and was also the only school that taught a foreign language (French) in the seventh grade.

&uot;I enjoyed working with faculty and students at that school more than I had any other school during my 32 years in the school system which was 22 at L.P. Jackson High in Surry County and 10 at Mt. Zion Elementary in the Suffolk Public School System.

When Tucker left the school system in 1985, he was ordained as a minister at Olive Branch Baptist Church. He served as pastor there for 11 years and retired in 1996.

He also organized the first Boy Scout Troop in Nansemond Country for blacks, which produced two Eagle Scouts – W.H. Rodgers III and Kim N. Rodgers.

Helen Tucker, 86, taught at Oakland Elementary School from 1966-1978 and was assistant to the principal under E.C. Copeland. She taught classes from the second- seventh-grades.

&uot;I had no problem with black and white students when integration began and was surprised at how smoothly it went.

&uot;When I look at the school today to what it was in the past, I realize how far we have come. I also feel a sense of pride when I go places and see students of both races who I taught doing good in the community. I’ve even had some of them, both black and white, to thank me and tell me that I played a big part in what they have become,&uot; she said.