That time a teacher changed my life

Published 9:36 pm Wednesday, May 4, 2016

To the editor:

As we celebrate National Teacher Appreciation Week, my thoughts turn toward all the wonderful and dedicated teachers I had in my life.

For me, there is one teacher who stands out the most, because she changed my life. My old Suffolk High School annual lists her as E. Tapelle Pruden. I knew her as Miss Pruden.
In my freshman year of 1952, I was failing algebra during the first semester. She called me in after school, told me she knew my family and told me I was smarter than the test scores seemed to show.

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There began a pivotal process. She made me come back to her classroom after school every day to work algebra problems. Her room was my destination each day at 3 p.m., and there I would work problems until she left for the day.
I still recall the 10 blackboards upon three walls around the room. They were filled with algebra problems. I still recall staying routinely until 5 p.m.

I still know to my core that because of her effort, I made it to Virginia Tech to study electronic engineering. And I know that without her, I never would have accomplished what I did, never would have had a successful career as a senior nuclear manager in the naval nuclear program at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
The public record indicates that Miss Tapelle Pruden died in 1973 at the age of 71 and that she rests in Cedar Hill Cemetery.

But she still lives in my heart and mind, as her concern, effort and skill shaped a turning point in my life. I will be eternally grateful to her.

After 63 years, I can still take the square root of a number without a calculator — just a pencil and a piece of paper.

Dick Culpepper

Suffolk High School

Class of 1956