“An awesome teacher is hard to find, difficult to part with, and impossible to forget.”
Like many people who migrated to Western North Carolina from Florida, Mary McClurkin’s family had vacationed at Moody Farm in Haywood County, and the memories of those cool July mornings never left her. After being an 11th-grade English teacher in Jacksonville (loved the age, loved American literature, hated the weather) at an outstanding high school for nine years, she was offered and took a job in central administration writing grant proposals for government and foundation money—for the massive Duval County (Jacksonville) school district. After being away from teaching for more than three years, she decided to follow her heart back to the classroom and teach again. This time it was at Tuscola High School in Waynesville in Haywood County. She left there in 1986, but keeps in touch with many of her former students on Facebook.
No specific event happened that made her want to become a teacher, but she loved high school age people, and American literature enabled her to talk about things she knew something about and enjoyed. When she reflects on those years, what immediately comes to mind is working on the yearbook after hours and on weekends, teaching students to run a darkroom, and guiding them to shoot good pictures. Along with that was the laughter.
Her best memories, though, were teaching at A-B Tech Community College, a place where she learned that these nontraditional students were just as bright as the college-prep and gifted students she had taught in high school, but circumstances had prevented them from going to college. That school enables them to blossom and realize how smart and talented they really were. The memory that has stuck with her over the years is that they opened doors for her—a behavior she thought had died decades earlier. All together, she taught for 34 years.
One of her favorite achievements was moving a high school newspaper from a commercially printed document into one that was written, typeset, and offset printed in the graphic arts shop at the school. These experiences enabled young people to learn skills they would never have been exposed to in a typical classroom.
When she joined the choir at Central United Methodist in Asheville, among the first people she met was another alto named Peggy Partin—yes, that Partin. She also noticed that the organ had been given to the church by Ken Partin’s family. Talk about serendipity! When she decided to move to a retirement community like Givens, there was no hesitation.
One activity at Central she really missed was playing handbells, and in a conversation with Sally Bush, formerly the Givens Director of Programming, she learned there was a one-octave set of hand chimes, so she began a group here. To complement the octave, Mark Bailey, Director of Development, bought another octave of chimes for the group. Grateful for the gift, Mary reviews documents Development wants another set of eyes on.
Speaking of another set of eyes: In her retirement, she began an online business called New Eyes Editing. She worked for several years editing dissertations, resumes, non-fiction articles and books, and other formal documents until she stopped advertising and let the business slow down until she only edits occasional pieces for old customers.
She enjoys gardening, makes walking sticks she gives to people who need one, and loves being with the greatest kitty ever, “Flash,” a 13-year-old, 14-pound grey tabby. Mary credits him for keeping her grounded during our year of the pandemic.
She touched many lives over her teaching career and continues to do so at Givens Estates. It seems clear that she enjoys her life at Givens and says moving here was the best decision she ever made.