Thursday, July 7, 2005

Looking back with joy
  • Strickland leaving classroom

Staff Writer

Irene Strickland has retired after 31 years of teaching home economics at Potts Camp. With retirement from the school district comes a new career. She now is a partner with Betty Burch at Jennie’s Flowers in Holly Springs.

Strickland will be missed at Potts Camp, according to Jerry Moore, former assistant principal at the school and now director of instructional services at the central office of the Marshall County School District.

Strickland helped organize most extracurricular activities, plus her extreme dedication to teaching children not only how to make good grades but how to live was highly valued at the school, Moore said.

“She was always at work and extremely dedicated to the idea that all children should learn how to make a living through good grades, but she also taught children appropriateness in how they should act and behave,” Moore said. “She loves children and wants them to progress and go on and do something with their lives. She’s not afraid to correct children or even their parents.”

Strickland went over some of the highlights of her growing up years at Carrollton, college years and as a home economics teacher at Potts Camp.

“Living in Holly Springs is almost like living in Carrollton, a true Southern town with all the charm and personality,” she said. “I found a town where friends have a place of importance with each other and where visitors delight in spending time absorbing the history of our town almost like it was in Carrollton.”

Her father, the late James “Mr. Jimmy” Frank Wilson, was taken in by Irene Billups as a youngster and the Billups family, who had service stations in small towns across the state, invited Wilson into the business.

“My father, who had the good fortune of being taken in by the Billups family at an early age, lived an example of gratefulness for opportunity,” Strickland said. “I, too, was given a great opportunity when I came to Potts Camp 31 years ago.”

Strickland’s mother, Annie Mae Wilson is currently serving as mayor of Carrollton.

Strickland attended Mississippi University for Women, the “W” as it was known in those days, as a Home Economics major.

The college was known for turning out home economics teachers.

At graduation Strickland’s mother wanted her to continue in graduate school.

But she listened to her supervising teacher, Dr. Martha Jo Mims, who wanted her to interview for a job.

“She said, ‘I want you to go up to Potts Camp and interview for that job,’ ” Strickland said. “It will be so meaningful.”

Potts Camp principal A.L. Sanders surprised Strickland by offering her the job after the first interview.

“I accepted with so much excitement, but in the back of my mind I thought ‘after this year I’m going to Dallas and join some of my friends.’ ”


Strickland said the first year went great and turned out to be a “huge learning experience,” but she was still planning for the “Big D.”

“Better judgement reminded me that a good teacher, if invited back, would never leave a position after the first year,” she said. “Stability of an individual was in large part determined by a person’s number of years at a job.”

The Potts Camp people helped the new home making teacher feel welcomed.

“The people were wonderful to me, the Ashs, the Edwards, the Claytons, the Sparks, the Alexanders,” she said. “I can’t name them all. I came here green as grass from the “W,” as one who had lived a very protected life.

“In January of the first year, Leisa Ash asked me if I would like to stay and work for the summer in her father’s re-election campaign (chancery clerk J.M. “Flick” Ash). That was a fun way to get to know all the people in this county. And I am still here.”

Strickland said she often talked about how fortunate teachers at Potts Camp were.

“People are very important to me,” she said. “The subject I taught did not compute numbers, compare and analyze or diagram sentences.

The subject I taught was the finishing touches that all students needed to have a well-rounded school experience.

“When Mr. Ash was my principal, he titled my course his ‘finishing school.’ He never knew it but that thrilled me. If my students benefited like he thought they should have, then I felt I had really contributed to helping each one have a well rounded education.

“I always told my students that whatever objective we were studying, their knowledge of that would give them an edge over other students.”

Potts Camp School is very fortunate for a number of reasons, Strickland said.

“I’ll tell you why we are fortunate. It is a small rural school and that means a closeness with the community. We have the support of parents and there is a sense of personal safety at the school.

“That’s very important. The children are basically from families that encourage respect for teachers. We have that probably more than we realize we do. If parents feel teachers have their children’s best interest at heart, in my mind they will support you.”

After teaching the children of former students, Strickland said the children’s behavior is better because the parents know the teachers and the situation.

“Their parents have threatened them, ‘you’ve got to act right in her room,’ ” Strickland said.

Over the years the home economics curriculum changed. Strickland said she always wanted to be the first in line to get ready for change.

One of the first changes was to introduce girls to Ag and boys to home making.

“We started out teaching all girls home economics and agriculture was for boys,” she said. “We began to swap classes for six weeks and I would teach etiquette to males. Kerry Hale recalls to this day his etiquette classes with such fondness.”

Kerry Hale, who had Strickland’s required six-weeks short course for males in ninth grade, said a few things stuck with him over the years. The class learned you are supposed to tip the cabbie, the proper way to eat soup and how to cook cinnamon toast.

“We learned you use a napkin instead of your shirt sleeve,” he said.

Another thing he remembers is that the entire class failed the test on manners and each had to take the test home for a parent’s signature.

“Several kids got in trouble because they were afraid to take it to their parents,” Hale said.

“I do a lot of traveling now,” he said. “It makes you think. The first experience to this was at Potts Camp, Mississippi - population 450 with all the dogs and cats included.”

After a trial period, home economics, now an elective, included boys. Then computers were added to the curriculum. State legislator Eloise Scott introduced a bill to add a family dynamics course. The course became a model in the U.S. because of challenges in families, Strickland said.

Finally, home economics’ name was changed to Family and Consumer Science and both sexes were allowed to take the courses.

Those changes were added to meet the needs of society, and included two newly developed areas - resource management and personal development - and two new courses - child development (formerly child care) and nutrition and wellness (formerly food and nutrition).

Emphasis in nutrition and wellness changed the focus from food preparation to food selection. Health was added and is required for graduation.

“All these changes were to meet the needs of society. We shouldn’t teach today’s child like I taught their parents,” Strickland said.

What has not changed, she said, is etiquette, something people need to know for life. Students find many ways to apply something they have learned in etiquette throughout life, she said. Word has a way of getting back to the teacher which lessons were valued and stuck.

“That’s my paycheck. That means more than any pay raise you can get,” Strickland said.

For the last five years, Strickland has taught workshops and seminars for new and first year teachers for the state Department of Education. Teaching teachers is a way of raising the profession.

She was also instrumental in helping Potts Camp School get a pilot program which helped get a new home economics building and furnishings. The pilot program was connected with the change in emphasis in the curriculum.

With the encouragement of Janet Jolley at the County Extension Office, students entered food dishes in the Mid-South Fair competitions and took home many ribbons.

In the area of resource management, county agent Lemon Phelps has supported the ag and family and consumer science programs. The new building was made possible through grant support from the Mississippi State Extension Service and Phelps.

The support of school district superintendents - Donnal Ash and Donald Randolph - has also been a boon to Potts Camp, Strickland said.

“I truly believe teachers play important roles in the lives of children and if you make a strong impact, they’ll remember you forever,” Strickland said.

Attitude and gratitude go hand in hand to make living a joy.

“I look back on these years with joy,” Strickland said. “I looked forward to going to school every day. I did not consider it work. It was a teaching of Dr. Mims. If it’s a pleasure for you to be there, your children will sense that and they, too, will enjoy your classroom.”

Strickland also acknowledged two home economics teachers, Mary Allen Pope of Columbus and Christine Carithers of Charleston, who have a special place in her heart.

“They instilled within their students the true home economics values,” she said. “I met Pope at Holmes Community College. She later became dean of home economics at the “W.”

“I developed a love for flowers at a young age,” Stickland said. “Daddy had a circle of daylilies at the end of the drive. I would go cut lilies for the front porch. Our family always enjoyed flowers and Mother had them on the table for meals.”

She enjoyed free-lancing but had an interest in going into business. Strickland said the floral business is important work, just as a hospital is.

“I feel very blessed to be able to retire from one fabulous career to another fabulous career,” she said.

“I am doubly blessed to have the partner I have - a perfect working relation.”

Burch and Strickland became acquainted at the “W” and later met in Holly Springs for church.

“Her parents invited me over to lunch after church after I moved here,” she said. “She knew I was a Methodist. I never thought one day we would be in business together.”

Strickland said there is only one drawback to being in the flower business.

“We have neglected our friends,” she said. “We miss them, but they come to see us at the flower shop.”

Strickland and her husband, Ronnie Strickland, have one child, Cameron Lamar, now a student at DeSoto Center. Ronnie is employed with Mississippi Department of Transportation.

Strickland has one brother, James Rowell Wilson, who farms in the Delta.

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