Garnet Allen: Four decades at Surgoinsville Elementary

Rick Wagner • Mar 30, 2019 at 7:00 PM

SURGOINSVILLE — There’s a saying in secondary education these days that third grade is a pivotal time in learning.

In a nutshell, it’s when you stop so much learning to read and really start reading to learn.

If that is so, and I think there’s a lot of truth to it, then a longtime educator who recently passed away was leading the classroom when generations of children at Surgoinsville Elementary School made that reading transition.

I was one of them, but her teaching went beyond reading and other academics.


Garnet Allen, 95, died March 15 at Holston Valley Medical Center after an extended illness, according to her obituary from Broome Funeral Home in Rogersville.

She was my third grade teacher in the 1972-73 school year. She also was my aunt’s third grade teacher circa 1960. My aunt remembers Miss Allen making sure a student who otherwise wouldn’t get much for Christmas got something good by being sure she “drew” the student’s name. “Miss Allen made sure everybody got something,” said my aunt, Sharlene Lee Spaulding.

I learned from the obituary that Miss Allen was a member at First United Methodist Church of Surgoinsville, where my dad’s family used to be members. I grew up going to Amis Chapel United Methodist a few miles away in Carter’s Valley.

Miss Allen’s obituary said she taught for 40 years. Among my 90 or so Surgoinsville classmates are other memories of Miss Allen. Robin Bean Neeley, then Robin Bean, said she remembers our third grade teacher’s old-style glasses in the early 1970s.

“I thought she was ‘old’ back then but realized just how ‘young’ she was when I saw she lived to 95. I loved, loved, loved her pointed glasses back then and now they are popular again, wish I had the courage to wear them now,” Neeley wrote to me.

Carmen Mabe Harold, another classmate, said: “I recall her being stern yet kind to her students, very personable.”

Chuck Conant recalled: “I had the problem of not willing to put my nose in the circle on the blackboard or the corner when I got into trouble. So she would grab me by the ear and twist, taking me to see Mr. Raines to ‘explain’ my problem!”

Calvin Clifton said: “I remember that she rode our school bus. A few teachers and cafeteria ladies would ride the school buses back then. She was a fine southern lady, but I’ll admit that I was a little scared of her until I had her in the third grade. We need more like her today!”


In third grade, I remember Miss Allen as strict but fair. We once asked her to be a little lenient and not enforce a demerit/rewards system in which some of us lost privileges. As I recall, we got different colors of painted ice cream bar sticks as rewards but had them taken away if we broke the rules, such as talking in class.

She pointed out that if we wanted her to break or bend the rules for us, she could do it against us, too, and maybe take away extra playground time or whatever the reward was. That’s a lesson in being held accountable I hope is still taught today.

Miss Allen is not the only teacher I remember from elementary school. In fact, I remember pretty much all the ones I had and have written about them, and I interviewed kindergarten teacher Jean Price as well as my first and second grade teacher Patty Pierce (now Patty Alvis).

My fourth grade teacher was the late Blanche Mabe, while I had Lucia Linkous (now Lucia Carrico) in fifth grade and Louis Purkey in sixth grade. Of course we changed classes starting in fourth grade, so I also had other teachers outside home room including Nancy Thurman, the late Don Scroggins for music, Gladys Chandler, Inez Arnott, Lowell Fairchild, the late Ken McNabb, Bobbie Jean McNabb and others. And I can’t forget Edith Snapp, the librarian.

Third grade, however, as I recall was spent pretty much in Miss Allen’s class except for lunch, library and recess, and Miss Allen was with us then too, no duty-free lunches or recesses for teachers, as well as on our annual elementary field trip to Bays Mountain Park.

One line struck me in what appeared here in the Kingsport Times News: “Honorary Pallbearers: All students previously taught by Garnet Allen.”

Forty years times probably an average of at least 25 students a year, more back in my day, works out to 1,000 or more students there in spirit at the Highland Cemetery in Rogersville. That’s a lot of lives touched, a lot of students who went from learning to read to reading to learn. For that, we all should be grateful to the Miss Allens in our past, but really to all teachers and post-secondary instructors for what we learned back in the day.

I wonder if any of those painted ice cream sticks are in heaven now?

Rick Wagner is education writer for the Kingsport Times News and can be reached at (423) 392-1381 or rwagner@timesnews.net.

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