33

My grandparents, Mildred and Roger, kept everything. When Roger died in 2000, I inherited all of the family photographs and Mildred’s cedar chest along with all of the ephemera it held. Consequently, I have the holiday cards my father, Chilton, and his brother, David, sent to their mother; letters that Mildred received from her brothers during World War II; the surgeon’s report from Mildred’s second knee replacement surgery; and the medical records from a trip that Roger took to the Pittsburgh Diagnostic Clinic hoping to determine the source of vague but persistent pains in his mid-back and groin. (The diagnosis? Stress due to the rigors of being unemployed and unable to find work, and the indignity of being supported by his schoolteacher wife.)

Mildred began teaching school in 1953 but her love affair with schooling began much earlier. Although she was a good student, Mildred repeated at least one grade because her family couldn’t afford the books for the next year’s study. In the 1928-29 school year, she attended 6th grade at the Union School. Her report card suggests that she was an “excellent pupil.” I find it interesting to note that the school year began on September 10 and ended on April 30, perhaps so that schoolchildren could work for the summer.

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On March 21, 1930, Mildred took 3rd in the district spelling match. Her older brother, Earl, came in 2nd place.

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In addition to being a stellar speller, Mildred was a fine athlete, taking first place in the long jump and broad jump in the competitive “over 90#” division.

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In 1935, Mildred was a member of University High School’s champion basketball team.

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The tiny photo I have lists the name of each girl on the team and suggests that they were called the “Secret Six.”

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By my math, Mildred should have graduated in 1935, but she missed that date by a couple of years. Somewhere between sixth grade and tenth she lost two years of school.

In 1936, Mildred bought a booklet of student basketball tickets, but the booklet is missing only a single ticket so she must not have been able to go to many games. On the booklet she wrote: “I’m going screwy – buy a season ticket and never see a game (supporting the team.)”

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In March of 1937, in the middle of her senior year of high school, Mildred DeVault married F. Roger Kerns. She turned 20 on May 31st and was 2-3 months pregnant by the time she graduated from high school in June of 1937.

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I find it interesting to note that she’s listed by her maiden name in the class picture and also in the invitation to the graduation ceremonies.

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Mildred became a mother in January of 1938, when Chilton was born, and again in May of 1944, when David arrived. The family lived in the country in a house that lacked plumbing and shared an outhouse with a neighboring family. She taught Chilton to read and to love school. Chilton’s reports of her parenting were always glowing.

In the fall of 1951, when Chilton was 13 and David was 7, Mildred enrolled at Fairmont State College as a 34-year old freshman.

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Mildred earned an Elementary Second Class Teaching Certificate at Fairmont College where she took classes on such topics as “The Fundamentals of Social Problems” and “Practical Arithmetic” and learned that the secret to a harmonious classroom is seating arrangements.

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In the fall of 1953, Mildred began her teaching career in Monongalia County, WV, earning $231 per month.

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Mildred taught for two years in a one-room “mountain school” and then for six years in a “five-room graded school.” And she continued her own education, attending summer school and night classes at Fairmont State College, where she earned a B in a 300-level Sociology class called “Juvenile Delinquency.” Mildred worked to support her family and encouraged her own children in school, while suffering significant pain due to Rheumatoid arthritis.

In the early 1960s, Mildred and Roger decided to leave West Virginia for the sunny and dry climes of the Southwest, in hope that the change in climate would ease her joint pain. In April of 1963, the superintendent of schools for Monangalia County, wrote a letter of recommendation in support of Mildred’s application to the College of Education at Arizona State University and Mildred drafted her own “candidate’s statement.”

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Evidently it worked, because in the spring of 1964, three days before becoming a grandmother, Mildred became the first of her family to earn a college degree. (A couple of years earlier, Chilton dropped out of West Virginia University a few credits shy of his Bachelor’s degree.)

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Mildred taught second grade in El Centro, California, and in Mesa, Arizona. And in June of 1971, at the age of 54, she received a Master of Arts in Education from Arizona State University.

Offering: Mildred’s freshman beanie from Fairmont State College, complete with button.

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