By Ann Cipperly

A former educator for 40 years and National Teacher of the Year, Marion Sankey of Opelika is enjoying being busy in retirement helping others. Marion is also the founder of the Dream Day Foundation, which produces the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. She has served as coordinator for all of the 21 events. This year’s celebration was held Jan. 20 at the Performing Arts Center, with the theme “Nonviolence Is Love.”
“When Larry and I first moved to Opelika,” Marion says, “there was a Dr. King celebration, but there was nothing in Opelika for young people. We would gather our children and go to the events at various churches in Auburn. The programs were great but long and not tailored for young people. The children did not understand what was going on.
“It just came to mind that we needed to do something that was local,” she adds. “The first celebration was held at Greater Peace Church in 2000. There were so many who wanted to come that we outgrew the space at Greater Peace and moved to the Opelika Performing Arts Center in 2009.
“With the theme ‘Nonviolence Is Love’,” says Marion, “we wanted the children to understand that violence is not the solution. Dr. King was all about loving people.”
Marion grew up in Greer, S.C., outside Greenville. When she was in the fourth grade, her father passed away, leaving seven children for her mother to raise. While her mother worked in a factory, she managed to cook a big breakfast before getting the children off to school. She cooked dinner every night with the biggest meal being Sunday dinner after church.
“My mom taught me to cook to help out when she was so tired from working in a factory all day,” says Marion. The first dish she made was her mother’s Mac and Cheese, which became a traditional favorite.
Education was important to the family. Five of the seven children attended college.
Marion’s grandmother taught in a one room schoolhouse. Several members of Marion’s family were schoolteachers. While she thought about being a nurse, Marion decided to be a teacher since she was inspired by her elementary teachers and teachers in her family.
After graduating from Winthrop College, she taught fourth grade for a year in Rockingham, N.C. When Marion and Larry married in 1979, he was transferred to Dothan to open the Michelin plant there. Marion taught school in Dothan for 12 years.
The Sankeys moved to Opelika in 1991 when Michelin purchased Uniroyal. Marion started teaching at Carver and then worked at West Forest as a teacher for the gifted and talented. After 15 years, she retired from Opelika City Schools in 2006.
Marion went to work in LaGrange, Ga., where she held several positions in the Troup County System as teacher, Title I specialist,  instructional specialist and reading teacher. She became a reading specialist for third, fourth and fifth grades in the Read 180 program. Marion became the National Teacher of the Year in the program in 2018. She was honored in Orlando, Fla.
Marion retired in May last year after working 13 years in LaGrange and a total of 40 years as an educator.
“I tell people it is God’s plan,” says Marion. “You retire from one career, but then you have to serve other people. I love serving people in my church and community, especially the children in any way I can.”
Larry is working as a substitute teacher at Opelika and Auburn schools in middle school, junior high school and high school.
The Sankeys serve in various ministries at Greater Peace Missionary Baptist Church . Larry also serves as a deacon, while Marion serves in the matrons ministry, grief ministry, greeters ministry, among others.
They also enjoy helping with their grandchildren. The Sankeys have four children. Their oldest son, Jamaal, and his wife, LaShunda, live in Opelika and own the Distinguished Barber and Hair Salon. They have two children, Jordan (Piper), 13, who attends Opelika Middle School, and C.J., 11, who is a student at West Forest.
Their youngest son, Darren, an attorney, and his wife, Andrea, have a daughter, Sydney Ann, 1 year old, and they reside in Houston, Texas. Youngest daughter, Mariah, also resides in Houston and is in her first year of residence as an ob/gyn doctor.
The oldest daughter, Ashley, lives in New Orleans, La., and works at Ochsner Hospital Systems in research and is also in real estate.
Marion enjoyed cooking for their children when they were growing up. She prepared a good breakfast like her mother did when she was growing up. “It was important for me to cook for my children and for them to establish those traditions,” Marion says.
She has taught her daughters to cook, with the Mac and Cheese being their favorite. It is also a favorite for Larry’s family.
Other family favorites include Oven Candied Yams, Hot Dog Chili and her mother’s Vegetable Soup. The yummy Peach Cobbler is baked in a pie crust, topped with a lattice crust and baked until golden. The Southwestern Chicken Casserole is also popular.
She feels it was important for them to have dinner at the table and talk about the day at school.
When the children were growing up, Marion and Larry were involved in their activities. “We kept our children in church,” she says, “and we were involved in everything they did, whether it was scouts, piano lessons or sports.
“My upbringing had a lot to do with the upbringing of our children,” says Marion. “My siblings are close, and our children are close and stay in touch with each other. It is important to be involved in your children’s lives and share time together at the table. Now we are enjoying time with them and our grandchildren.”

Cipperly can be contacted at


Mama’s Mac and Cheese
3 cups small elbow macaroni
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
2 eggs
2 cups milk (2% or whole)
3 cups shredded sharp cheese, divided
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring water to boil in a medium size pot. Slowly add macaroni and stir consistently until noodles are soft and tender. Drain and rinse well in hot water. Pour macaroni in medium size casserole dish.
Stir in butter or margarine until almost melted. Beat eggs well and add to macaroni. Stir in milk and 2 cups shredded cheese. Add salt and pepper. Mix all ingredients very well. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Bake until bubbling around edges or about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Mama’s Country Vegetable Soup
Two bags of frozen mixed vegetables can be substituted for can vegetables.
1 small pkg. beef neckbones or ground beef (see directions)
2 (14 oz.) cans stewed or diced tomatoes
2 pkg. frozen chopped okra
2 (14 oz.) cans whole kernel corn
1 (14 oz.) can green beans
8 oz. can tomato sauce
3 cups diced onions
6 oz. can tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. sugar, if desired
In large soup pot, cover bone with water and boil until meat falls off bones, or if using ground beef, brown and drain. Add remaining ingredients except salt, pepper and sugar. Bring to boil and cook at medium-high 1 hour.
Add tomato paste to thicken. Add salt, pepper to taste and sugar. Simmer at least 3 to 5 hours. Serves 18 to 20.
Note: Two bags of frozen mixed vegetables can be substituted for can vegetables.

Southwestern Chicken Casserole
12 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. canola oil
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 red or green bell pepper, chopped
1 (10-oz.) pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
1½ cups salsa
4 (6-inch) no-added-salt corn tortillas, torn into pieces
3/4 cup reduced-fat, shredded Jack cheese
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
1/2 avocado, pitted, peeled and chopped
Cilantro leaves, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degree. Coat a large, nonstick skillet with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, combine chicken, garlic and chili powder. Add to skillet and cook over medium-high heat for 4-6 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and no longer pink, stirring frequently. Remove chicken from skillet; set aside.
Add oil to hot skillet. Add onion and pepper, cook over medium heat about 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in spinach.
Coat a 2-qt. baking dish with cooking spray. Spread about 1/2 cup salsa in bottom of dish. Top with half the tortilla pieces, half of chicken mixture and half of vegetable mixture.
Pour half of remaining salsa over vegetables and top with half the cheese. Repeat layers once, except cheese.
Bake, covered, for 30-35 minutes, or until heated through. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with cherry tomatoes, chopped avocado and fresh cilantro.

Easy Bake Peach Cobbler
2 (15 oz.) cans sliced peaches in heavy syrup
1 box Pillsbury Pie Crusts ( 2 pie crusts in box)
1 tsp. vanilla flavor
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter or margarine, divided
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup milk
1 tsp. nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine peaches, sugar, milk, flour, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and half stick of melted butter in bowl. Unroll one pie crust and spread in medium size baking dish. Pour mixture in dish on top of pie crust.
Unroll and slice other pie crust into strips; place on top in a lattice design. Slice other half stick of butter (can use less) in small slices and put on top throughout. Bake 45 minutes or until filling is bubble and pastry is lightly browned.

Oven Candied Yams
5 medium sweet potatoes
1 Tbsp. nutmeg
2 cups sugar
1 stick butter or margarine
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. lemon extract
1 tsp. cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel and slice potatoes and put into a medium deep dish. Sprinkle nutmeg, sugar, vanilla flavor, lemon flavor and cinnamon throughout potatoes.
Slice stick of butter into small patties and place on top all over. Place lid on top and bake for 3 hours. Remove lid and stir up once or twice during baking.

Easy Homemade Hotdog Chili
1 lb. lean ground beef
Dash of salt and pepper
1 tsp. hot sauce
½ tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. sugar
1½ cups catsup
Brown ground beef in medium size saucepan until well done on medium high. Add dash of black pepper and salt and hot sauce. Add chili powder and sugar; mix very well. Stir consistently to keep from scorching.
Add catsup and continue to stir until comes to boil. Reduce heat to low and let cook for 5 minutes while consistently stirring. Let simmer for about 5 minutes.

Baked Beans
2 (28 oz.) cans Bush’s Original Baked Beans
½ cup bell pepper, chopped
1 medium chopped onion
2/3 cup catsup
3 tsp. yellow mustard
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp. hot sauce
6 slices bacon
Pour baked beans in a medium baking dish or pan. Add chopped bell pepper and chopped onion.
Stir in catsup, mustard, brown sugar and hot sauce. Layer bacon on top of baked bean. Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour or until bacon is cooked on top.

Broccoli and Rice Casserole
1 box frozen chopped broccoli (thawed)
1 cup minute rice
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup chopped onions
8 oz. jar of cheese whiz
1 cup melted margarine
Mix broccoli, rice, onions, mushroom soup, cheese whiz and margarine thoroughly and cook in a covered casserole dish for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
About halfway through cooking time, remove from oven and stir. Return to oven and continue the cooking time.

Breakfast Casserole
5 eggs
2 cups half & half
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. mustard
6 slices bread, buttered liberally and crust removed
1 lb. cooked scrambled sausage
2 cups shredded cheese
Beat together eggs. half & half, salt and mustard. Put bread in baking dish. Then sausage and cheese. Next pour in egg mixture. Refrigerate overnight. Cook at 350 for 45 to 60 minutes.