I would like to share a very special heartfelt tribute in Classroom Observer this week for a teacher and principal who was truly a light and pillar for the Opelika Community over many years. This is a tribute of gratitude to Miss Virginia Hendon, who touched many children’s lives and mentored many teachers in the God-called profession of teaching.
In 1980, I was a young teacher who had been assigned to Carver Primary School in the Opelika City School System, which covered grades kindergarten through third grade. I was so grateful to be hired to teach second grade under the leadership of Virginia as my principal. She had taught school with my mother, Marie Jones, and my mother told me that under Virginia I would have good training as a teacher. That statement rang true throughout my teaching career. Virginia taught and showed true care and love to her young students and their families by making sure they learned what was expected on each grade level. She spent time with the children and their families in the community, and this spelled LOVE.
For the students to learn concepts and lessons on each grade level, she mentored her teacher team. She loved her teachers, and we knew she loved us. I fondly remember the daily morning breakfasts for children and teachers. It was not required for teachers to attend breakfast, but we wanted to learn from our principal different methods of teaching over an early morning cup of coffee before meeting our children in the classroom. Virginia celebrated her teachers and their family joys and accomplishments. Personally, I remember her hugs and tears of joy when I married my husband, Carl, over a Thanksgiving weekend.
Valentine’s Day is such a special day in the early childhood classroom. In 1982, I ended up at East Alabama Medical Center with an intestinal virus on Valentine’s week. I was so heartbroken, because I would miss being with my students and giving them their valentines on the party day. Feeling very weak with IVs dripping nutrition into my body, Virginia showed up at my hospital room with valentines in hand for me to address, sign my name and slip candy hearts into each envelope so my students would receive this teacher’s gift of love to her students. Again, she was modeling love to me and my students. She celebrated the births of her teachers’ children, and she encouraged her teachers to continue their personal and professional continuing education in order to better serve our students.
When young students had to go to the principal’s office, it wasn’t always for something they had done wrong — sometimes it was to celebrate simple progress that had been accomplished during that week. But when a student had misbehaved or did not complete assignments, Virginia met them with appropriate discipline and how to correct the situation. She always let the student’s family know so they could follow up with appropriate parenting at home.
She understood the strengths and weaknesses of students from her years of experience and wisdom. As an educator, she guided her teachers and extended staff on how to meet the needs of our students.
Virginia had a good sense of humor with her students, families and her teachers. She understood that a cheerful heart is good medicine for children to learn. With this concept, she stressed to her teaching team that children are moldable and bendable by the words we say to them. Her motto was children need clear rules, boundaries and words of encouragement in order to learn, grow and know how special they are.
Virginia showed a light of love into children’s lives. She planted a heart of faith into the children’s lives that she touched. Children observe their parents and teachers very closely, and as principal, she realized this about the students and families at her schools. Wheth-er a student was having a difficult time or was doing well, she grabbed opportunities to share, model and encourage children.
Virginia passed away on Jan. 30 at age 95. As a community of students, families and teachers, we would like to thank her for her life and service in teaching children not only reading, writing, math, science and history, but for modeling and teaching us about living life in accomplishing our goals. She truly was an ambassador for the lives of children. As time passes, we will always remember Miss Virginia Hendon.

Beth Pinyerd has taught many years in the early childhood classroom. She has a master’s degree in early childhood education.