Family, Community Top Priorities For Former Teacher Jean Heath

Family and community are most important to the family of Jean and Bruce Heath. Pictured are front row, from left, Stacey Heath, Joseph Heath, Luc Heath, Sadie Heath, Clark Heath, Bruce Heath, Jessie Heath; and back row are Will Heath, Turner Heath, Jean Heath, Bruce Heath, Beth Heath, Rad Heath, Jack Heath and Whit Heath. Photo special to The Observer Photo Contributed To The Observer

By Ann Cipperly

With a family history in Opelika going back for generations, Jean Heath, having a love for children, followed in the footsteps of her grandmother and mother by becoming a school teacher. Jean and her husband, Bruce, are both enjoying time in retirement with their three children and seven grandchildren, while continuing their top priorities of family and being involved in the community.

Jean’s parents were Jean and Jack Meadows, and her grandparents were Gertrude and Jack Meadows Sr. Her mother taught for 30 years at Northside School, while her father was a cotton broker and also had his own company, Spot Cotton.

Her grandmother, Gertrude Meadows, taught English at Opelika Junior High School and was on the Board of Education. Grandmother Meadows taught both of Jean’s brothers, Bob and Rainer, but she retired before Jean was in junior high school. Grandfather Jack Meadows Sr. was a banker at First National Bank.

Growing up, Jean knew she wanted to follow in her mother and grandmother’s footsteps as a teacher. Both of the ladies were respected and loved by their students. After graduating from Opelika High School, Jean attended Auburn University.

When she graduated from Auburn, Jean followed her mother and grandmothers as a school teacher. After Jean and Bruce married, they lived in Enterprise, Troy and Eufaula with his work before moving to Opelika. Jean retired from Opelika City Schools after teaching 32 years. She taught at Opelika Middle School as the instructional resource.

“I think Opelika schools are among the best, if not the best, in the state,” Jean said. “We don’t realize what a jewel we have in Opelika schools. If you go outside of Lee County, you might see something different.”

Bruce grew up in Enterprise, and one set of grandparents lived close by on a farm, and the other grandparents lived in Headland. Bruce spent a great deal of time with his grandparents on the farm and helped with the garden. They also grew peanuts and had cows as well as other animals.

He helped his grandmother with canning and freezing vegetables from the garden and boiling peanuts. Bruce also watched his mother and other grandmother cook and developed an interest in cooking, too.

Over the years, Jean and Bruce shared the cooking responsibilities, but since he retired from USDA – Rural Development, he does more of the cooking. Bruce generally cooks on the grill three times a week. One of their favorites is when he cooks a Boston butt or pork roast and a chicken enhanced with his favorite rub. He allows the pork to drip on the chicken. He serves this with a barbecue sauce from a recipe in a 1970s Auburn Extension Cookbook.

When the children and grandkids visit, Bruce will cook on the grill, while Jean prepares the sides and desserts.

The Heaths have three sons and seven grandchildren, “The Sensational Seven.” They are Will and Stacey, who live in Leeds and have two children, Sadie and Joseph; Jack and Beth, who live in Atlanta and have three children, Luc, Clark and Turner; and Whit and Jessie, who reside in Opelika with two children, Bruce and Rad. All three sons graduated from Opelika High School.

Their oldest son Will is following in his family’s footsteps as a teacher. He is teaching communication and journalism at the college level.

As a busy school teacher when the boys were growing up, Jean preferred quick and easy recipes like her mother. All three of the boys were active in sports and involved in after school activities.

A teacher friend in Eufaula gave her the quick chicken pie recipe that her sons enjoyed. When possible, Jean had the family gather at the table for dinner after coming home from activities. Everyone had to share something from their day when they were sitting around the table.

They always had dinner together on Sunday after church and enjoyed visiting grandparents. Her mother’s family is from Union Springs, and they visited there often on weekends.

“We are family oriented and love our community,” Jean said. “We try to be involved in the community and at the First United Methodist of Opelika.”

Bruce has been on the Keep Opelika Beautiful Board for ten years and is the president, while Jean serves on the board at the Museum of East Alabama. “The museum is a hidden treasure,” said Jean. “A lot of people don’t know what all is there.” The museum recently had a stunning mural painted on a side wall.

One of Jean’s brothers, Rainer, is owner of Victory Designs, and Jean sometimes helps out at the store. Her other brother, Bob, is a local attorney.

Jean is sharing favorite recipes from her mother and Bruce’s mother as well as friends. The Reuben Dip is a family favorite. Jean prepares this recipe to take to family get togethers.

At Easter, Bruce will cook a ham after church, and Jean will prepare the mac and cheese, the grandchildren’s favorite, as one of the sides. The congealed salads are favorites of her children for holidays.

“We are all about our family and community,” Jean said, as she carries on family traditions and starts new ones for their seven grandchildren.

Special Barbecue

Bruce cooks on the grill about three times a week. One of their favorites is a Boston butt or pork roast and a chicken with his favorite rub. He allows the pork to drip on the chicken, as he cooks the meats on indirect heat and checks the temperature for doneness. It generally takes at least two hours cooking time. Bruce uses a barbecue sauce recipe from a 1970s Auburn Extension Cookbook.

½ lb. butter

1 cup vinegar

2 cups tomato catsup

4 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbsp. Tabasco sauce

1 Tbsp. salt

3 Tbsp. prepared mustard

Dash red pepper

Juice of 1 lemon

Melt butter; add vinegar. Then add other ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil, and let it simmer for a few minutes. Makes 3 ½ to 4 cups.

Chicken Spaghetti

Recipe is from Polly Jernigan, who was a family friend. Recipe was in her cookbook, “Good, Good, Good.”

3 cups cooked chicken, cubed 

1 onion chopped

1 cup celery, chopped

2 cans mushroom soup

1 soup can chicken stock

1 bell pepper, chopped

2 Tbsp. pimientos

2 cups grated sharp cheese

About 6 oz. thin spaghetti

½ cup Parmesan cheese

Sauté onion, celery and bell pepper in oleo until tender. Mix with chicken, mushroom soup, cheese and pimiento. 

Cook spaghetti in stock or salted water. Drain. Mix all together. Pour into a casserole and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. 

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes covered.

Sweet Potato Casserole with Coconut and Pecans

Recipe is from Bruce’s mother, Virginia Heath.

3 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

½ cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla

⅓ cup butter

Pinch salt

Mix until smooth – Pour into a casserole dish. Top with the following (mix and sprinkle on top)

1 cup brown sugar

⅓ cup flour

⅓ cup melted butter

1 cup coconut, shredded

1 cup chopped pecans

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes.

Fruitcake Cookies

Recipe is from Jean’s mother, Jean Meadows.

1 ½ cups sugar

1 cup butter

3 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

3 cups flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 lb. candied fruit

4 cups chopped pecans

1 cup raisins

Pinch salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Beat sugar and butter at medium speed until creamy. Add eggs one at a time. Stir in vanilla. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Gradually add to the sugar mixture. Stir in fruit and pecans.

Drop by tablespoons on the cookie sheet. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes. Cool for 20 minutes before removing from cookie sheet.

Reuben Dip

Recipe is a favorite at the family Christmas Eve party every year.

¾ lb. corned beef, chopped

8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, room temperature

15 oz. can sauerkraut, chopped

12 oz. grated Swiss cheese

1 ½ cups sour cream

Round sourdough loaf or Hawaiian bread for serving

Combine all ingredients except bread and heat to get the mixture well combined. 

Serve in a round of sourdough or Hawaiian bread. Cut hole in the center and serve the mixture in the bread bowl. Use the pieces of bread from the center to dip in the bread bowl. Have crackers available too.

Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball

Recipe is from Colleen Alsobrook.

8 oz. cream cheese

½ cup real butter

¼ tsp. vanilla

¾ cup confectioner sugar

2 Tbsp. brown sugar

¾ cup mini chocolate chips

½ or ¾ cup chopped pecans

Cinnamon graham crackers for serving

Let cream cheese and butter soften. Mix all ingredients together, except for pecans and crackers. Let sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. 

Mold into a ball with your hands and sprinkle pecans on top. Serve with cinnamon graham crackers.

Macaroni and Cheese

All of Jean’s and Bruce’s grandchildren like Mac and Cheese. This favorite recipe is from Terri Neighbors.

8 oz. elbow macaroni , cooked according to package directions and drained

Small can mushrooms

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 jar pimientos 

1 cup mayonnaise

1 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, grated


Ritz crackers

Melted butter

Mix all ingredients together, except topping. Pour into greased baking pan. Top with crumbled Ritz crackers and melted butter mixed together. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Ham Delights

Recipe is from Anna Asbury.

3 pkg. party rolls 

½ lb. margarine, softened

3 Tbsp. prepared mustard

3 Tbsp. poppy seeds

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 lb. ham, shredded

½ lb. Swiss cheese, sliced

Split party rolls open. Combine margarine, mustard, poppy seeds, onion and Worcestershire sauce; mix well. Spread top and bottom of rolls with blended mixture.

Add ham to rolls and top with Swiss cheese. Place halves of rolls together. Wrap tightly in foil in the aluminum roll trays. Heat 10 minutes at 400 degrees.

Easy Cornbread Muffins

Recipe is from Jean’s grandmother, Gertrude Meadows.

1 cup self-rising cornmeal

1 cup buttermilk

1 egg

½ stick oleo, melted

Mix all ingredients together. Spray muffin pans with Pam and put mixture in muffin tins. Bake 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

Tired Mama Chicken Pie

Recipe is from
Barbara Martin.

2 deep dish pie crusts

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 can Veg•All

1 – 2 cans of chicken chopped (or 2-3 cups of boiled chicken)

1 chicken bouillon cube

Drain Veg•All and boil vegetables in water with a bouillon cube until the cube dissolves completely. Drain but save the water. Mix vegetables with other ingredients. (If the mixture seems dry, add some of the water you saved and put some celery salt in the mixture, too).

Pour the mixture into one of the pie crusts and cover with the second one. Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes or until the crust is golden. (If you have leftover vegetables, you can add them instead of Veg•All.)

Lime Congealed Salad

Recipe from Jean’s mother, Jean Meadows. This is a holiday favorite.

1 pkg. lime Jell-O

½ cup warm water

1 small can crushed pineapple, drain and save the pineapple juice

10 marshmallows or 20 little ones

1 small pkg. cream cheese, room temperature

½ pint whipping cream, whipped

1 cup chopped pecans

Mix Jell-O and water. Add pineapple juice. Melt marshmallows with Jell-O. Cool.

Mix cream cheese and whipped cream. Add other ingredients and mix well. Put in dish and cool.

Cranberry Congealed Salad

Recipe is from Bruce’s mother, Virginia Heath. This is a holiday favorite.

3 oz. pkg. cherry Jell-O (any red will do)

2 cups hot water, divided

16 oz. can whole cranberry sauce

3 oz. pkg. lemon Jell-O

Small can crushed pineapple, do not drain

Small pkg. cream cheese, room temperature

⅓ cup mayonnaise

½ cup whipping cream, whipped

1 cup tiny marshmallows

¼ cup chopped pecans

Dissolve red Jell-O in 1 cup of hot water. Stir in cranberry sauce and pour into a 3 qt rectangular glass dish. Chill until set.

Dissolve lemon Jell-O in 1 cup of hot water. Cool. Whip cream cheese and mayonnaise together until fluffy. Add lemon Jell-O mixture and pineapple. Add the whipped cream, marshmallows and pecans.

Spread over the cranberry layer and chill until firm.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here