Teaching inspiration passed on

                                                             Photo by Christy Porter
Aweda McDowell, one-room schoolhouse attendee and schoolteacher.

By Christy Porter
Managing Editor

Aweda (Jeffries) Sullins-McDowell fondly remembers her first teacher. “Faye Casebeer was the teacher for my first three years at Plum Valley School, a one-room schoolhouse close to Success. I always wanted to be a teacher because of her. Plum Valley was in Texas County, Mo., about 10 miles outside of Houston on Highway 17. We lived at Dykes, where my grandpa had a grocery store. For first grade we walked the 2-1/2-miles from where we lived to the school. I distinctly remember wearing boys’ high top shoes with hose (socks) to school. The other children and I didn’t like the hose so we’d take them off when we left the house.”
Family was important; McDowell was born December 28, 1923, on the Roby family farm to Jess and Minnie (Biram) Jeffries. A grandfather lived on one Ozark hill and a grandmother lived on another. She recalls her father’s rule, “No fishing on Sunday!” Her dad had accidentally run over her with a truck after she had fallen out, and he thought the accident had occurred because he was going to go fishing on a Sunday.
While in the third grade, her desire to become a teacher was further instilled when, “Some of my dad’s folks came to visit; a female cousin of my dad’s was a teacher, and she was so put together. We lived on the farm and didn’t have much, but I thought, when I get big I want to be like her.” McDowell had a lifelong admiration for teachers and teaching.
McDowell’s family moved to Licking, where she then attended school, going on to finish at Houston High School in 1942. She actually stayed with her grandparents the last year to graduate with her classmates from Houston High.
“Dad finished eighth grade but wanted to continue and couldn’t, so he always encouraged me and all his kids to continue with their schooling, and he always encouraged me to do what I wanted to do,” says McDowell.
After finishing high school in May, McDowell attended 10 weeks of college in Bolivar to receive her teaching degree. “I liked to go to school and went more than I had to, taking more classes, including night classes, than were required,” she recalls. She started teaching in August of that same year and continued her education until graduating with a Master’s in Education at Missouri State in Springfield.
Her first year of teaching was at the one-room Mooney Hollow School, where she taught for approximately four years. She then went on to teach at Paddy’s Chapel School for one year; it was to be the last year for the small school as most of the families had moved to St. Louis. “I had one remaining student, Orel Davenport, who was a third grader. That was fun,” she laughs.
                                                                                                                                                 Photo submitted
A class photo taken at Craddock School. Known for her smile is Aweda McDowell, back row, far right.
She furthered her teaching career at Craddock School on Highway AF. During this time, she was also the school bus driver. To save time, McDowell, who resided with her family at the Hanks farm, would wade across the river in the summers and take a boat across in the winter to where she parked the bus at the Weber’s home (located at what is now Rennick’s).
She taught two of three brothers and three of four sisters, all of her siblings except for the two oldest.
“I had 24 students, with some in every grade,” recalls McDowell. In her experience not all grades were taught each year, one year it would be fifth and seventh, the next year sixth and eighth. There were not enough kids to teach each grade each year. Some kids were lucky and went through with their grades on schedule and some kids took a year ahead of their appropriate year.
When experiencing discipline issues, she had her students help make the rules, writing them out on the board. This worked for her, with few disciplinary problems thereafter.
“I was young and learning how to teach while on the job. I stayed one night throughout the school year with the different families to get to know them,” she said. “We also had pie suppers and auctions to raise money; they went well.” It was an additional opportunity for her to know her children and their families.
Her own children benefited, as they were her students as well. During her tenure at Craddock, her son, Lonnie, was paid to start the fire in the one-room schoolhouse for $2.50 per month. In the evenings, McDowell and her children would gather pine knots to help start the fires.
When Craddock School was absorbed into the public school system, McDowell continued teaching with the Licking R-VIII district. She later accepted a teaching position at the Waynesville School District, again continuing her education by earning a degree in counseling. She proceeded to accept a counselor position with Waynesville School System were she remained until her retirement from teaching. In addition to teaching during the day with school children, her love of the profession extended to helping the military citizens further their education by teaching evening courses at Ft. Leonard Wood.
Floyd and Aweda had one daughter, Bonnie, and one son, Lonnie; both have passed away. Bonnie and her husband, Butch, met in college and were both teachers in Arkansas. She is proud of her three grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren, one whom she taught to count to 100.
Teaching was, one might say, a family inheritance. One of Aweda’s sisters was a teacher; her daughter taught and currently her granddaughter, Bonnie Cotrel, is a science teacher in Plato.
McDowell retired from teaching after 33 years, but then continued her side job selling real estate, taking it to a second full-time career. It was a niche she was well suited for, as both her husband, and her son, Lonnie, were builders. It was a very productive career with Century 21 in St. Roberts. She stated, “Whatever work I did, I did my best at it.” Her final retirement, from real estate, was at the age of 70.
Licking school student Terry (Ray) Dawson remembers Mrs. McDowell as the one telling her and fellow classmates that Kennedy had been shot. “She was a sweet lady, exceptional, never had a bad day and was always smiling. I had Mrs. McDowell twice while in Licking Elementary, in the third and fifth grade. I remember doing math matches on the blackboard; I loved it! She was a fantastic teacher,” said Dawson. McDowell also shared fond memories of her student, Terry.
 Now, McDowell appreciates her family and friends, but says, “I sometimes wonder what happened to some of my students who moved away.”

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