Lessons Learned from Miss Ellis

Hugh Goodwin -4th grade

Hugh Goodwin -4th grade class

When I entered the first grade at Hugh Goodwin Elementary School I remember the excitement I had thinking I was being sent to a playground where everyone played all the time. All I knew about school was what I saw as I rode by in my parent’s car and watch all the kids playing on the huge playground. When I didn’t see them outside playing, I assumed they were inside taking a nap and getting ready for the next play period. Hugh Goodwin was one of the four elementary schools in El Dorado at the time and was the school which my brother Berry Lee and sister Marilyn also attended. They had told me it was “the best school in town” so I thought they must surely have the best games to play.

I remember the names of all of my elementary school teachers and at least one of the qualities which set her apart from the others. In those days there were no men who taught school at that level. The one individual who was a constant in my grade school experience for the entire six years at Hugh Goodwin was the principal, Miss Nola Ellis. My childhood remembrance was she was short in stature and had bright red hair. I didn’t think she was much taller than most first graders. She moved quickly from one place to another with short rapid steps which seemed louder than others because of the black, quarter length heels she wore. My friends all said they were scared of Miss Ellis, and the last thing they ever wanted was to be called into her office. A summons to her office was never for a congratulatory message or award, but for an offence which could not be handled by your teacher. I knew where her office was located but tried not to pay much attention to either its’ location or the furniture behind the closed-door marked “Principal’s Office.” My attitude was if I avoided her and her office, perhaps I could get through the six years at Hugh Goodwin, and she wouldn’t know my name or anything about me. That was about to change when I got to the fourth grade.

Perhaps I was becoming bolder in my more “mature” state, or I wanted to become more popular with the so-called tough guys. Whatever the reason I got involved with a gang of spit-wad shooters. Spit-wad shooting was expressly forbidden at school, and the carrying of rubber bands was punishable by a trip to Miss Ellis’ office. Repeat offenders were occasionally expelled from school for several days. I won’t go into further details except I was caught one morning with a small pack of rubber bands in my sock and was immediately sent to Miss Ellis’ office. I was terrified to the core as I walked down the long hallway and probably promised God a large number of things if He would bail me out. As I sat there with two other perpetrators she looked at me and said, “John Henry, this is not like you, and because this is your first time to my office you just have to stay after school for an hour each day in detention hall the rest of this week. Don’t ever do anything like this again.” I said, “Thank you Miss Ellis. I promise I will never to do anything like this for the rest of my life.” That was my one and only trip to her office throughout my grade school career. Whenever the thought of a misdeed crossed my mind, I recalled the terror of the walk to Miss Ellis’ office and thinking my useful life was over.

Years later following a Christian seminar which Cathy and I attended we were challenged to think of some person from our past who had meant a great deal in the development of our character. I remembered the incident involving Miss Ellis which occurred over thirty years earlier and wrote her a detailed two-page letter thanking her for her influence in my life. I told her she epitomized discipline with mercy and was an ideal grade school principal. I was  grateful for her many years of dedication to excellent childhood education in El Dorado. I received a thank you note from her within a week of sending my letter, and I still have her note written on May 21,1979.

Within a few months of the letter Miss Ellis came to me as a surgical patient. She had been in excellent health for her previous eighty-two years, but had developed a malignant condition which required a major operation. She recovered well and was cured from the malignancy. The blessing for me was I had the privilege of spending many hours with Miss Ellis while she recovered and got to witness Christ to her and pray for her. She told me many stories about her wonderful career in education and her influence on so many children.

Miss Ellis lived another ten years and departed this life in 1989 at age ninety-two years. She had a quiet but vibrant faith in the Lord Jesus, and she is with Him now. Thank you Miss Ellis. You will always be one of my heroes.

Dr. John


6 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from Miss Ellis

    • During the time that Miss Ellis was recovering and we had many conversations, we both agreed that students and teachers from “those other schools” were delusional to think that they were better than Hugh Goodwinites! 🙂

  1. Miss Ellis had retired by the time I moved to El Dorado halfway through the 3rd grade. But my classmates talked about her like she was the fourth part of the trinity! You may remember my favorite teacher… Mrs. Eula Goode Garrison. She was a wonderful grandmotherly type.

    • I don’t remember Mrs. Garrison. She must have come to Hugh Goodwin after I graduated to Barton Junior High in 1951. Mrs. Kinard (Larry’s mother) who was my 6th grade teacher was one of my favorites. I kept up with her the longest because I saw Larry frequently at First Baptist while we were members there. Isn’t it wonderful how dedicated elementary school teachers can have a life-long influence when they love the children in their classrooms?

      • Oh yes, I had Mrs. Kinard, too! I really liked her even though she had a pretty tough reputation. I found her to be kind and fair. Troublemakers probably didn’t like her but I knew she knew my mother and my grandmother… so I behaved myself! As a side note, Larry bought his house on the corner of East 10th and Jefferson from Greg Booker who bought it from my grandparents, Francis Matthews (step grandfather) and Mother’s mother, Mary Clark Matthews. You are so right, teachers make a profound impact. I know they get paid a little more than years ago but they still don’t get paid what they are worth!

  2. Once again you have driven home a solid point of recognizing a mighty work in another life. It ias time we all paid close attention and we will surely see the work of the Lord in action John

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