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 got to play all the time. All I knew about the school was what I saw as I would ride by in my parent’s car and see all the kids playing on that 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 4 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 constant in my grade school experience for the entire 6 years at Hugh Goodwin was the principal, Miss Nola Ellis. My childhood remembrance of her was she was short in stature (seemingly not much taller than I), and had bright red hair. She moved quickly from one place to another with short rapid steps, and her steps always seemed louder than most because of the black, quarter length heels she wore. I could remember all of my friends saying they were scared of Miss Ellis, and the last thing they ever wanted was to be called into her office. It seemed a summons to her office was never for a congratulatory message or award, but for an offence that could not be handled by your own teacher. I knew where her office was located but tried not to pay too much attention to either its’ location or the furniture located behind the closed-door marked “Principal’s Office.” My attitude was if I avoided her and her office, perhaps I could get through the 6 years at Hugh Goodwin, and she wouldn’t know my name or anything about me.That all changed when I got to the 4th 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 cause, 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 an offense punishable by a trip to Miss Ellis’ office which usually resulted in expulsion from school for several days. I won’t go into further details except I was caught 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 that long hallway and probably promised God a large number of things on the way to that dreaded place. As I sat there with 2 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 a principal’s office throughout my entire school career. Whenever the thought of a misdeed crossed my mind, I recalled the terror of the walk to Miss Ellis’ office thinking my useful life was over, and the unbelievable relief I felt in receiving the lenient sentence from her.
Years later following a Christian seminar which Cathy and I attended, we had been challenged to think of some person from our past who had meant a great deal in developing our character. I thought about the incident involving Miss Ellis which had occurred over 30 years earlier, and wrote her a detailed 2 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 very 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 a copy of that 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 82 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. I heard many stories from her about her wonderful career and her influence on so many children.
Miss Ellis lived another 10 years and departed this life in 1989 at age 92 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 childhood heroes!