December 01, 2010 Edition

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Whitmire plans for retirement

Sue Whitmire, who has spent her lifetime learning and educating others, will retire from Williams Baptist College in December.
Frank Witowski Jr.
Staff Writer

She makes history come alive for her students and others. Sue Whitmire grew up in Clover Bend, and became a world traveler fascinated by history. She enjoys sharing her experiences in classrooms and with organizations she has served in through the years.

Whitmire says she stayed close to home during her childhood years, but always had a desire to explore the world around her. "I couldn't travel (as a young girl), but I could go there by reading books," Whitmire said. "I thought there's a whole world out there, and I am going to go there."

She has enriched many lives along the way.

Whitmire is retiring in December after teaching for 30 years in various capacities. Most recently, she served as an adjunct instructor at Williams Baptist College. This semester she has taught reading in the content area and social studies for teachers.

"Mrs. Whitmire is a joy to have as a teacher, instructor and historian," WBC student Chuck Cagle said. "She has opened my mind to the many different methods of teaching and how to make social studies come alive for myself and future students."

WBC student Sheila Baltz concurs with the sentiments of Cagle.

"I am so thankful to have been blessed by being in Mrs. Whitmire's (social studies for teachers) class," Baltz said. "Her class is never dull. She has shown me how to make social studies more interactive and fun for students. She has an abundance of knowledge and a wonderful sense of humor. I have enjoyed getting to know her on a personal and professional level and wish her the very best in her retirement."

Among Whitmire's future pursuits will be traveling to many places she has not seen yet to learn more culture and history.

Whitmire's childhood

Whitmire was born in Clover Bend Jan. 4, 1944, during World War II while her father, the late D.H. Pratt, was away on active duty.

"My dad was in the infantry," she says. "He didn't want to be a foot soldier, so he signed up for the Air Force, but was transferred to foot soldier."

Interestingly, her father and son, Mitch, who retired from active duty as an army captain, were both in the Big Red 1 Unit and had basic training in Fort Riley, Kan.

Her favorite childhood memories included wandering the woods at her grandparents' house, which was located toward Shirey Bay. She also enjoyed getting together listening to Elvis, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. "Those '45' records were our most prized possessions," Whitmire said.

She also commented that her family had the first television in her community and "there would be a big bunch on Saturday night who would gather (at our house)."

Whitmire graduated from Clover Bend High School in 1961 and attended a semester of school at Harding University and a year at Arkansas State University before she married. Whitmire said she quit school to marry her late husband, Bud, and be with him as he was stationed at Whidbey Island in Washington State.

Becomes a teacher

Following his tour of duty, the couple moved to Kansas City, Mo. After five years in Kansas City, the family moved back home to Northeast Arkansas. Whitmire was hired in 1970 by the late Dr. Williams to be a bookkeeper for what was then Southern Baptist College (now WBC). She worked for a few years as a bookkeeper for the school while taking some courses that were offered at that time.

She then transferred to ASU and decided she wanted to teach school. She earned her bachelor's degree in elementary education in 1978.

It was while she was attending school at ASU that her love for history grew exponentially. She claims attending the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial tour, where she visited Boston, Mount Vernon, Monticello, Washington, D.C., and other historic places, whetted her appetite for history.

Whitmire started her teaching career at Hoxie Elementary School. She taught fourth grade for nine years. As a teacher, she served as part of a screening committee for the gifted and talented program. When a position became available, she completed the remaining college hours she needed to become the gifted and talented coordinator at Hoxie.

While in that position, she attended a teaching convention in Little Rock, where she observed a mini-United Nations model with gifted and talented students. That experience inspired her to create United Nations models with the gifted and talented students in Lawrence County.

Many guest speakers came to her class for this project including Dr. Afak Haydar, an instructor at ASU who was originally from India and Pakistan. She was able to write a grant to help pay for the expenses, and the program expanded to more students through the years.

According to Whitmire, the students read about different countries and learned about the culture and problems and looked for resolutions to the problems of the world.

"The biggest group was 150 kids," Whitmire said. "Every school in Lawrence County was represented. When you bring representatives of every school in the county together and these kids debate the problems of the world, that is a huge learning event. This was amazing."

Whitmire then wrote other grants to help finance projects that would help history come alive to her gifted and talented students. She said that one year her class studied the Civil War in depth, and went to a Civil War reenactment in Doniphan, Mo., and attended a Civil War era ball afterwards.

Following the event, the students inquired about what the Native Americans were doing at the time of the Civil War, and she wrote more grants. One grant paid for her (and her late husband's) trip to visit many Native American reservations and historic sites through the west including reservations in New Mexico, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wounded Knee, South Dakota and Philadelphia, Miss. Along the journey, she met a man named Tommy Wildcat in an Indian village. Wildcat brought approximately 25 family members with him, and they spoke to all the schools in Lawrence County and hosted a program for the community.

After serving as the gifted and talented coordinator for eight years, Whitmire went back into the classroom, this time teaching fifth-grade social studies and reading at Hoxie. Each year, while school was out for the summer, Whitmire traveled to many historic places to gain more knowledge. She has gone to Vicksburg and followed the Hunter and Dunbar expedition from Louisiana to Hot Springs. The list of historic places she has been is long indeed.

Coming out of retirement due to tragedy

After serving 25 years at Hoxie School, she retired in 2004.

"I put everything I could into my classroom and I was tired and so I retired," she said.

However, she was taken out of retirement due to a tragedy. In September of 2005, J.P. and Emily Emberton were killed in a car wreck. Emily was in her first year of teaching third grade at the time of the crash. Belinda Biggers, the principal at Walnut Ridge Elementary at the time, contacted Whitmire to step in and help.

"Belinda's concern was the trauma of the students, because the students loved Emily," Whitmire said. "One student had her obituary taped on her desk all year. Those kids really missed her and had suffered. Belinda knew I was a seasoned teacher and could take care of them emotionally. I stepped in and picked up the pieces and truly enjoyed that year and had a circle of friends who treated me exceptionally well."

Whitmire says she was touched when she was elected teacher of the year.

Following that school year, she was offered a position at Williams Baptist College. She had hoped to help assess students during directed student teaching, but was hired as interim chair of the education department. She stayed in this position for two years until Dr. Brad Baine became the chair of the department. She continued working as an adjunct teacher at the college an additional year before retiring a second time in the spring of 2009.

Whitmire's husband died of a massive heart attack in the fall of 2009 and she decided to return to WBC. She taught language arts in the spring and culminated her teaching career by teaching reading in the content area and social studies for teachers.

Community involvement

Whitmire has also served Lawrence County in other ways besides teaching. While in high school, she held a state office for the Arkansas Library Association. She has served on the Wings of Honor Board and on the Rails to Trails Board for several years and is co-editor of the Lawrence County Historical Society Journal. She was responsible for writing the grant that financed a Clover Bend documentary and Wings of Honor documentary, which were hosted by Jack Hill. She wrote most of the script for the Wings of Honor documentary.

She has been able to write grants that were awarded by Arkansas Heritage and other organizations. She also wrote a grant to create the Alice French Memorial Garden at Clover Bend, as well as other historic preservation projects. She has served on the Clover Bend Historical District Board.

Whitmire has written monologues covering the Civil War and early pioneer history and has presented them to the Craighead County Historical Society, the Greene County Historical Society, the Lawrence County Historical Society, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Daughters of the American Revolution, as well as other groups. She is in Delta Kappa Gamma and is a member of the Free Street Church of Christ.

Retirement plans

Whitmire said this time she is retiring for good because "I have a 'bucket list' of things I want to do and feel this is the time to do it."

Whitmire plans to do a lot of traveling and has a list of many places she wants to see. She usually travels with one of the many people in her wide circle of friends. She plans to visit Mackinaw Island and Prince Edward Island first.

She also plans to do a lot of reading and wants to write historical fiction. She plans to do some gardening and perform volunteer work for her church and community. Whitmire said her bucket list includes learning how to play the piano and mandolin. She is trying to teach herself how to play these instruments and said she can play the guitar a little.

She is taking a German class in case she takes a trip to Germany, Austria and Switzerland in the spring. "I have taken Arabic in the past and had a Japanese exchange student and learned a little Japanese, so I thought it would be neat to take German."

She is also fascinated by genealogy studies and enjoys spending time with her family. She has three children, Mike Whitmire, Mitch Whitmire and Cristy Phillips. Her grandchildren are Crystal Warden, Shelby, Cody, Hannah, Sarah, Rachel and Katie Whitmire and Teague and Colin Phillips. She also has a great-grandson, River Warden.

Although she has not retired yet, she has already started traveling. Last week, she visited Kansas City and Gallatin, Mo., with her friend Estella Smith and explored Amish history and the legacy of Frank and Jesse James that is there.

Whitmire has an abundance of friends from her many travels and from being a teacher and volunteer and says, "It's a wasted day if you didn't make a friend or learn something new."

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