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Educators honor 2015 Hall of Fame

2015 Education Hall of Fame inductees were Barbara T. "Susie" Brown, Julia Justus Lappin, Shirley McGee, Peggy C. Simmons and Shirley Ray Whitmire. 2015 Education Hall of Fame inductees were Barbara T. "Susie" Brown, Julia Justus Lappin, Shirley McGee, Peggy C. Simmons and Shirley Ray Whitmire.

A librarian who ignited students’ interest in computers, an English teacher who inspired the renowned poet and author Robert Morgan, a longtime teacher and principal whose classroom sparkled with her high energy level, an elementary school teacher who taught students to “wear their thinking caps” and a middle school science teacher who “had the rare and unique ability to personally relate to each student” were honored Thursday night as this year’s inductees in the Henderson County Education Hall of Fame.

The five new inductees joined 105 teachers, principals, volunteers and education staff who have received the honor since 2003. Fellow teachers, former students, principals and administrators honored the class of 2015 during a ceremony and dinner at the Blue Ridge Conference Hall at BRCC. The inductees were:

Barbara T. (Susie) Brown, librarian and Media Center teacher: Rejecting advice to pursue a "more practical" degree in elementary education, Ms. Brown earned degrees (Bachelors and Master of Arts) in Information and Library Sciences. As Balfour Elementary School's first librarian and media coordinator in 1974, she stayed on top of the latest technology. While inspiring students with a love a literature, Ms. Brown moved Balfour into the computer age, teaching students and teachers computer skills. In her final years at Clear Creek Elementary, she developed a huge media center. “About 40 years ago I probably would have laughed if someone had told me I could have made a career out of reading to children and helping them discover the magic of computers and technology,” she said.

Julia Justus Lappin, high school English and drama teacher. Former students, including New York Times best-selling author and Green River native Robert Morgan, credit her with instilling them with a love of writing and an introduction to poetry. Known to her students as Ms. Justus, she began teaching at Flat Rock High School in 1950. She directed student dramas, advised the school staff and served as the senior class advisor. She was awarded several National Defense Education Act (NDEA) fellowships, designed to inspire students to pursue higher education. It was Lappin who recognized Morgan’s unique relationship with home that would serve his whole life. As a student, Morgan told her “all I knew was a little farm on Green River.” “That will be important to you and to your writing some day,” she answered. As an inexperienced teacher, Lappin said she benefited from “the kind of mountain comfort that made it possible for me to be confident. I have thought about that so many times.” On the first day of class, she’d tell her students: “I don’t know everything about this subject but if I don’t know today I’ll look it up and tell you tomorrow.”

Shirley McGee, elementary and middle and high school teacher, assistant middle school principal and elementary school principal. As a principal, Ms. McGee knew each child at Fletcher Elementary School by name and encouraged teachers to send children to her office for praise. She spent 35 years in education, retiring in 2007. She taught at Fletcher Elementary, English at Rugby Middle, language arts at West Henderson High, served as Apple Valley Assistant Principal and returned to Fletcher Elementary as principal, 1997 to 2007. She was honored by her peers in 1988 as Rugby's Teacher of the Year and as Henderson County's Teacher of the Year. “Education has been a joy and a joint journey for me,” she said. “I want to thank you, the teachers, parents and students because you made each day better. Also thank you, those who are continuing the journey in education today.”

Peggy C. Simmons, elementary school teacher: During her 30 years of teaching fourth graders at Balfour Elementary School, Ms. Simmons developed a reputation for motivating her students to achieve academically and to be well-behaved. In fact she was so patient and compassionate with students, Ms. Simmons was frequently given the most behaviorally challenged students in the school. Simmons said she benefited from strong administrators, principals and peers. “Balfour was like a family,” she said. “For 30 years I was surrounded by administrators, principals, coworkers, parents and children.”

Shirley Ray Whitmire, middle school science teacher. An award-winning science teacher for 30 years, Ms. Whitmire inspired students at Flat Rock School/Junior High School from 1960 to 1975 and at Rugby Junior High/Middle School from 1976 to 1989 when she retired. Ms. Whitmire's work was so outstanding that she received numerous local awards during her career and was honored as the state of North Carolina's Outstanding Earth Science Teacher in 1979 and as the Outstanding Earth Science Teacher for the entire Southeast in 1981. She always found creative ways to teach, like sending letters to the captain of a cargo ship sailing around the world. “After three brothers-in-law getting in the Hall of Fame I thought it was my turn,” she said. She is married to Pat Whitmire.

Paul Knott, the new executive director of the Education Foundation, made good on a promise that this year’s event would feature “a new venue, new menu, new program and same tradition.” The program was much shorter than in years past, with fewer inductees. It ended at 8 o’clock.