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Students pay tribute

By By Walter Welch
Special to the Advance
While making arrangements for the annual "Gathering" of the Barnes Boys reunion for Saturday, April 5th, 2003, to honor former coach and teacher, Herbert Barnes, another educator was remembered. Mrs. Annie Ruth Whitten, AKA Mrs. T.P. Whitten, and Our Teacher, had taught most of the group as well as hundreds more and had been a great influence on each of them. Mrs. Whitten attended the reunions as long as her health permitted, but at 91 years of age it was becoming extremely difficult.
In keeping with the old adage that if Mohammed can't go to the mountain then bring the mountain to Mohammed, it was decided that now was the time to bring the "Gathering" to Mrs. Whitten. When approached with this idea, she heartily agreed for the group to come and visit at her home. The "Gathering" notice to all members reflected Mrs. Whitten's concurrence and a time was agreed upon. When Mrs. Whitten was hospitalized for a few days, everyone was concerned.
Despite a rather warm day at exactly 11 o'clock, there was our teacher, Mrs. Whitten, standing on her front porch. She personally greeted fifty-two former students and friends, some she had not seen since high school nearly fifty years earlier.
As students introduced themselves, she called them by name and recalled some memory she had of them. In turn, students shared their fond memories of her and expressed their gratitude for the many lessons she had bestowed on them. Some lessons were from a math or English book; others were the wisdom she had instilled in them as encouragement during their adult years. After all the attendees had greeted Mrs. Whitten, she asked to be given the opportunity to speak. Her voice was not quite as strong as it was fifty-nine years ago, when some in the crowd first heard it. But she left no doubt that she appreciated the group's visit. She added that, if she lived long enough, she was going to write a book telling a lot of unknown things that occurred during the "Mr. Barnes" years. One comment made was how much would she charge NOT to write such a book. Perhaps the feeling and admiration of her former students could best be expressed by the large vinyl banner that was displayed in her front lawn that read "Mrs. Whitten, You're the GREATEST!"
The visit to Mrs. Whitten ended when JoAn and Wynelle Watson led the group in singing "You Are My Sunshine," for she truly was an inspiration and friend to each of us. Mrs. Whitten attended grades 1 through 12 in Evergreen, Alabama, graduating from Evergreen High School in 1929. She enrolled at Huntingdon College, in Montgomery in September of 1929. One month later, in October, the stock market crashed and the country was plunged into the Great Depression. She vividly recalls the great struggles endured by everyone during the depression and wonders how her father kept her in college until graduation in 1933.
Her first teaching position was at Dozier High School, in Dozier, Ala., teaching high school math and English for two years. She was paid the maximum salary of $75 a month for a teacher with a degree and no experience.
She taught one year at the Castleberry, Ala., High School and one year at the high school in Milton, Florida. On June 24, 1937, she married Mr. T.P. Whitten who was from Roanoke, Ala..
He was an Auburn graduate and the agent for the Conecuh County Farm Extension Service. After marriage, she became a housewife for several years, but returned to her teaching duties in 1941-42, at her high school alma mater in Evergreen. This was followed by a year at Mobile's Murphy High School in 1942-43. She came to Escambia County High School in 1944, and taught math and some English for over 30 years. Mrs. Whitten is the only teacher living that taught at ECHS (Atmore High School) during the Second World War years.
She remembers that at the beginning of every school year she wrote her motto on the board: "Politeness is to do and say the kindest thing in the kindest way, Hearts like doors will open to very, very little keys, two of these are 'Thank you, sir' and 'If you please'". She required all her students to learn the Gettysburg Address and wonders how many still remember it. She wanted one of her students, Nathan "Jug" Little, to take part in a play, but he told her that the play would have to take place during the day since he had to stay with his mother at night.
The respect that he had for his mother impressed her very much and she wishes there were more young people today with this same attitude. She also remembers a student who could not pass eighth grade math, but made straight A's in Algebra. She went to Mr. Hodnette, the principal, on his behalf and finally got the student credit for his math course. "After I entered the Navy Mrs. Whitten always asked about me every time she saw my mother. This went on for over 30 years. I really appreciated her thoughts and interest." Walter Welch. Mr. Whitten once asked one of her students what they said behind her back.
He was told "She is Mrs. FBI, she always catches us." Mr. Whitten passed away July, 1992. Mrs. Whitten will be remembered not only as an extremely competent and gifted teacher but as a counselor and confidant for students as well as teachers.
Reflections from former students
After I entered the Navy, Mrs. Whitten always asked about me every time she saw my mother. This went on for over 30 years. I really appreciated her thoughts and interest.
Walter Welch
Mrs. Whitten will be remembered not only as an extremely competent and gifted teacher but as a counselor and confident for students as well as teachers.
JoAn Martin
Mr. and Mrs. Whitten were the back door neighbors of my aunt and uncle Minnie and Lloyd Childs. As such, not only I have the influence of their wisdom and kindness but so did my daughter and son, namely Joy Darby Gardberg and Jeff Darby.
The Whittens became like surrigate grandparents for them, upon see Mrs. Whitten last Saturday, the very first words from her were "tell me about Joy and Jeff. " Now, as for me (and every one else that Mrs. Whitten knew) she ALWAYS saw the positives in their lives and brought those attributes forward, leaving the negatives for other to 'clutter' their lives.
What more can be said than Mrs. Whitten is, and always has been a caring, thoughtful and kind person. She was to me that sort of person, in spite of my faults.
Dix Darby
I never had a class with Mrs. Whitten. However, She related to me a memory she had about my mother. As you may not know, her house was adjacent to Mrs. Collins. Mrs. Whitten's being on Horner St and Mrs. Collin's on Presley.
Milsaps house was directly on corner of E. Sarner and Presley. Mrs. Whitten remembers Mother getting to her piano on Sunday mornings and practicing the music which was to be played on that Sunday morning and maybe night. She – Mrs. Whitten – always knew what was to be played on Sunday at church.
Also on Wednesday afternoon, Mother would practice what was to be practiced by choir at their Wednesday evening practice. I reckon I left out one important fact and that was that Mother rented an apartment from Mrs. Collins for several years.
Incidently, the first seven months of our first son's life along with his mother – Dottie – was spent with mother at Mrs. Collins. I was at sea in the Far East. Reckon Mrs. Whitten has an influence on that infant?
He turned out pretty well. Probably not related but just an unrelated side light.
John Crawford
Mrs. Whitten was certainly a favorite teacher of mine. I think I took every subject that she taught. She asked me back to speak to her class While I was in Auburn University. She would always ask my parents about me and show her concern for my well being. Off the subject a little but Mr. T.P. Whitten wrote a note and gave me to put in my billfold when I was leaving for Auburn. It said "Remember that money enables a man to live without an education but an education enables a man to live without money."
I kept that paper for many years until I lost my billfold. It sure was nice not to be just another number or unknown in her class.
D. Max Smith
I graduated from ECHS in 1947 and have fond memories of Mrs. Whitten. In her classes, everyone was "special" – an individual – with their own unique talent to share and/or give to others. She really encouraged us to do that.
While Mrs. Whitten was very professional (she really meant "business") in her classroom she was always there to listen if a student wanted to blow off steam or confide in her. Although she had no children of her own, she dedicated her life to teaching other people's children. And – she has certainly left her mark in a very profound and meaningful way.
Hattie Lou Hawke Livingston
Hattie Hawke Livingston
I knew Mrs. Whitten other than school and going to her classes. She traded at the Style Shoppe and also the Cinderella Shop, which was owned by my Mother Virginia Griffin.
They were very good friends and kept my mother informed as to what I did in her class. Very fine woman and a very good Teacher.
Bobby Griffin
In reply to an email I received about an article about Mrs. Whitten, I was an ECHS Class of 1954 graduate (salutatorian) and always admired her so much. She taught me Algebra I and II and Geometry. We did not get calculus in high school at that time but had it later in college.
In fact, Mrs. Whitten was my favorite teacher at ECHS.
I loved her classes and she encouraged me to major in mathematics in college which I did at Troy State College and received my degree in secondary education there.
The meticulous logical and deductive reasoning she taught in her math classes has helped me in all facets of my life during the last 50 years.
Needless to say, with the background she taught me in mathematics, I had no trouble at all with college math and the education courses in testing and evaluating using those skills.
I enjoyed teaching math more than any other subject and I have taught many others, but Algebra and Geometry were always my favorites.
Elizabeth T. Vinson (Mary Elizabeth Turner-'54)