LANETT — Four retired Valley Area educators received Pioneer in Education awards during Monday morning’s Unity Day program presented by the Lambda Zeta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha. The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day program was presented virtually on Facebook and Bee TV.

The four educational pioneers are Catherine Crook of LaFayette, Essie Mae Harris of Lanett, Pearlie Gibson of Valley, and Jo Frances Jackson of West Point.

Phyllis Stiggers said it was exciting, fun and joyful for her to recognize these four local women for what they have meant to the local community and the field of education.

Catherine Pitts (Crook) was born on a family farm in Chambers County in August 1922. She is on her way to her 100th birthday.

“She was the youngest of four children,” Stiggers said. “She was not afraid of hard work and had chores to do every day on the farm. She walked five miles each day to Chambers County Training School in LaFayette where she graduated in 1943.”

Catherine’s family could not afford to send her to college, but she was determined to get a degree and become a teacher. “She moved to Chicago and lived with her older sister,” Stiggers said. “She saved her money and went back to her home in Alabama. She enrolled at Miles College in Birmingham, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and social studies in 1948. She returned to Chambers County and taught at Liberty School and a school in River View.

At River View, she met a young teacher named Milledge Crook. A whirlwind courtship began and the couple were married within six months. Mr. Crook would go on to become superintendent of the Chambers County school system. The Crooks would have long careers as educators and in the Chambers County Retired Teachers Association. Everyone loved Mr. Crook’s jokes when he held meetings as chairman.

Ms. Crook earned a master’s degree in science at Alabama A&M and was teaching at LaFayette High after a 45-year career in public education when she retired. She was previously named the county school system’s Teacher of the Year and taught adult education classes for the system.

“She used her work ethic to participate in civic organizations,” Stiggers said. “She joined Alpha Kappa Alpha’s Theta Xi Omega at LaGrange in 1975 and the Lambda Zeta Omega Chapter at Lanett in her founding year (1976). She has been a faithful member of Mount Calvary Baptist Church for many years and has held many leadership positions in the church. She is a God-fearing woman who believes in the power of prayer. She’s 99 and still appreciates hard work.

Stiggers said Essie Mae Harris had distinguished herself as a teacher, principal, social reformer and civil rights activist.

“She grew up in Lanett, graduated from Lanier High and earned her teaching degree from Alabama State University. She retired from the Lanett City school system after 40 years of dedicated service,” she said.

Harris has done much in the area of ​​community service over the years, including organizing fundraisers for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and serving on the board of trustees for Valley Haven School and the Valley UnitedFund. She served as a counselor at Chattahoochee Hospice and was treasurer of the local chapter of the Alabama State University Alumni Association.

“For many years she was a faithful, active and dedicated member of Mount Hermon Baptist Church,” Stiggers said. “She loves her church and is ready to do whatever is necessary. She has held many leadership positions in the church. She has also held numerous leadership positions at the Bowen East District Baptist Center.

In 1986 she was honored with a “This Is Your Life, Essie” program at Mount Hermon Baptist Church and in 1995 was honored at an appreciation banquet at LB Sykes-Lanett Junior High. Harris has received numerous community service awards from numerous state and NAACP officials.

Pearlie Gibson was born in Hope Hull, Alabama, the eleventh child in a family of 12 siblings. She was the fifth of six daughters in the family. Pearlie learned early how important a good education was.

“Growing up, she saw her older brothers laughing at them because they couldn’t read or write,” Stiggers said. “She was determined to be the change for her family.”

She would go on to graduate from high school and earn a Bachelor of Science degree from Alabama State.

Gibson taught school in Mississippi for a few years before returning to Alabama to teach at Rehobeth High in the Fairfax community of Chambers County. When the schools were integrated in 1971, she was the first black teacher hired to teach at Fairfax Elementary School. She then went to Troup County, where she taught Ethel Kight at LaGrange, Center School, and West Point Elementary.

“She has been a faithful member of St. Stephens CME Church in the River View community for many years,” Stiggers said. “She has also held many district level positions for the CME church. She believes that education is key for anyone to succeed. She was blessed with four daughters and three grandsons.

Jo Frances Fannings (Jackson) grew up in Lanett in a family of nine children.

“At an early age, she learned the values ​​of humility, regular church attendance and trust in God,” Stiggers said. “She was always bright for her age and enrolled at Lanier High when she was only five years old. She was double promoted several times and graduated from Lanier High at the age of 13. .

Jackson attended Clark College in Atlanta for two years before transferring to Alabama State, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. She completed all courses for a doctorate except her thesis.

“She had a long career as an educator,” Stiggers said. “She was 49 in systems in Alabama and Georgia. She started playing the piano as a young girl at Goodsell Methodist Church in Lanett. She played there for many years and was often a guest pianist at other churches. She tutored students during after-school hours at Goodsell and volunteered for the George H. Lanier Memorial Hospital. Jo Frances is a proud member of Shaver’s Pride Order of the Eastern Star, an Alabama State Gold Alumnus, and has volunteered for the West Point Senior Center. She is the proud mother of five children, 10 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Stiggers said Jackson’s teaching philosophy included the values ​​of hard work, self-discipline and the pursuit of academic excellence.

“On this special day, I want to thank Catherine Crook, Essie Mae Harris, Pearlie Gibson and Jo Frances Jackson for what they have meant to our community,” Stiggers said. “You have given of your time, your talents and your services to the people of our region. We congratulate you on your efforts. May God continue to bless you.

Monday’s Unity Day program concluded with a check presentation. The Lambda Zeta Omega Chapter of AKA presented a check for $300 to the Bowen East District Youth Department.

Norma Williams was the host of the program and Ms. Bessie Jackson gave some opening remarks to begin the 9 hour programme. Musical selections were provided by organist LaShandra Banks-Knox and the Myron Fears Ensemble. Prayers of concern were said by Dr Fredrick James, pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church, Lanett; Reverend Dr. Tanda Canion, pastor of Assembly of Truth Ministries, Atlanta; Rev. Richard Carter, pastor of Washington Chapel AME Church, Tuskegee; Pastor Amy Messer, the Revenant Worship Center, Valley; Rev. Dr. Wendell Jones, pastor of Mr. Zion AME Church, Opelika; Bishop Bertha Hodge, pastor, OH Ministries, Lanett; Rev. Gerald W. Ledbetter, pastor of West Point Presbyterian Church; and Reverend Fredrick A. Davis, pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church, Durham, North Carolina.

The scripture and prayer to open the Unity Day program was delivered by Dr. Jesse Walker II, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Lanett. Reverend Eric Dowdell, pastor of St. John’s Community Baptist Church, Lanett, gave the blessing.

Mayor Jamie Heard thanked the Lambda Zeta Omega Chapter for presenting the virtual program. “We are proud to have this chapter based in Lanett,” he said.

“We appreciate all you do for the community and what you do today to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King will be remembered for his ‘I Have a Dream’. speech and for his involvement in the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott.”

The theme of the program was “Prayer is hope and light in a world of darkness”.

It was based on a statement attributed to Dr. King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that, and hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

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