Maxine Ussery's teaching career spanned 43 years, the last 15 spent in Lewisville ISD. Maxine's first teaching job was in a one room schoolhouse where she taught six grades and eighteen students. She walked two miles to get there and was responsible for the school's upkeep, including building fires, sweeping the floors, carrying in wood and getting water with a bucket and dipper. Her salary: $25 for seven months.
"My greatest honor of all has been that parents entrusted their precious children for me to teach and love."
At age 78, Maxine encapsulated her life and work in the short narrative below. Marcus High School library holds a video documentary, as well.
Maxine passed away on February 28, 2010, at the age of 96, and the lives she touched as a teacher and volunteer are immeasurable. When word spread of her death, former students and their children came forward to share the positive influence Miss Maxine had on their lives. As a testament to her legacy, Lone Star Communications, Inc. is funding an endowment to award $1,000 annually to an LISD elementary teacher or librarian for help with programs developing reading skills.
Maxine Ussery - In Her Own Words
I was born November 7, 1913, in a rural community in Yell County, Arkansas.
At the age of 5, my mother died. My only sister, who was married, stayed with my father, Oscar Ussery, and me until I was nine. She then moved to New Mexico for her husband’s health.
Dad and I were now on our own. He did a wonderful job being Dad and mom as best he could; loving, teaching and caring. I cooked, washed, gardened, milked cows and walked two miles to school.
At the age of nine, I accepted Christ as my Saviour and joined the Baptist church. My church and its activities have been an integral part of my life, helping me to be the kind of teacher I wanted to be.
At an early age my dad began to say, “Someday I hope you’ll be a teacher.” He held this profession in high esteem because my mother had been a teacher in the Oklahoma Indian Territory. He had very little “formal” education, but this was his dream for me. However, through all the years, I knew and felt I had the freedom to choose what I could and would do. Since he had made teaching sound so wonderful, I was anxious to start!
Graduation from Ola High School came in 1931, followed by graduation from Arkansas Tech, Russellville, Arkansas, with a two-year teaching degree in 1933. I worked my way through college, serving as a maid in the dorm and borrowing money rather than permitting my father to mortgage our home.
I began teaching at the age of 20 in my home community near Dardenelle with six grades and 18 students. Again, I found myself walking two miles to school but this time to teach in a one-teacher school. Besides teaching, my chores included building fires and, with the help of the children, taking care of the school building.
We carried in the wood and got water from a well with one bucket and a dipper. (We soon had individual cups). We swept the floors and carried out the wood ashes. We had extra rooms, and the older children would help the younger.
On cold days P.E. was running to the “outdoor john.” No drug sales took place there.
My salary was a $45.00 voucher, cashable value $25.00, each month for seven months.
My first Christmas tree was a large native cedar decorated with strings of popcorn, red berries, paper chains, and balloons. The night of the Christmas program the dried cedar pricked the balloons so we had fun and excitement.
Later I moved to Plainview, Arkansas where I taught fourth grade for four years. This was an exciting time to have only one grade and to be in a school where all twelve grades were taught. A superintendent, principal, and a custodian were new experiences.
My sister’s family moved to Denton, Texas in the mid-thirties, and I attended summer sessions at North Texas State University in Denton. I received my Bachelor of Science Degree in August, 1941.
In September, 1941, my father and I moved to Justin, Texas where I taught the third and fourth grades together for twenty-one years. During this time I attended evening and Saturday classes at N.T.S.U. In 1949, I received my Master of Science Degree.
These years at Justin were wonderful. I worked with the North Texas student teacher program and was so grateful for their help. I enjoyed my many friends there. My favorite story happened there. One day during World War II, a little boy named Charlie was ill with a kernel under his arm. His parents were away from home, and I was trying to give him extra love and attention. After he had made many trips to my desk, Curtis, Charlie’s best friend, came to me and said, “Miss Ussery, may I please see that sergeant under Charlie’s arm?”
In 1951, my father passed away, and in 1962, I moved to Lewisville and taught either second or third grade for the next fifteen years. Fourteen of these years were spent at College Street Elementary School. There were so many new materials available here – cassette players, overhead projectors, movies, televisions, a real “ditto” machine, S.R.A. reading labs, math kits, as well as a school secretary, health room, full time librarian and P.E. and music teachers. Best of all, the secretary began to do our registers, and we had maid service.
Student teachers continued to be a big part of my work. They helped me to hold on to my best old ways and not be afraid to try the new. Many of them have made wonderful teachers, and they, too, are part mine.
Also during these years came the open classroom. I chose to not go to that. It has always been my feeling that the pupils needed a personal touch, and having my reading groups was an integral part of my teaching. It was there I often heard the hurts and felt the needs of each child. I always tried to help each child feel loved and important. My pupils all knew that after I had taught them they would always “be mine”and interested in their education, marriages, families and careers.
I have been a member of Texas State Teachers, National Education Association, American Childhood Education, and Business and Professional Woman.
I retain membership in the Parent Teacher Association, A.A.R.P., Lewisville Retired Teachers, Order of the Eastern Star and Iota Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma in Denton.
Since my retirement in 1977, my volunteer work has mostly been through the church and other organizations. For the past six years, I have helped to care for my ninety-three year old sister in her home and now in the nursing home. I am so thankful to be able to do this.
My hobbies are reading, making thread drawn napkins, baking bread and prune cakes for friends and neighbors and helping people. I keep a long prayer list and try to call or visit people who are lonely and hurting.
During my life many honors have been given to me.
- In 1961, the Justin Study Clubs nominated me as Teacher of the Year. I was awarded 2nd place by the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs.
- In May 1970, I received the first Lewisville Teacher of the Year award. The nomination was made by the L.I.S.D. Administrators, and the award was presented by the local V.F.W. at a large Loyalty Day Program in the DeLay gym.
- I also received the Life Membership Award in May 1975 from my College Street Elementary P.T.A.
- In May 1975, the V.F.W. Post 9168 and the Ladies Auxiliary chose me as Mother of the Year. This created lots of fun and comments since I am an old maid. The Lewisville Leader Sunday headlines read: Her children are many – Unmarried Teacher Mother of the Year.
- Also in 1975, the L.I.S.D. chose me for the Texas Teacher of the Year award. I was named first runner up in the state. This was truly a great honor for me.
- In 1991, Clarence and Anne Myers established a five year term endowment in my name through the Lewisville ISD Education Foundation. The award was designated for an elementary teacher who had demonstrated outstanding teaching techniques.
My greatest honor of all has been that parents entrusted their precious children for me to teach and love. I am thankful for the many wonderful people who have worked with me and helped me through all these years. As the song says, “To God Be the Glory, Great Things He Hath Done.”
To the teachers of today and the future, I wish for you just part of the joy I have had through the years. Here’s hoping much of the “paper work” can be done away with, the evaluation stress and the strain of excess testing be lightened, and you will have time to really teach, train, and love your students. May your students see you as a “real friend.” I urge you to teach the respect for God, parents, home, school and country. Help them to learn that with our many privileges come responsibilities. I wish for you as teachers a close daily walk with God, the Master Teacher.
I once heard someone say, “If you fall in love with your work, it’s easy to love the children.” This worked for me for 43 years.
My family consists of my sister, niece and husband and great niece. The niece and husband are not retired, and my great niece works with various educational programs in the Fort Worth schools.
My age is now 78, and it’s wonderful to still be “up and at ‘em.” A poet has said, “We have to get a glory in the work you do,” – and I’ve had that glory!
To learn how you can recognize someone with an LEF Endowment, please contact Development Director Mary Worthington for more information. She can be reached by phone at 469-948-2013 or email.