Editor’s note: When the district first published the story below about Clara Mae (Dye) Black in April 2018 in the I in the Tiger newsletter, it was believed that Black was the oldest living alumna, but we have since learned that Sophia Bartlett who turned 101 in February now holds that title. Sophia (Anderson) Bartlett graduated in 1935 and her class motto was “Be the object, not the shadow.” Her diploma was signed by J.E. Dodds, E.H. Bohannon, James Bailey and Chas. W. Talbot. If you know of an even older living alumna of the WHS, please email us at PR@waynesville.k12.mo.us.
When she was a little girl, Clara Mae (Dye) Black dreamed of being a hair dresser, but her father insisted that she become a teacher.
So, at age 18 she graduated from Waynesville High School and started teaching.
“Can you imagine turning an 18-year-old loose with a classroom full of kids?”
It wasn’t easy. She was not only the teacher, but also the “bus driver” for one of her students.
“I would ride my horse up to his house; the boy would get on back and I would take him to school,” Black said.
For all that she made $75 a month.
Black, who is one of the oldest living graduates of the Waynesville R-VI School District, graduated in 1937. Black attended Cave Spring School through the 8th grade and then attended WHS for grades 9-12. Waynesville’s then four-room school house featured two classrooms downstairs – one for grades 1-4 and another for grades 5-8; the two upstairs rooms were for high school students.
“I remember we had an outhouse and an old wood stove,” Black said. “The school was cold in the winter and hot in the summer.”
Everything changed her senior year; however, when the school house was demolished and the Works Progress Administration began erecting a new school at the same site (where the new county jail will be located). So for her senior year, she attended school at two nearby churches, the then Methodist and Baptist churches.
“I never got to go to the new school,” Black said.
Black recalls that she had 18 classmates and readily names 16 of them. She also remembers her classes: English I and II, American literature, English literature, American and world history, agriculture, science, algebra I and II, business math, geometry, music, physical education and geography. During her four years of high school, she had three superintendents – Mr. Bailey, Mr. Turpin and Mr. Johnson.
“My favorite teacher was Mrs. Talbot,” Black said. “She was kind, brilliant and pushed us a lot.”
Although only a high school diploma was required to teach 81 years ago, Black eventually earned her college degree by continuing her education on Saturdays and summers. At age 23 she married George Black, who passed away a few years ago, but she stays closely connected with her son and grandchildren, including through texting.
Longevity is a family trait with multiple family members reaching well into their 90s.
“I never dreamed of living past 50. I thought 50 was old,” Black said. “I don’t have any secrets for living a long life. I eat anything that doesn’t move.”
Just as they did that first year of teaching and the 38 additional years that followed, her sharp mind, sense of humor and positive attitude continue to carry her through her daily activities. Through the years, she has remained grateful for the education she received at WHS and annually supports the WHS Alumni Association.
“I am ‘fer’ it,” Black said, purposefully using the vernacular term. “It’s still my school.”