L. C. and Bergie Thornton Family
Contributed by Rose Thornton Kessinger
Ira Rose Thornton was the only child born to L. C. (Carson) Thornton and Bergie Oxley Thornton. I was born on February 29, 1948. To this day, there are some computers that kick my birthdate out of their data base. My mom and I were my dad’s second family. He was the father of Elizabeth Bowling, grandfather of Nan and Mary Bowling. Therefore, Nan and Mary are my nieces.
My father was 65 and retired when I was born. He worked on the N & W Railroad, took classes at Concord College and earned a degree in education. He became a teacher, principal and superintendent of schools. As superintendent, he signed my mother’s high school diploma. My father was 29 years older than my mother. As I was growing up, my father was the Recorder for the Town of Athens and a Justice of the Peace. He was my caregiver and I quickly became a “daddy’s girl.”
My mother began teaching elementary school on a “standard normal” certificate. She taught in a 2-room school, transferred to Spanishburg and then to Thorn School. She took classes in the summer to earn her B. S. Degree.
My first three years of elementary school were spent at Thorn School, with my mother being my third grade teacher. Somehow, my parents managed to purchase a piano and pay for piano lessons. While in the third grade, I began taking piano lessons from Inez Shumate. She taught piano in the “big building” on the stage at Thorn School. When I entered the fourth grade, I transferred to Athens, where I completed my education. My father picked me up at school and drove to Mrs. Shumate’s home in Princeton, once a week, to continue my music lessons. Once a year, until I graduated from high school, I had a piano recital. Yes, they were often formal occasions. The music lessons my parents provided for me gave me many more life lessons than just music.
Special occasions, holidays and vacations were often shared with the Bowling family. My dad loved to go to Florida on vacation, and several times Elizabeth, Nan and Mary went with us. Those were long drives on two lane roads with windows rolled down and kids in the back seat. Remember? Maybe that’s why we all looked so happy in this picture! Christmas time was a special time for us kids with packages to open and decorations that often included an inflated Santa.
I grew up in the Athens Baptist Church, as my mother’s family had deep roots there. In 1959, Barbara Coburn and I were baptized together by Rev. James Fogg. I began singing in the choir when I was a sophomore in high school with Janice Vermillion as choir director and Margaret Baxter as pianist. I currently make an humble effort to fill those shoes. Many of my classmates also attended church here and Lucille Hartman, who had to put up with us five days a week at AHS, was also our Sunday School teacher.
The grandparents I never had (all of my grandparents had passed away before I was born) were my Aunt Virgie and Uncle Sid. They lived in the yellow brick house on Vermillion Street down from the current post office. Aunt Virgie was my grandfather’s sister. I spent many hours with them, playing in the yard and swinging in the big, white swing on the front porch while watching the world pass by. They drove a Model T Ford, which I thought, even as a kid, was the coolest mode of transportation I had ever seen.
I had the great fortune of spending many summers in Newburyport, MA with my mother’s sister and her husband. Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Dan never had children, so they borrowed me for a few weeks each summer. Aunt Myrtle, being a school teacher, always made sure there was an educational experience during those visits. Uncle Dan, on the other hand, always made sure we went to the racetrack to see his horses run. They would come to visit each summer and pick me up, I would stay a couple of weeks and then they would drive me back to Winchester, VA where my parents would meet us. I really enjoyed those summers and the experiences I had there, but it was always great to get back to Athens. I think that even then, I knew there was something special about home.
After graduating from AHS in 1965, I received a B. S. Degree in Education from Concord College in May 1968. I began teaching mathematics at Bluefield High School that fall. For the next five years, I taught mathematics at Tazewell High School. During my first semester there, in January of 1970, at the age of 86, my father and mentor passed away. My father was a model for patience and kindness - two attributes I still work toward every day. I thank the Lord for letting him be the guiding light of my life for twenty-one years.
After beginning my teaching career, during the summers, I attended Marshall University and received an M. A. in Counseling and Rehabilitation in 1972. I returned to Mercer County, first as mathematics teacher, then guidance counselor, then assistant principal at Matoaka High School. I took classes from the WV College of Graduate Studies and received my Administrative Certificate.
In 1983, I married the love of my life, Michael W. Kessinger (a Princeton boy - class of 1964). I immediately became the stepmother to one daughter, Stacey. I went to Bramwell High School to work with Mike (the principal) as guidance counselor. When Bramwell High was closed, Mike and I moved to Shepherdstown, where he became principal at Shepherdstown Junior High School and I taught mathematics at Jefferson High School. We then moved to Parsons, WV where Mike was principal at Parsons Elementary/Middle School and I was assistant principal and then principal at Tucker County High School. In 1998, we moved to Charleston, WV to take positions with the WV Department of Education and the State Board of Education. I retired in 2004 as Assistant Director in the Division of Career and Technical Education and Mike and I moved back to Princeton to care for his parents and my mother.
We have since lost our parents. We moved Mike’s parents in with us in December 2005. Mike’s mom passed away in June 2006 at age 86 and his dad passed away in May 2008, also at age 86. They were both the most giving people I have ever met. From them, I learned the lesson of sharing. Five months after Mike’s dad passed away, we lost my mother at the age of 96. My mother passed on to us the lessons of independence and “practicality.” We tried to spend as much time as possible with our parents and we all traveled a lot together as long as they were able. We look back with many fond memories on those times. We also learned from our parents to make the best of the time you are given. Mike and I have a motorhome and a CanAm Spyder and continue to travel.
As the years fall away, and they do - as my mother warned me they would, I look back with fond memories of the times I had growing up in Athens. Those were the best of times. No future generations will ever know the joys and the freedoms we had growing up in “small town” America - Athens, WV.