The Sculptor of Our Lives
Mildred Youngblood was a sculptor of sorts. For a nominal fee, this meek, compassionate, but firm, kindergarten teacher would take your child and mold him into a form, one which would last a lifetime. Day by day, with words of wisdom, acts of kindness, and a gentle smile, Mrs. Youngblood gently impressed and molded the hearts of her students with old-fashioned Christian values. As she would see them many years later, she would be reminded of their names, too many to keep a count. A modest woman, Mrs. Youngblood never touted herself as a great kindergarten teacher, but to those of us who were lucky enough to have been in her class, we will never forget the sweet gentle little lady, whose loving hands and tender heart shaped and formed us into who we are today.
Born on the first day of December 1912 in the town of Orianna, Ga., Mildred Toler Youngblood was youngest of six children of Wm. H. and Elmina Rebecca Toler. Mildred attended schools in Orianna and even a year in Greenville, S.C. before graduating from Adrian High in 1930.
Mildred Youngblood's formal education in teaching came at the Georgia State Teacher's College in Athens, where she and her friends, Francis and Ethel, had grand times. They enjoyed going down to the train station to greet the Georgia band on its out of town trips. The girls existed on a diet of peanut butter sandwiches, some times with jelly on them. They hid their goodies from home and rationed them for special occasions.
After leaving her life long friend Francis Connors behind, Mildred returned to Orianna. Feeling it was best to stay near home and build up her financial resources, Mildred taught first at Condor School in eastern Laurens County before teaching at Norristown and Gillis Springs and a year at Perkins School in Jenkins County.
Mildred began to think and pray about teaching again. Another school year had started when in October of 1954, Mrs. Grace Cowart contacted Mildred and asked her about taking over the operation of Rosewood Kindergarten on Rosewood Drive. With school already in session, Mrs. Youngblood was afraid that her students would leave. Facing the decision with mixed emotions, Mrs. Youngblood prayed some more. Her prayer was answered. "Momma always said 'If I would furnish the kindergarten, then God will furnish the children,' " said daughter Rebecca Gainous. "She always had a waiting list," said daughter Nancy Thacker. And, so for the next 32 years Mildred Youngblood taught.
Known for her fantastic plays, Youngblood's students first performance was Tiny Tot's Circus. Robert Dunn, the ringmaster, led the show which featured Ted Calhoun, Hannah Hall, Susan Bracewell, Joy Tyre, Clayton Cordell and many, many others. Among the early shows were Down on Old McDonald's Farm, Mrs. McGregor's Garden, and Operetta - A Little Bit of Holland. "It amazes me how she did those programs. No child ever felt pressured and every child had a good time," Rebecca remembered. "Although I was not in kindergarten, I was in her first program, as the animal trainer," Thacker fondly recalled.
In fact, both of Nancy's children, Janet and Norman, attended their grandmother's kindergarten. "I was looking through her notebooks of her student's class records and I found that my son Norman's name appeared often in mother's bad behavior notes. Janet's name didn't appear that much. She showed no difference in the way she treated her own grandchildren," laughed Mrs. Thacker. And, both of Mrs. Youngblood's daughters became teachers as well. Nancy taught for 31 years and Rebecca even more as a kindergarten teacher, just like her mother. Nancy's daughter, Janet Thacker James, also teaches, bringing their combined total to more than 110 years. "We did morning calendar and recognized birthdays. They were a big deal! Everyone would sing and you got to pick something from the treasure box. Of course we would say the Pledge of Allegiance, sing patriotic songs, ABC songs, etc.," Janet fondly remembered.
With more than a thousand students, there are thousands of stories. There is the often told story about the boy who had a difficult time coping with being in school for the first time. In a weeping voice, the young boy's response to Mrs. Youngblood's plea to help whined, "Sometimes a Coca-Cola helps." More than a dozen years later, Younblood purchased a six-pack of bottled Cokes and shipped them to the young man as a high school graduation present.
There was a time when Mrs. Youngblood answered her front door. It was an aspiring politician. He asked her for her vote, but she declined to commit to him believing her vote was a private choice. Just as the candidate walked away, he turned and said, "You are Mrs. Youngblood aren't you?" She said, "Yes, I am." Then the man said, "You taught me in kindergarten. I will never forget that one day. I was on the playground playing and I asked you to tie my shoes." Then he said, "You said, 'Yes, I will. Let's sit down on the steps and I'll teach you how to tie your shoes.' You were so kind and patient."
Mildred Youngblood was famous for her thinking steps, two or three of them actually. I don't remember sitting on those steps, maybe I did. My brother Henry did. He remembers, "She taught me how to say the Lord's Prayer, set a table, and how to stand quietly in the corner while the others went out to recess." Norman Thacker recalled, "I spent a fair amount of time there and I remember her sitting me down and reminding me why I was there. She would then come back several minutes later and ask if I thought about what I did? Finally she would ask me what I was going to do to correct what I did? If I didn't have the right answers, then I would continue to sit and watch all my friends play." I remember a classmate being the victim of a school shooting while sitting on the steps. The victim, or the shooter, still lives in Dublin today, but the insignificant bb wound in the knee is just one more fading memory of a time nearly fifty years ago.
David Burns learned a lot about staying quiet and in his seat during lesson time. "She sure knew how to use that Bo-lo paddle, but she had a positive effect on my life. Education could surely use more teachers with the skills and heart of Mrs. Youngblood," Burns maintained. Dwight Stewart remembered going down the street with the class to a house with a television and watching John Glenn orbit the Earth. "We all sat in a circle around the television," Stewart remembered. Dwight also remembered a class mate, who wore a dunce cap, and who shall remain nameless. "You had to be pretty bad to wear dunce cap and he was," Stewart exclaimed! Stewart's opinion was confirmed by my sister Janet Greer, who observed the boy still wearing the cap in his second year of kindergarten.
When she returns to Dublin, Lorene Flanders Campbell will try to steer her car down Rosewood. "I still go down that street just to remember the magic of being there. The playhouse! - making instant pudding in the back room." Lorene fondly remembered. Gayle Stinson was one of the lucky. When she was seven, her family moved across the street from her old kindergarten. After the kids went home, Gayle had her own play ground right across from her home.
Janet James, in summing up the life of her grandmother and teacher, probably said it best, "She was not rich in money, but she was rich in love. Her legacy of generosity and service to others is forever in my heart." Janet speaks to two passages in a book which her grandmother gave her, "If you plant a few seeds, and then let go of your kids and let them grow, then those seeds will turn into something good. Home has a good deal more to do with your heart than with your house."
Earlier this summer, Mildred Youngblood went to her heavenly home with her heavily underlined, annotated Bible in one hand and an overflowing treasure box of a lifetime of fond memories of friends and family, good deeds done, and priceless duplicate sculptures in the other. There waiting for her at the gates was her late husband Elbert, who was always around the kindergarten helping the children out of their cars and through the gate and keeping the place neat and tidy.