Rotary names COG-member teacher distinguished citizen

By John Warren

BIG SANDY, Texas--The Rotary Club of Big Sandy has presented its Distinguished Citizen of the Year Award for 2001 to a Church of God member, Eleanor Roberts of Big Sandy.

Mrs. Roberts, who attends the Church of God Big Sandy, garnered the honor in recognition of her services to the Big Sandy area as teacher and principal of Woodvale School.

Many Big Sandy-area residents are familiar with Woodvale, founded in 1983 by a group of parents and the late Marie Dellinger of Gladewater, Texas, all of whom were Church of God members.

Founders of the private school included Mac and Melodee Overton, Richard and Angie Workman and Jim and Mary Beth Philp, all of the Big Sandy area. In 1986 Mrs. Roberts joined the faculty and has served as teacher and principal since then.

Woodvale, which at times has included kindergarten through fifth grade but in some years extends only to third or fourth grade, has served many Church of God families and non-COG families that wanted a private-school environment for their children.

The school, housed in a former residence on Groves Street, has had an average enrollment of 16 to 18 students for the 16 years that Mrs. Roberts has worked there. Because of the success of Woodvale and the years she has dedicated to her students, Mrs. Roberts was the recent recipient of the community award.

More than a teacher

On Nov. 12 at the Rotary Club's regular weekly meeting, President George Strub presented the distinguished-citizen award to Mrs. Roberts.

Two friends of Woodvale accompanied Mrs. Roberts to the meeting. Joanne Gonzalez of Big Sandy, who has a son in Woodvale, introduced the award winner to civic leaders and commented on the teacher's dedication.

"She is more than a teacher," said Mrs. Gonzalez. "She tells us if she thinks our children are not getting enough sleep or if they are not eating a good breakfast. She will tell us if she doesn't think our children are getting enough protein."

Joining Mrs. Gonzalez was a longtime Woodvale volunteer and dance instructor, Berniece Burson, also of Big Sandy. Mrs. Burson's brother, David Fisher of Pritchett, Texas, serves as president of the board for Woodvale.

Past presidents also include Mac Overton, the original board president, Wayne Weese, Dixon Cartwright and Robert Feith, all of Big Sandy, and Robert Elmendorf, formerly of Big Sandy.

Mrs. Burson said she has enjoyed working with Mrs. Roberts.

After the introduction a bewildered-looking Mrs. Roberts, who was not expecting the award, told the Rotarians:

"I look at myself as a grandmother to my students. I love them, and I think it is my responsibility to prepare them for life as mature adults."

She said she aims to prepare her students to "go to the school on the hill."

Everyone in the audience knew she was speaking of Big Sandy public school, a few blocks away and up the hill from Woodvale on Wildcat Drive. Wes Hickey, superintendent of the public school, was in attendance at the Rotary meeting.

Certificate and birdhouse

Only recently has Woodvale added prekindergarten, which is proving popular. The school hired Sue Jones of Big Sandy to teach at the pre-K level. After grade five the students graduate to public school, home-schooling or another private school.

Rotary International, whose motto is "Service above self," presented Mrs. Roberts with a certificate and gifts that included a birdhouse because of her love for birds and a financial donation to the school.

Mrs. Roberts, who in some years has been the sole instructor and at other times has enjoyed the help of assistant instructors, said she still has a white dove that Annette Ditto gave her 16 years ago when she first began teaching at Woodvale.

Mrs. Roberts said she was in "total shock" after receiving the award.

"They talked me into going to the meeting. They wouldn't give up. I told them I didn't have time for this."

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