By Susan M. Thigpen © 1983-2012
Issue: September, 1983
Oft times, something will strike a cord and bring back a memory long forgotten from the corners of our minds. The photograph on the front cover of our June 1983 issue, of the Keith homeplace near Willis, Virginia, taken in 1905, sparked such a memory in a woman I was privileged to meet.
Mrs. Stella Strock said, “I drive by that place now and don’t seem to notice it but that picture was exactly the way I remembered it as a child.” Mrs. Strock’s mother, Alice Hylton Hodges, and Mrs. Keith were girlhood friends. Mrs. Strock’s mother married and moved to the Claudeville area of Patrick County, but every year, the family would pack up in a covered wagon and make the journey up the Rye Cove Road to the top of the mountain. Then, they would cross onto the dirt road where the Blue Ridge Zoo is located now (see the BACKROADS featured in our August issue), go by the old Langhorne Mill and then on to Willis by way of the Keith’s house. There was a beautiful farm they passed owned by John Cruise also and Mrs. Strock said they were such nice people and that once they were caught in a snow storm on their journey and spent the night at the Cruise farm.
“We always got to the Keith’s house around dark and us children would be sleepy and tired but we would always stop there and stand up for Mrs. Keith to see how much we had grown in the past year.” It wasn’t much further to their destination, their grandparent’s home. Mrs. Strock believes her grandparents home (which is still standing and occasionally occupied by her brother and family, Glen Hodges) is one of the oldest timber frame houses in Floyd County. She said at the time it was built there were mostly log homes in Floyd County and people would come by just to see it.
“The things that impressed me most as a child were the fields of buckwheat growing and the flocks of sheep. No one in the Claudeville area had either, to my knowledge. We grew more tobacco down there. My grandmother used to grow flax and weave it with the sheep’s wool into a cloth called ‘Lindsey-Woolsey’.”
Mrs. Strock grew up and became a school teacher. The first place she taught was at the Powell School in the Dobyns area of Patrick County, the same school she herself had attended. That was in 1926. Next she taught at Mayberry in 1927. She taught grades 4-7 and Fanny Agee taught grades 1-3. One of her students at Mayberry school was John Hassell Yeatts. Mr. Yeatts went on to continue his education and became a writer of the lore of these mountains. We at The Mountain Laurel have been fortunate that Mr. Yeatts has allowed us to print some of his stories of this area, both true and fictional. Our readers have enjoyed them immensely. The following year, 1928, Mrs. Strock taught at the Buffalo Mountain School founded by the Reverend Bob Childress. She taught several of Reverend Childress’ children. While she taught there, she had 43 pupils in grades 1-4.
Later she became very involved in church work and met her future husband, Winifield Strock, a minister, through his church work. He was originally from Philadelphia. They were married and organized a ministry which met in the old Laurel Fork School, in Carroll County. The congregation built them a house and for two years the church services were held in their home before a church was built. This was in the early 1940’s. Mr. Strock has passed away but Mrs. Strock still lives in the same house.
Mrs. Strock went back to teaching and taught at the Hillsville Elementary School until her retirement in 1972. She still does volunteer work at the Laurel Fork Elementary School, reading to the younger children.
I would like to include some of Mrs. Strock’s observations on being a teacher because I feel they are relevant to teachers yesterday, today and of the future. She believes, “The first requirement for a teacher is real love for children,” and that reading, writing, and arithmetic are the foundations upon which the educational structure is built with reading being the most important of all. “Sometimes people are trying to build a structure without a foundation.” She feels that teaching is a calling instead of just a job. Mrs. Strock feels it is harder to get and hold a child’s attention today than ever before because there is so much input from television and other communications and that educators have had to work harder at catching a child’s imagination and attention. But basically she believes that only the world around us changes and human nature remains the same.
Schools, school systems and many ways of life have changed through the years and Mrs. Stella Strock has seen most of those changes. She is a modern, up to date person in this changing world but with a perspective of those changes rooted in her years of experience. She sees no reason why the values of yesterday have to be done away with to make way for the future. Neither do I, Mrs. Strock, neither do I. When we lose a bit of the past, we lose a bit of ourselves.