The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Dorn Spangler - Mr. Education

By Tootsie Cassell Pilson © 1984

Issue: March, 1984

Talking with Dorn Spangler was like opening a treasure chest. I found all kinds of goodies, and I would like to share them with you. Here goes……

First, let me say that Dorn is not your usual run of the mill kind. He is a very private person, who doesn’t easily talk about himself. In fact, he asked me more questions than I asked him.

In my chat with him, I found his whole life has been dedicated to one cause and that cause is education.

The first seven years of his schooling were spent at Mayberry, a section of Patrick County near Meadows of Dan, Virginia. From here he went to Central Academy, also in Patrick County, and finished high school; then on to Presbyterian Junior College at Maxton, North Carolina and studied liberal arts. From here he entered Westminster College in Missouri and majored in English and Psychology. And lastly, he entered Duke at Durham, North Carolina for his Masters in Education.

This educational background was not handed to him on a golden platter. His parents did help some, but most of it was paid for by his own industry.

Possibly I got carried away in telling about his many years of schooling, so let’s go back to Mayberry where it all began to happen.

Mayberry School served as a school and a church. It was a two-room affair with a sliding petition. When they gave plays and such, they would slide this petition back and make one large room. It also had a pulpit. Dorn tells me, “Back then we didn’t have crayons. Our only tools were pencil, paper and a blackboard and chalk. We carried water from a spring,” he said, “and rather than drink from the dipper after others, we made our own cups out of paper.”

“We had a few squabbles back then,” he said, “One time some of the older boys knocked down the stovepipe, causing the room to fill with smoke and soot.”

Dorn said, “My desire to learn started here. I was a real serious minded person, and I was reading deep books such as Pilgrim’s Progress when only a small child. Yes, I was a book worm,” he said “and didn’t take part in sports, but I got over that in high school.”

Mrs. Byrta Wood, who taught him the third grade, said of him, “Dorn was a brilliant student. One day he came to school and told me he learned to spell the word chrysanthemum.”

“My love of nature probably started by my having to walk to school,” he said. “And one of my fondest childhood memories was looking out a school room window into a grove of pines covered with sleet. The prism of color when the sun shone on them was a sight to behold, and one doesn’t easily forget such beauty.”

After seven years at Mayberry, he went on to Central Academy. At this school he was introduced to sports and played on the basketball team; but the thing that stood out in his mind was the dedication of his teachers. He said, “They were there day and night to advise you on any problem you might have.”

As I said before, he went on to study Liberal Arts, English and Psychology, and finally got his Masters in Education.

His first principalship was at Coal Creek, out of Galax, Virginia. He also taught at Woolwine and Meadows of Dan, Virginia. He was assistant supervisor in Patrick County for 14 years, and also served 12 years as Superintendent of Schools in Patrick County.

While teaching English and History at Meadows of Dan High School, he let me know the job was a challenge and one he thoroughly enjoyed. In fact, he said, “I liked to teach so much, I dreaded to see Friday come.”

He met his future wife, Gaynelle Reynolds, while teaching here. He taught her two years. She graduated in 1938, and they were married in 1939. Dorn has excelled in being a good family man and neighbor also. He saw to it that his children were well educated. They now hold responsible jobs. One son, Larry, is the victim of Multiple Sclerosis, and Dorn shows his love for him by calling him every day, even if he happens to be in California.

His hobbies are reading, walking, fishing and sports. For a Christmas present he was given the book, The Life of Winston Churchill. He told me he was eager to get on to reading it.

Dorn says, “The secret of a good teacher is his ability to teach without using visual aids. If he or she uses ingenuity and enthusiasm, these are the only tools he needs.”

When I asked the question, “Where have we fallen short in the school system?” he said, “By not teaching enough fundamentals and not requiring enough reading.” He also believes in less homework, and feels a child needs more free time at home. He also said, “Children today are exposed to more technical and scientific facts, but I doubt if they learn more.”

“I don’t think that the younger people are any worse than we were,” he said. “You just don’t hear about the good things they do.”

He told me the reason he has remained on the mountain is his love of the people, the beauty of the mountains, and the ability to live without pressure from outside influences.

Dorn can turn out more socializing in 30 minutes at Vesta Supply, while his wife is shopping for groceries, than most people can do in a week. He’s always asking about everyone, and is interested in their whereabouts and what they are doing.

His sense of fair play on the basketball court showed up in many ways. He has been known to pull his team off the floor when he felt they were getting a dirty deal.

I remember so well the time he pulled a young squirt off of the floor onto the bench for losing her temper and kicking at a referee. Man what a blow to my ego, but what a lesson he taught.

When I reached out to others and asked, “What influences did Dorn have on your life?” I got a bunch of goodies.

Ruth Jean Bolt, a former pupil of his and now a teacher at Meadows of Dan, said, “As a teacher Dorn opened my mind to worlds I never knew existed.”

Another said, “He has a broadening effect on his students, and they wanted to please him. He was very efficient, and this talent showed up when he filled the position of Superintendent of Schools in Patrick County.”

Dwight Shelor, a pupil he taught in high school, said, “Dorn has been a great influence on my life and thinking. His whole philosophy of life is - he could bring out good in young people they didn’t know they had and develop it. He taught me how to lose and how to win in sports.”

Jack Agee, also a pupil of his said, “He’s just got so much depth it’s hard to say in a few words. His influence on people from childhood up and the depth of his unselfishness. He was a person who set a good example and was there to help them after they grew up. He should take great pride in his product, people all over the world.”

Coy Vipperman said, “He was a real asset to the school system, and one of the best leaders in his profession I have ever known. He is a humble, Christian man who never meets a stranger and mixes well.”

When I ran into Sandra Mann in town and we were talking about my writing an article about Dorn, she said, “Oh! He’s one of my favorite people. When I see him in town, he makes me feel that I am a very special person and he would rather talk with me than anyone.”

In my chat with Dorn, I didn’t ask his age because he is so young in spirit one doesn’t think of him as a person old enough to be retired.

He is a very colorful person and when he talked about his strolls in nature, he painted vivid pictures in my mind. One could sense his love of the mountain sod, the trees, hills and mountain streams. He is a down to earth person and praises the mountain folks for their independence and determination.

Above all the nice things people have said stands out the phrase, “the depth of his unselfishness.” I dare say I might never have attempted this article and others had it not been for his enthusiasm in encouraging me to go on. If he sees one drop of talent in anyone, he fans that spark and makes you feel that you and you alone possess the greatest of gifts. I shall always be indebted to him for his encouragement.

When people speak of Dorn, all their words are words of respect. He, like so many others in these parts, has reaffirmed my belief that there is goodness in them thar hills.

(Editors Note: For people wishing to get in touch with Tootsie Pilson, her phone number has been changed to (703) 952-2837.)