I believe that everyone has that ONE teacher who changed them. Believed in them. Encouraged them. Helped them to believe in themselves, maybe for the first time.
That ONE teacher for me was my Jr. High & Sr. High English teacher, Mrs. Sarah C. Turney.
Sarah C. Turney
Melanie and I have remained in contact with Mrs. Turney’s daughter, Mia Turney Mora since high school and I reached out to Mia to share a little more about her mom. Mrs. Turney was our class sponsor throughout Jr. & Sr. High School at Arapaho, Oklahoma. Our entire class absolutely thought of Mrs. Turney as family and as you can see by Mia’s comments below – she thought of us as family as well.
Comments from Mia:
“You must know how much she loved you and Mel and everybody in your class. Each one of you was very special to her. She would worry about you guys at home tell me stories about your lives and talk out loud about how she wished she could help you more.
Mom was born in St. Cloud, MN but moved to Stillwater MN where she spent most of her childhood. She went to Catholic schools and had 2 older sisters. Her parents were second generation Irish and Scottish. Her dad was a traveling salesman and her mom stayed at home. She had a great time growing up, spent a lot of time in and on the water, swimming and canoeing. Mom graduated from the Univ. of Minn. with a degree in English. Her early career days after college involved world travel with the American Foreign Legion and American Red Cross. She also worked for the Girl Scout Council and was a social worker in Albuquerque for several years. When Dad retired from the Army at Kirtland Army post (now an air base), he went to UNM to receive a PhD in Philosophy. He then took a job at SWOSU and that’s how we got to W’ford. I remember Mom being so thrilled to land the job at Arapaho!!! Best years of her life she always said.
Yes she believed deeply in acceptance of all peoples. Nowadays we call it tolerance and diversity. ????. And yes she believed she could motivate young people to succeed. And that she did!
Mom died June 1997 from liver cancer. But she fought her final battle with grace and dignity and strength and she made it almost easy for us.”
I have to tell you a little about how really challenging I was during my Junior High days. I also want to state that some of the comments in this writing will be controversial. So my disclaimer is just that. Some of this is what was going on in the world 40 years ago, and some of it is the community that I grew up in.
My parents divorced when I was only a year old and I had two stepdads during the years between then and graduating from high school and getting married. One of those step dads was not a good guy and my mom didn’t put up with him very long. He was in our lives long enough to create some un-channeled anger on us three boys’ part. Being the youngest of three boys, I didn’t catch the brunt of this guy. But nonetheless, I did get some of it. The other guy didn’t marry my mom until I was in Junior High and although he was a good guy, I just don’t think he knew what to do with three boys our age at the time.
After graduation my mom did marry a great guy and they were married for almost 30 years before he passed away. Bob Lacy was a good person and was one of the best connectors I’ve ever known. He was always interested in us and just lit up with enthusiasm when we got to share our successes with him. He asked great questions and wanted to know what was going on in our lives. He had a great work ethic that influenced all those around him. I mostly remember his laugh. It was so contagious and confirming.
I believe that Mrs. Turney had a soft spot for me in her heart and took me under her wing to show me that the world really was a good place and that if I’d change a couple things, I would become a successful adult. I would later find out that because of the life she had and the experiences she had around the world, dealing with a challenging young man in the classroom would be a piece of cake.
I love sports and played baseball and basketball throughout my Jr. & Sr. high days. I was a three year starter on the High School basketball team and had the opportunity to go to a college in Houston to play basketball, but I just wanted to get married and become a store manager at that time.
In the classroom – I was quite challenging. Trust me. There are several of my past teachers who could tell stories that I’d just as soon leave in the past. I got kicked out of a few classes. The only time she’d ever been to the Superintendents office, Melanie was asked to try to settle me down. (She’s still working on that one! lol)
My biggest challenge was my smart mouth. I didn’t like authority. I didn’t understand why they didn’t get it. Anytime the class needed a spokesperson, I was more than happy to speak for the group. My algebra teacher in the 9th grade actually grabbed me around the neck one day (I’m sure after a smart aleck comment) while I was sitting at my desk and pushed me several feet across the room. That was my last day in that class.
My tenth grade typing teacher (in her first year as a teacher) told us she was grading one of our tests on the curve and when she didn’t, I just reminded her in front of the whole class that she didn’t. (I was always willing to represent the class as their spokesperson) For some reason that really made her mad, she threw her pen at me. That was the year Tuffy Howell (the Ag/FFA instructor and one of my favorites for sure) let me take two hours of his class. By the way, I type just fine today!
Arapaho is a small western Oklahoma town. We only had 24 people in our class (give or take a few over the years). Coming out of the ’60s into the ’70s, the world was changing fast.
The quality that Mrs. Turney had that was new to the thinking at that time was what I’d today call “Unconditional Acceptance”. She saw potential, where others saw failure.
The good news in all of this is that in our Junior year, Melanie and I got engaged and she really did have a major effect on “settling me down”. My Junior year, I was Vice-President of the class and my Senior year was President of the class and VP of the Student Council.
Back to Mrs. Turney:
She kind of turned the small town of Arapaho and the school system upside down with her open minded acceptance of everyone. Those days were filled with racial tension around the country and upon learning that she was married to an African-American professor, I discovered one of the reasons she was so accepting. That was my first introduction to a racially mixed couple and believe that to this day, it’s one of the reasons we were so open minded to adopting our daughter from South Korea. I would say that almost everyone has that moment in their life when they choose to be closed minded or open minded. The time spent under the influence of Mrs. Turney was mine for sure.
Our former pastor, Keith Wiginton always said, “it’s very difficult to unlearn something that you learned wrong the first time.” Sadly, I think the whole race issue around the world is just that. Although as a society we’ve made progress, there is still a lot of work left to do, and not just race issues, but others as well.
As stated above, Mrs. Turney was our class sponsor from the beginning. In the classroom, she taught English, but in all other settings, she taught us about life. Not only how to be accepting, but how to be strong. She certainly had her opinions about a lot of things, but what I remember the most is how she just tried to always offer up ALL the facts about any topic. Not ever slanted or overtly leaving out key information. She was always honest with us with her own struggles. Even some with her peers. She was what we’d call a hum-dinger for sure. A challenger. Melanie says, “she always treated us as and made us feel like young adults.“
One lifelong learning that I got from her was loyalty in those you believe in. I’ve told many many people over the years who have reported to me that I’d lose my job to save theirs. My only requirement was; “don’t do things I can’t defend. Otherwise, we may go down, but we’ll go down together”.
Mrs. Turney passed away in 1997. One of Melanie’s fondest memories was stopping to see her in Albuquerque, NM the year before she passed away – just to let her know how much she meant to us and the influence she’d had on all our lives.
Recently Arapaho had its class reunion and I saw (via Facebook) several of our former teachers. I wish that Mrs. Turney was still alive because I’d like to formally thank her.
My legacy learning here is that I MUST pay forward that same belief in the many people who will pass my way. I don’t believe that anyone ever really knows the impact they have on those around them every day. Every situation. Every conversation. Every interaction.
I also believe that right behind parents, are the major influences of teachers and bosses.
When my life on this earth is over, my hope is that someday, there will be those who say a small piece of their success is because of the influence I had in their lives. #legacy