Friday, April 30, 2010

A Teacher to Remember

Virginia (McCoy) Skinner

by David Parmer

A Rough Start
She was the third of four daughters born to Nola Hugh McCoy and Audra “Maud” (McAvoy) McCoy of Gem. When her father died at Gassaway in a rail yard accident in December 1912, Mary Virginia McCoy, who at all times was known as “Virginia,” was only three years of age. Her two older sisters, Ione and Elizabeth, were eight years old and five years old respectively. Her younger sister, Laura, was only a few months old. In 1916, her widowed mother married Ira O. McCoy, her late husband’s first cousin. In 1917, Virginia’s mother and step-father happily became the parents of a son, Ira O. McCoy, Jr. The fates however were unkind to Virginia and her siblings. Tragedy struck again the following year when their mother died of influenza at the age of thirty seven. Virginia was nine years old. Orphaned at a young age, Virginia, her sisters and half-brother, Ira Junior, were raised by her step-father Ira and her grandparents.

Right: Mary Virginia McCoy in the 1930s

Salt Lick District High School at Burnsville
A brilliant student, Virginia shined in the classroom, was advanced by “double promotion” in grade school, and entered Salt Lick District High School in 1922 at the age of thirteen. In high school, Virginia again proved her mettle in academics and completed four years of high school in only three years and graduated with the Class of 1925 at the age of sixteen. Virginia’s high school activities included membership in the Acme Literary Society and the Glee Club. Virginia’s little-remembered nickname in high school was “Moses.” The high school annual, Onimgohow, proclaimed “That she’s bright, you’ll all agree, She did four years worth in three.”

Burnsville High School, 1924. Virginia is 6th from the left, center row.

Glenville Normal School and State Teachers College

After graduating from high school, Virginia enrolled at Glenville State Teachers College. Her older sister, Ione, who graduated from Salt Lick District High School in 1922, was a senior in the college when Virginia enrolled. Virginia received a Normal Certificate from Glenville in 1927 and began her teaching career. She received her A. B. Degree in Elementary Education from Glenville State College in 1948. Later, Virginia received a Masters Degree from the University of South Florida.

Left: Virginia and Ione from their Normal School days at Glenville.

A First Teaching Assignment
After finishing the requirements for a normal teaching certificate from Glenville State Teachers College, Virginia found a job teaching in Nicholas County at Richwood. Her sister Ione was also teaching in Richwood along with her husband, James McLaughlin. While teaching in Richwood, Virginia boarded with her sister Ione and her husband. Teaching at the end of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad line and in the wilds of Nicholas County would be short-lived however because Virginia had met her future husband Glenn Skinner who had recently finished barber school and matrimony was in the air.

Marriage and Time Off for Children
After Glenn and Virginia married in Garrett County, Maryland in 1929, Glenn continued barbering in Orlando. Virginia’s teaching career however had to be placed on hold because children came in rapid succession. Jean was born in 1930, Marjorie in 1931, Peggy in 1933, Eleanor “Bump” in 1935, Nolan “Dick” in 1936, and Linda “Shine” in 1938. During the early years of their marriage, Glenn and Virginia lived with Glenn’s father and mother, Gid and Sarah Skinner on Clover Fork. Later, they lived in a house just above Locust Grove School which belonged to Glenn’s younger brother Hayward who at the time was living on Knawls Creek. All of the Skinner children were born on Clover Fork, except the youngest, Robert Glenn, who would be born in the Sutton Hospital after the family moved to Grass Lick.

After a more than ten year hiatus from teaching and with the children growing older, Virginia returned to the class room, due in large part to World War II and the drafting of male teachers to fill the ranks of the military services. During the 1941-1942 school year, Delis “Fisher” Blake, son of Lee and Civilla Riffle Blake of Clover Fork, was teaching at the Walnut Grove School on Oil Creek when Uncle Sam sent him an RSVP letter. Delis, not waiting on some Induction Center Private First Class to decide how he would serve his country, instead joined the United States Navy and entered the Officers Training School. As Delis was packing his bags, the Lewis County Superintendent Marion G. Rogers asked Virginia if she would be interested in the Walnut Grove School position. Virginia said “Yes.”

Left: Virginia and Glenn in the 1960s.

Virginia was active in her community. She was a leader at Orlando's Methodist Church (Mt Zion). She also belonged to the church's Ladies Aid Society, although working as a teacher meant she could only hostess or even attend monthly meetings during the summer months. She was active in Burnsville's Order of the Eastern Star and later in the Jacksonville, Florida Eastern Star chapter. (Glenn was also active in Burnsville's Masonic Lodge.) From her mom Virginia's daughter Peggy ". . .thought that you just had to get accepted into the Eastern Star to be anybody, so applied and was accepted when I was old enough. I remember saying to mom that I couldn't see what all the mystery was about and she really didn't like that. . . . I finally demitted after moving to Jacksonville . That did not make Mom happy."

From Clover Fork to Grass Lick
In 1942, Glenn and Virginia Skinner and their growing family of six children were living on Clover Fork. Also adding to the household was a boarder, Blanche Bleigh, who was the teacher at the Locust Grove School. Obviously, Glenn and Virginia needed more living space for their family. The Dolan farm with a large fine farmhouse on Grass Lick of Three Lick owned by the Dolan heirs who also operated the Dolan Hotel, had become available for sale. Since the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad decided to close the Orlando Depot because of declining civilian rail travel, the Dolan Hotel became impossible to remain open. The Dolan sisters and the other heirs decided to close and sell the hotel and their farm. Every good barber knows the business of the town and Glenn Skinner was no exception. Glenn discussed the possibility of the purchase of the Dolan farm with his wife Virginia and together they thought it was an excellent idea to buy the Dolan farm and move to Grass Run. According to their daughter Peggy, there was only one problem---they didn’t have any money to buy the place, and, the Depression-weary banks weren’t lending money. Glenn and Virginia discussed the possibility of purchasing the Dolan place with Glenn’s father Gid. Gid acknowledged that it would be a good buy and agreed to front the purchase price-- Peggy believes it was $1000-- and Glenn and Virginia agreed to re-pay him over time in installments. So the deal was done.

Right, above: Dick and Peggy Skinner in front of the Grass Lick home.
Right: Bobby Glenn with his dog Bill on the platform for mounting carriages, built by original owners, the Dolans.
Left, below: Jean and Margie, with the Catholic School in back to the left.

Virginia and Glenn's move to Grass Lick set off a chain reaction. John Gibson and his family had been renting the Dolan place, so the Gibson family had to move. They moved to the Jeddy Groves farm on Oil Creek above Rag Run. Jeddy’s widow, Esta Groves, moved to Charleston with family. Glenn and Virginia and their family moved onto the Dolan farm. Dwight Skinner moved into the house that Glenn and Virginia had vacated on Clover Fork. The house that Dwight Skinner vacated was moved into by Mrs. Oley McCoy and her sons. Blanche Bleigh, who had been boarding with Glenn and Virginia, began boarding with Pres and Jessie Bragg. Clarence Posey and family who had been living in a home on the Pres and Jessie Bragg farm moved to the Mike Moran farm at the mouth of Three Lick. And finally the Sol Brown family moved into the house vacated by Clarence Posey. It was a busy summer of 1942.

The Dolan Farm
The Irish Catholic families of Orlando had large farmhouses. From its mouth to its head, Grass Lick was the home of three Irish Catholic families in the late 1800’s. The John and Margaret (Griffin) Moran family lived at the mouth of the run; the Patrick and Elizabeth Farrell Dolan family lived about halfway up the run and the Patrick and Elizabeth Farrell family lived at the head. Each of the families built similar houses – large two story frame houses with commodious porches and outbuildings. The original houses were ell-shaped, approximately forty feet long and twenty four feet wide. The length of the ell added an additional sixteen feet to the width of half of the house. The houses had porches running the length of the house on the ground floor and on the second floor. Unusual for the day were inside bathrooms, instead of outdoor privies. According to Sonny Wymer, the present owner of the Dolan property, the Dolan house was built around 1895 and the Moran and Farrell houses were built from the same set of architect plans. The Dolan house also included an exceptional concrete platform at the end of the front walkway to the Grass Lick Road from which the ladies of the house could easily mount a horse or step onto a wagon or buggy. The houses had a bedroom, bath, living room, dining room, and kitchen on the first floor, and four bedrooms upstairs. The original houses included a central hallway which ran the width of the houses. The staircase to access the second floor ascended about halfway down the central hallway. The houses were handsomely constructed and were among the finest homes in the Orlando area. It was to the Dolan house that the Glenn and Virginia Skinner family moved in 1942.

Resumption of a Teaching Career
Males in the teaching profession became an endangered species during World War II. The heavy manpower requirements of the military forces resulted in the military draft of most physically fit male teachers. The Lewis County Board of Education suffered from the loss of its male teachers to the draft and brought about a modification of its previous policy of restricting married female teachers from employment. When the Walnut Grove teacher, Delis Blake, received his notice of induction after school started in September 1941, the Lewis County Board of Education offered Virginia a contract of employment to complete the school term at the Peterson Siding Walnut Grove School. Virginia returned to the same school the following year. In 1943 Blanche Bleigh, the long-time teacher at the Clover Fork Locust Grove School decided to marry Earl Burkhammer, a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad conductor, and leave the teaching profession. Virginia applied for and received the appointment as her replacement and thus began over a decade of serving the children of lower Clover Fork as teacher at the Locust Grove School. Virginia continued as teacher at Locust Grove until 1955 when she returned to the Walnut Grove School, where she served to the end of the 1956-1957 school year.

A Glowing Tribute from a Former Student
“She was my very favorite teacher of all time. She was unique, my everything when I was growing up,” effused Rosemary (Riffle) Crutchfield of Burnsville, now 77 years of age, about her former teacher Virginia Skinner. “She stressed the importance of getting our lessons. She had such a wonderful voice which I loved to hear as she read good books to us. She taught the girls how to take care of our hair and our nails, things that otherwise we would not have known to do. She was so good with the girls.” Rosemary remembers another act of kindness of her favorite teacher. “When I was in the lower grades, someone in my family died and I was crying at school. Mrs. Skinner took me aside and explained ‘death’ to me and the importance of crying to show our grief; that it was a natural thing to do and that we shouldn’t be ashamed to cry. She had such a kind way about her that I remember and treasure beyond words to this day.” Rosemary further reminisced that when she joined the church in Burnsville she met Virginia’s brother, Junior McCoy, who “also was a kind, considerate and wonderful man. They were two of the kindest people I ever met.” This writer could feel Rosemary’s genuine spontaneous emotion as she spoke of her “favorite teacher of all time.” No teacher could ask for a greater tribute than to be loved so movingly after more than sixty years.

Other School Memories
Darrell Skinner of Clover Fork recalls that he was a student of Virginia Skinner from the first grade through the fifth grade and that he thoroughly enjoyed the experience of his years as a student of Virginia Skinner. “She was a really good teacher,” he recalled. Carla (Mick) Conley, daughter of Bernice (Skinner) Mick and Charles Mick, remembers that her mother, now in a nursing home, would fondly recall her days as a student of Mrs. Skinner and how much she appreciated the mentorship of her favorite teacher. “She loved Virginia Skinner and would frequently talk of her and how important she was in her life.”
Tessie (Morton) McGinnis was another of Virginia’s Locust Grove School students. Tessie remembers Virginia as one of her best teachers and enjoyed going to school to her. Coincidentally, Tessie’s mother was the second wife of Virginia's father-in-law Gid Skinner. Tessie has happy memories of the Locust Grove School and her teacher Virginia Skinner. She feels she was well-prepared by her teacher for her high school education at Burnsville High School from which she graduated in 1952. Tessie in the past few years re-visited her former home on Clover Fork. During her visit, she was surprised that the Clover Fork was asphalt paved (although still one-lane). Tessie recalled that when she lived on Clover Fork many years ago the road was unpaved and when it rained the road was so muddy that students had to walk the railroad track or get lost in the mud.

Delma (Foster) Skinner of Oil Creek recalls that Virginia Skinner was her 4th and 5th grade teacher at the Walnut Grove School in 1942 and 1943. “She was an excellent teacher, and I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true.” Delma continued that “Lynn Riffle followed Mrs. Skinner as our teacher at Walnut Grove School and he was an excellent teacher also. Mrs. Skinner kept our noses to the grindstone; she kept us busy. She had a unique way of reading to us. She would read a passage from an important book and then wait until we had time to think about what she just read. It helped us analyze the importance of the passage.” Delma was very emphatic about the great foundation she received during her school days at Walnut Grove School and of the importance of Mrs. Skinner and Mr. Riffle in her preparation for high school in Weston. “I remember when I first went to Weston High School and attended the assembly for incoming freshmen. The principal made the point that kids from the country schools may have a hard time catching up academically with the city kids. Although I was apprehensive at first, after graduating from Weston High School in 1951, I am thoroughly convinced that compared to the academic background I received at Walnut Grove, it was the city kids who were at a disadvantage.”

Tom Jeffries transferred from Orlando School to the Walnut Grove School in 1955 and was a student of Virginia Skinner for the next two years. “She was a marvelous teacher. Two things she inspired in me were the love of good books and the importance of travel in order to know the world. She would read from important books in such an expressive way, almost acting the part, and would bring the book alive, and make you think you were there.” Tom continued and recounted the memory of a trip that Mrs. Skinner and her family took to the Western states. “She told us in great detail of the things that she had seen, describing them vividly, so that you could see them in your mind’s eye. That is why I love to travel to this day.”

It is certain that Virginia Skinner touched the lives of all of the students she taught, giving them a positive example, and preparing them for life. Perhaps the hallmark of the many compliments this writer observed in speaking with her former students was the kindness and caring that she exhibited for each and every one of them. Virginia Skinner gave rural children of West Virginia twenty years of her life in the classroom. It was a true loss to the children of the Oil Creek Valley when in the summer of 1957 Glenn and Virginia Skinner, and their children Marjorie, Jean and Bobby Glenn, climbed in their 1956 blue and white Chevrolet station wagon and headed south for Florida. Virginia would teach many more years in Florida, her adopted home, and assuredly her Florida students felt that West Virginia’s loss was very much, their gain. She died in Jacksonville, Florida in 2001 at the age of 91.

Click on the obituary to the left to enlarge it.
. . . . .
Correction from Virginia's son Bob

I know Mom was teaching at Walnut Grove by the fall of 1950. That is where I started to school in 1950 with her as my teacher. Her story had her moving to teach there in 1955. She became the Principle in 1954. The reason I remember that was that was the only year I had a different teacher (Mrs. Ernestine Tulley). That was 4th grade in 1954. Mr Reed was the “Big Room” teacher and Principle before that.

Comment on a special student
Rosie Blake and her granddaughter Christine lived in the first hollow on Clover Fork. Clell Smarr recalls that they chewed tobacco, smoked old clay pipes and raised hundreds of turkeys. Rosie and her granddaughter spent the entire day outside with the roaming turkeys so that they would not fall prey to predators, both four-legged and two-legged.

Rosie refused to send Christine to school. Her quote was “I got along without learnin. My daughter got along without learnin. She don’t need no learnin either”. She finally relented when they threatened to take her away from Rosie for not going to school. Dale Barnett recalls that her teacher was Virginia (McCoy) Skinner. Virginia told Dale she was the smartest girl in the school.

Comment on Virginia's heritage
Virginia (McCoy) Skinner’s paternal grandparents were William McCutcheon (“W.M.”) McCoy and Sabina (Cogar) McCoy. W.M. McCoy was a merchant and postmaster in Cogar, was a former deputy sheriff of Braxton County, teacher, and Superintendent of Schools of Braxton County. He died in 1935. His wife, the daughter of John M. Cogar and Mariah (Haymond) Cogar, preceded him in death many years previous.

Comment on the town of Gem
The old town of “Cogar,” sometimes spelled “Coger,” is located two miles east of Burnsville. The town was renamed “Gem” by the United States Post Office in a naming contest in which Virginia (McCoy) Skinner’s grandfather, W. M. McCoy, submitted the winning name. The name “Gem” was derived from the initials of the name of W. M.’s son, Guy Everett McCoy.

When Virginia McCoy’s father, Nola Hugh McCoy, was killed in the Gassaway rail yard accident in 1912, he was laid to rest in the Town Hill Cemetery in Sutton where his mother, Sabina (Coger) McCoy, had been laid to rest two years earlier. Virginia’s grandfather, William M. McCoy, former superintendent of schools of Braxton County, was also buried there in 1935. Virginia’s older sister, Ione (McCoy) McLaughlin and her husband James Orville McLaughlin, are also buried there.

Comment on Married Female Teachers
Before and particularly during the Depression there was significant discrimination against married female teachers. After her marriage to Glenn Skinner, Virginia McCoy Skinner left the teaching profession for several years. Not only was the rearing of children involved but the Lewis County School Board, as did the Braxton County Board of Education and other counties, had adopted a policy not to hire married female teachers. Some female teachers, to skirt this policy, married in secret and kept their marriages “secret.” Some counties, such as Upshur County, also barred female teachers from the classroom if they were pregnant or had young children. The West Virginia State Board of Education also weighed in on the issue in 1942 by issuing a policy barring female teachers from the classroom if they were past four months of pregnancy or had children younger than seven weeks old. Some, but not all West Virginia counties enforced this policy well into the 1960’s. However, the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended the practice of discriminating against female teachers who married or who became pregnant.

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