Perhaps, the earliest teacher of the school in present recollection is a Mrs. Mick. No first name of this teacher is known, nor would one hazard a guess as to the first name of a teacher named Mick. The numerous branches and generations of the Solomon and Mary (Lawman) Mick family of nearby Rocky Fork and the C. C. and Martha (Lawman) Mick family of nearby Dumpling Run provided many male and female teachers to the early one room schools of the southern Lewis County, northern Braxton County, and Gilmer County, anyone of whom could have been the Ben’s Run teacher.
Edna Wiant was the daughter of Perry Wiant and Mary (Henline) Wiant, residents of the Indian Fork area. Orphaned as a young girl, she became the foster daughter of John Thomas Blake and Mary Ellen (Thompson) Blake, a childless couple, farmers on Ben’s Run. Edna taught at the Ben’s Run School from 1920 to 1925. The author’s father, Coleman Heater, reminisced that he was a student of Miss Wiant and that there was not much difference in his age and her age. Coleman was somewhat smitten with his teacher and had a “crush” on her, but a teacher was the teacher and a student was the student. Helen Jeffries, a friend of Edna’s however, recalls that Edna was also smitten with “Coley” and but for the devotion of Edna to her foster parents, Edna and “Coley” might have married.
Giving instruction to students at the Ben’s Run School in 1931 was Abalene “Tib” Feeney. Named for her maternal grandmother, Abalene Rush, she was the daughter of Patrick Feeney and Bridget (Rush) Feeney of Orlando. Miss Feeney taught at the Ben’s Run School for three or four years. In 1944 she married Charles Harris. They resided in Richmond, Virginia at the time of her death around 1985. Velma Heath, who is aged 84 and lives in the former Rosie and Billy Riffle farm on Ben’s Run, recalls “Tib” Feeney as the most beloved of all the teachers at the Ben’s Run School. Miss Feeney was also the “teacher on horseback” since she saddled up her horse each morning and rode it to her Ben’s Run School.
Mildred Riley was another early teacher at the Ben’s Run School. Miss Riley taught at the Ben’s Run School during 1937-1938. Velma Heath recalls that the first paddling she ever got in school was administered by Miss Riley. The daughter of James Riley and Dora (Hutchinson) Riley, she was born in Weston in 1917. During World War II, she served in the Women’s Army Corps. She married John Garton of Alum Bridge in 1948. She died in 1969 and was buried at St. Boniface.
The daughter of Orlando residents Martin Tulley and Elizabeth (Green) Tulley, Miss Tulley was an early teacher of the Ben’s Run School which was located just across the hill from her home on Tulley’s Ridge. Mary was teaching at the Ben’s Run School in the early 1940’s when she became ill with tuberculosis. She died at the age of 44 in 1943 and was buried at St. Bridget’s on Goosepen.
Lloyd Smith is reported to have been a teacher at the Ben’s Run School during the mid-1930’s but little else is known about him. Velma Heath, a present-day resident of Ben’s Run, was a student of Mr. Smith. Velma recalls that Mr. Smith was a quiet man and that he did not participate in playground activities with his students. Velma believes that Mr. Smith was from Jane Lew or Lost Creek.
Perhaps the most prominent of all the teachers of the Ben’s Run School was Zoe Swecker, a native of Canoe Run. Miss Swecker also taught at the nearby Pine Run School. A teacher at Ben’s Run probably in the late 1930s, she returned to college and received both a Master’s and Doctor of Philosophy Degrees, the latter from the University of Chicago. Dr. Swecker was a career history teacher at Clarion University in Pennsylvania. She was quite well-known amongst the nation’s historians and was a member of several historical organizations.
Residing for a while in Orlando in the former Mrs. Ollie Blake home on Flint Knob near the Orlando School, a teacher named Thomas Byrne taught at the Ben’s Run School prior to 1943. Described as being chronically in a hurry, he was also described as being chronically late. Apparently suffering from a sleep disorder, Mr. Byrne would often fall into a deep sleep during school time. Seizing a golden opportunity, some of his students would quietly gather their books and return to their homes during Mr. Byrne’s naps. Upon awakening from his untimely period of sleep he would find few, if any, students in the classroom. Mr. Byrne, the son of Joseph Byrne and Mary (Doonen) Bryne of Lewis County, was married to the former Mary Gissy. He lived for the most part in the Copley area.
Frank Stoneking taught for many years in country schools throughout Lewis County, including the Ben’s Run School from1943-1945. He is perhaps as well known for his restaurant, “Stoneking’s,” which was located across the old U. S. Route 19 at Roanoke from DeGarmo’s Skating Rink, later known as Rose’s Skating Rink. His son Billy was later a teacher and coach at Walkersville High School.
Mary Walsh was a single lady and made her home with her sister in Weston. She commuted to the Ben’s Run School with her colleague, Ronald Farnsworth, who was the teacher at the nearby Pine Run School. Velma Heath recalls Miss Walsh as a “very nice lady.” Miss Walsh taught at the Ben’s Run School from 1945 to 1957. For many community children, Mary Walsh was the only teacher they ever had. During her tenure at Ben’s Run, the windows of the school on one side of the building were removed and boarded over. She also presided over the planting of pine trees around the school building which are now huge and over-grown in relation to their location to the former school building. Among the students who helped plant the pine trees were Erma Heater, Earl Heater, Brenda Heater, Orie Lee Heater, Jim Heater, Clarence Heath and Alton Heath Jr. Former students recall that Miss Walsh was not a great believer in testing and that she assessed the progress of her students by interaction with them in the classroom. Miss Walsh often walked with her students to neighboring Goosepen School for ball games. Occasionally during cold weather, Miss Walsh would arrange for a neighbor to make hot chocolate for her students. She retired from teaching after her years at Ben’s Run.
Mr. Farnsworth replaced Miss Walsh after her retirement. This writer recalls Mr. Farnsworth as a very quiet man who spoke so softly that his students often had difficulty hearing him. He was a very caring teacher who kept tabs on his former students long after he retired from teaching. He taught at Ben’s Run from 1957 to 1959. Velma Heath recalls random acts of kindness by Mr. Farnsworth who was known to buy clothing for needy students. He would also take the time to visit the homes of his students and talk to the parents about their children’s progress in school. Velma also recalls that Mr. Farnsworth had the peculiar habit of crossing his arms and slapping his shoulders during conversations with others.
Dorothy (Persinger) Wilfong was a Burnsville native and graduated from Burnsville High School in 1930. Mrs. Wilfong was one of the many teachers in central West Virginia who taught school on a certificate for many years before getting an actual college degree. She graduated from Glenville State College in 1962. Mrs. Wilfong was married to Basil Wilfong of Linn in Gilmer County. Mrs. Wilfong replaced Mr. Farnsworth as the teacher of the Ben’s Run School. Rather than drive the long distance on country roads, in times of bad weather, she often spent the night with the Heater family. She taught the school for two years from 1959 to 1961.
Left, below: Juanita (McClain) Warner
Mrs. Warner taught the Ben’s Run School during the 1961-1962 school year. A native of Crawford, Mrs. Warner was married to French Warner, a native of Knawl’s Creek. Mrs. Warner was later a teacher at Walkersville, and she also served as a substitute teacher after her retirement. The family moved to Morgantown while their son was a student at West Virginia University. Her son, Gene, achieved a high executive position with the Exxon Corporation. Some years later, Mrs. Warner’s husband, French, operated a taxi service in Weston.
In 1962, Helena McCudden became the final teacher of the Ben’s Run School. This veteran of the teaching profession had taught at many rural schools in Lewis County, including the nearby Pine Run School. A slight woman with firey hair, she was a strict disciplinarian, a magnificent teacher, and a wonderful friend to her students. She told them what she thought they could achieve in the future, and her expectations were high. Even after she sent them on to high school at Weston, she kept up with them.
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Bob Pumphrey recalls that when he attended the Three Lick School in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, Christmas time was always a great occasion at his school. The Three Lick School was located just over the hill from the head of Ben’s Run, and by the way the crow flies it is but a short distance. The older boys in the Three Lick School were familiar with most everybody who lived on Three Lick, Ben’s Run, Goosepen, and Pine Run, as well as the entire Orlando area. On the final day of instruction at the Three Lick School prior to the Christmas vacation, the school children were all excited about the pending holiday and also in expectation that Santa Claus would pay the school a visit and perhaps leave a few treats for the kids. Bob recalls that Santa Claus did not come by sleigh pulled by reindeer, or even a pick-up truck, but came walking up the road to the school. Bob recalls that Santa had a bag-full of treats for the school children. Bob remembers that Mr. Claus did a great job convincing the younger children that he, in fact, was Santa Claus. Bob, however, was one of the older boys in the school, and together with the other older students, determined that Santa Claus was none other than Coley Heater of Ben’s Run, the father of the author of the story about the Ben’s Run School.