46 Years Of Lessons

Published 5:01 pm Tuesday, June 4, 2013

CUMBERLAND – Betty Gilliam Scales sits under the skylight of the high school's long hallway. Her deep blue outfit is more subdued than the vibrant blue lockers that line the hall, but her eyes are sparkling.

Sun reflects off the shining linoleum floor and onto her smiling face as former students stop to bend down and give her a hug or kiss her on the forehead.

Some faces she sees and immediately speaks. Others, she waits for a moment, looks at their eyes, then speaks a name. She seems to know everyone's name, even if it takes a moment before it comes to her.

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Over 150 people gathered in the Cumberland High School Gym last Saturday, June 1, to celebrate the life and achievements of Mrs. Scales.

A week before the event, she was skeptical, “No one will come unless I've died,” she told The Herald. The crowd that gathered Saturday afternoon proved her wrong.

Over the course of her 46-year-long teaching career in Cumberland County, Mrs. Scales has taught in a one-room school house, a two-room Rosenwald school, Cumberland High School and the Luther P. Jackson School with its brick walls and fancy, for its time, auditorium. And she has taught a lot of students.

Now she greets her guests in the hall of the recently built Cumberland County Middle/High School Complex.

Here, now, there are digital clocks that tell the time. No need for her to ring a school bell.

Here, now, there are custodians. No need for her to prod reluctant students to help with the chores, like cleaning the outhouse.

Here, now, there is a HVAC system to push warm air down a maze of halls and rooms. No need for her to tend a potbellied stove or get cracked nails from the cold.

Behind Mrs. Scales there is a poster of smiling students hung over the lockers that reads “share our similarities, celebrate our differences.”

Mrs. Scales graduated from a training school, a tarpaper building, while her white peers went to “high school.”

Here, now, although Betty Scales has been retired for almost 20 years, she still continues to teach.

After two hours of tributes and the presentation of awards in her honor, she turns her wheelchair around to speak to the attendees.

“I've got relatives here,” she says, “Please standup, everybody that is kin to me. I don't care whether you are a cousin or just a friend. Stand!”

The first few rows stand, those in the designated area for close relatives, and the crowd applauds.

But Mrs. Scales looks disappointed and asks, “Now, why didn't all of you stand?!”

The audience breaks into laughter and loud clapping as everyone stands to their feet.

“Now sit,” she says, like the teacher she is. “All of us are kinfolks, whether we like it or not,” she says, concluding the lesson.

During the event, former students spoke of their memories; the no-longer-young members of the Tri-Church Junior Choir, a choir she started, sang for her; and leaders of civic organizations and churches spoke in her honor.

Even a former teacher of Mrs. Scales' wrote a letter to be read during the event, remembering her as a “sweet and friendly young lady with rosy cheeks.”

Chairman of the Cumberland Board of Supervisors, David Meinhard, also spoke. He thanked Mrs. Scales for her mentoring and guidance as he started teaching at Cumberland High School.

However, he wasn't just there to share memories. He also shared a resolution unanimously approved by the board of supervisors during their May meeting.

It concluded: “the members of the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors, through this Resolution, express their deep appreciation for the services that Mrs. Betty G. Scales has performed for the Cumberland County Public Schools, the County of Cumberland, and the citizens of Cumberland County over the past 46 years.”

Mrs. Scales was also presented with a resolution, saluting her life-long support and activity in the Cumberland branch of the NAACP.

“This is the beginning of something big. So many people live and die and never know that they were appreciated,” she told The Herald, “I don't think I need it, but if it begins something that's worthwhile, so be it.”

When asked a few weeks before the event if she wanted to compare the schools from when she first began teaching to the facilities now, she refused: “It's not fair to go back and dig up the dirt. What do I accomplish?

“I don't need to go back there. It happened. High school, I had to walk. I don't need to complain about it. I went. The teachers were good… I'm worried not about where you've come from but where you're going.”

Is she glad students in the community have an opportunity to learn at the recently built Cumberland Middle/High School? “Definitely. I go every time I get a chance and grin.”

There were many at the Cumberland High School gym, with its cool, air-conditioned breeze, that were grinning too, but also eager to look back. Eager to remember all that Mrs. Scales did, because, as many of them said, if it weren't for Mrs. Scales they wouldn't have gotten to where they are today.