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Saturday, March 29, 1997

Former student takes teachers to lunch


Staff Writer

Unforgettable teachers were honored by a student they'll never forget Friday in a local version of "Mr. Holland's Opus."

Ed Elmore, a 1970 graduate of Cooper High School, gathered as many of his former teachers from Crockett Elementary, Jefferson Middle School and Cooper as he could and treated them to lunch at Luby's Cafeteria in the Mall of Abilene.

The idea for the endeavor was born years before the recent movie was released. In the flick, Mr. Opus was treated to a surprise party by many of his former students.

In planning for the 20th reunion of the class, Elmore approached several of his classmates about thanking high school teachers in a way to pay the special educators back for all their hard work.

"What a good idea!," the friends all thought, but pinning each one down to a specific time and date to hold the event was difficult. Years passed. The movie "Mr. Holland's Opus" was released and after seeing it, Ed decided it was time to take his own action to single out his unique set of teachers and honor them for what they had meant to him.

He searched his scrapbooks and old report cards for names of his teachers, beginning with the first grade when he attended Crockett Elementary. The task of locating names and addresses was not easy as some teachers were now deceased and some had moved away and could not be located.

An invitation was issued to those he could locate.

Nineteen of those honored guests and a few spouses and friends were able to attend the lunch. Reminiscing was the order of the day.

Tables were decorated with appropriate school colors and memorabilia. Aspecial "Reserved" seat was designated at each table, the spot Elmore would occupy as he tablehopped to visit with all present. (The Cooper table complained that he had spent more time at the Jefferson and Crockett tables.)

Attending from Crockett were Pat Soladay Sims, Helen Patterson Anthony, Wayne Tiner, Elmon Higgs and Gerri Shaw Weatherby.

Jefferson teachers present were Jewel Harris, Wanda Spence, Bill Voss, Nell Payne and Althea Stanaland.

Rose Williams, Jo Caldwell, Ronna Austin Harrell, Merrill Green, C.A. Potter, Gerald Lambert, Bill Overton, Robert Holladay and J.M. Anthony had all taught Elmore at Cooper.

Not to single out favorites but to list representative influences, Elmore remembers Helen Patterson from his elementary school days as "the epitome of a Southern gentlewoman." Her refined nature and appearance made an indelible impression on the young student.

"Jewel Harris from Jefferson was the first person I had known that was a political activist. She encouraged me to become politically active and sparked my interest in the profession in which I now serve." Elmore remembers that Harris was president of the Texas State Teachers Association when he was in her class and her involvement left its mark.

"Bill Overton opened my eyes to the wonder of the theatre and this influence continues even today." Elmore and Overton often confer about what's "hot" in the way of musicals and shows.

Some memories were more clear than others but it was agreed by all that Elmore had indeed impacted their lives as well.

Gerri Shaw Weatherby remembered vividly that Elmore had been in her music class at the moment she learned of the death of JFK. Helen Patterson remembered him as always seeking perfection. Creative, determined, committed, loyal, fun to teach and his special sense of humor and characteristic grin are what these teachers found unforgettable about Elmore.

It was Elmore's aim that this favor be repeated in showing appreciation for special teachers. It is his hope that by seeing the photo of these teachers, former students may get in touch to personally thank them as well.

Elmore graduated from the University of Texas and the UT Law School. He is an attorney in Bryan and teaches part-time at Texas A&M University. He is married to the former Donnella Colvin of Abilene and they have two teenage sons.

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