LAFOLLETTE (WATE) - Everyone I know has a fond memory or two of a favorite teacher.
It may have been a junior high school coach who helped you become a better player, or your freshman English teacher who helped you become a better writer.
For those who grew up in the Valley View community, it's very likely to be a lady affectionately known as Ms. Ruby
Her class of bright-eyed and eager-to-learn kindergartners are the latest in a long line of children taught by Ruby Childress.
"Joey's our new one. We have 17 children in the room. And how many of you have been reading?" Ms. Ruby asked. "Every one of them," she added.
Ms. Ruby has been teaching at Valley View Elementary School in Campbell County for more than 62 years.
"I always wanted to be a teacher. I was 17 years old when I taught my first year and I had 31 children in the fourth grade," she said.
Among those fourth graders was former County Mayor Tom Stiner, who describes Ms. Ruby as an institution, an icon.
"She was a beautiful young thing. Still is. In addition to being a great teacher, all the guys had a crush on her," Stiner recalls.
In 1963, Donnie Poston came along and was also taught by Ms. Ruby. Poston is now the school district superintendent. Both he and Stiner believe Ms. Ruby is as valuable today as she has ever been.
"She's done more for the children of the community than any one of us," Stiner said. "She's a stand-alone as a positive influence for young folks who've grown up in the Valley View community."
"Reading, I promise you, the students who come out of her reading, even today, will be the best readers," Poston said.
And it's true. Ms. Ruby had the children read for us and all were eager to do so. And remember, these are five year olds.
Ms. Ruby says she teaches by sticking to the basics. And among the basics is a book series many of us are familiar with - the Dick and Jane books.
"When we're learning to read, I want them to have a desire to read and then we start on the Dick and Jane books, because it has the first set of sight words in it and it gives them confidence they can read," Ms. Ruby said. "And when they read Dick and Jane they can read almost anything."
At 82, Ms. Ruby shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, when asked if she thinks she'll ever quit, she said, laughing, "When I get old enough to retire."
More seriously, Ms. Ruby says she'll teach another year or maybe two.
As for the superintendent, he can't imagine Valley View without Ruby Childress
"If she continues as she's going, she could teach until she's 100 and people would be satisfied."
Ms. Ruby Childress - an example of the Spirit of East Tennessee.
If you know someone who you believe is an example of the Spirit of East Tennessee, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.