When the Pikeville Collegiate Institute established a training school for teachers in 1901, the institution’s founders had no way of knowing the fruits of their labor. Since that time, hundreds of University of Pikeville graduates have made the classroom their life’s work.
The Distinguished Educators Hall of Fame was established in 2010 to honor those whose contributions to education and to learning have inspired generations of students. Fifteen recipients, some of whom were awarded posthumously, were inducted during a recent ceremony. A special tribute is displayed on campus honoring Distinguished Educators from this year’s class, along with last year’s 20 inductees, to serve as a legacy and an inspiration to those who aspire to teach.
This year’s inductees include Blanche Branham, Paul Butcher, James Clay, Lora Jewell Cline, Franklin Day, C.H. Farley, Colleen Fletcher, Robert Mayfield, A.A. Page, Mary Spilman, Lon and Mary Evelyn Rogers, Georgia Stapleton, Frank Welch and Zella Wells.
Blanche Branham taught and served as principal or supervisor for more than 41 years in Pike County, Breaks, Va., and Orlando, Fla. The majority of her tenure was spent as principal of Millard Elementary School for 21 years. She was honored when her school was chosen as one of “America’s Best Elementary Schools” by Redbook magazine in 1993.
Paul Butcher played in the semi-pro baseball leagues and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Instead of pursuing a life in the big leagues, Butcher chose a career in education. He attended Pikeville Junior College and coached the Academy boys’ basketball team from 1949-51. The team won the school’s only district championship. After completing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Butcher found his way back to Pikeville College and taught health and physical education and coached the freshman basketball team. He continued on as athletic director, varsity basketball and baseball coach, and teacher of health and physical education for more than 30 years. Butcher received KIAC Coach of the Year honors twice and his teams won two KIAC conference titles.
James Clay has dedicated his life to educating students and improving his community. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Pikeville College where he met his wife, Colleen, also an educator. Clay began his teaching career in Logan County, W.Va. After one semester, he returned to Kentucky to teach mathematics at Virgie High School. While there he developed the school’s first football program and sponsored other club organizations. After leaving Virgie, he served as principal of Robinson Creek Elementary School of 14 years. He also taught math at Pikeville College for six years.
A 1941 graduate of Pikeville Junior College’s teacher’s course, Lora Jewell Cline helped to establish the first kindergarten program in Pikeville. By 1971, she had returned to college as a student and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education. She pursued a master’s degree and doctorate of education through Morehead State University. She ultimately became a professor of education at Pikeville College where she retired.
In taking the position of science teacher at Pikeville College, Franklin Day followed a logical course – he was a graduate of the College, having studied chemistry. After graduating from Pikeville College, he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Duke University in Durham, N.C. In a 1942 issue of the College student newspaper, The Record, Day said he would rather teach at Pikeville College than in any other school.
C.H. Farley believed in the power of education to transform lives. He walked and hitched rides in order to attend Eastern Kentucky University. After graduation, he was hired as a teacher in Floyd County and taught at Auxier for two years. In 1932 he was hired as superintendent of the Pike County School System, a position he retained until 1969. Farley holds the record for the longest tenure as a school superintendent in the state of Kentucky.
An alumna of Pikeville College, Colleen Fletcher taught one year at Phelps High School before teaching for 40 years at Pikeville Independent Elementary School. An active member of her community, Fletcher served on the Governor’s Advisory Committee for federal programs for Gov. Martha L. Collins. Fletcher is a member of the KEA and Retired Teachers Association, Pikeville Woman’s Club, Daughters of the American Revolution and a past president and charter member of the Pikeville Junior Woman’s Club. Fletcher has received many honors including Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, Outstanding Young Women of America, a Paul Harris Fellow and Kentucky Colonel.
A native of the region, Robert Mayfield came to Pikeville College in 1969 from Cincinnati, Ohio, as an assistant professor of psychology. During his 32 years at the College, Mayfield served in many roles, including instructor of psychology, chairman of the department of psychology, chairman of the division of education and psychology, vice president of academic affairs and dean of Pikeville College.
A.A. Page was 41 when he became acting president of Pikeville College. During Page’s administration, the institution became a fully-accredited four-year college. In 1961, 183 students graduated from the college, the largest class at that time. The story of Dr. Page’s administration in Alice Kinder’s Pikeville College Looks to the Hills is appropriately titled “A Time to Build.” During his time as president the campus expanded greatly.
Mary Spilman came to Pikeville College in 1918 where she remained for more than 50 years. In the ensuing decades, she became one of the school’s most beloved teachers. In 1957 Spilman was awarded an honorary degree and she retired from a full schedule of teaching. After her “retirement,” she became the director of Alumni Affairs. In 1964 the Mary I. Spilman Apartments for faculty members on campus was dedicated. The City of Pikeville named a street, Spilman Lane in her honor.
Mary Evelyn Rogers lived by the simple philosophy “Bloom where you’re planted.” Through their efforts in the field of education as well as health and civic organizations, she and her husband, Lon Rogers, helped to ensure others had a chance to bloom. Mary Evelyn, the 1934 Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival queen, was performing in a play when she met Lon, a Pikeville attorney. He had traveled to Greenville where Mary Evelyn taught school to attend to family business. The two married in 1938 and Mary Evelyn moved to Pikeville with her husband. Mary Evelyn and Lon Rogers served as Pikeville College trustees and both received honorary degrees from the institution.
Georgia Collins Stapleton, a Floyd County native, taught students at Lackey Elementary School for 10 years and Garrett Elementary School for two years. “We have to educate our children and I loved teaching,” Stapleton said. “From the time I was young enough to understand, my parents encouraged me go to college. And all my brothers and sisters and children graduated from college.”
A long-time educator, Frank Welch began teaching at Belfry High School in 1957. Throughout his career he worked as assistant principal, principal and superintendent as well as assistant dean of education at Morehead State University. The majority of his time as an educator was spent as superintendent of Pike County Schools. Welch has received many educational leadership honors for his service to the field of education and his community. He received Kentucky State Secondary Principal of the Year, Kentucky State Superintendent of the Year and Top Ten Superintendent of the Nation honors. Most recently he received the KASA Pinnacle Award for Leadership, which is given to a retired administrator.
Zella Wells retired from the Johnson County Schools in 2008 where she was the assistant superintendent. She taught math for 26 years and served in various administrative capacities for 10 years. During that time she also taught classes for Pikeville College and Morehead State University. Currently, she serves on the Johnson County/Paintsville Library Board of Directors, KEA-Retired Board of Directors and the Accreditation Audit Committee of the Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board.