2016 Inductees

Carol Grizzard Browning

“Maybe the things that we think matter most about us, like our jobs or our bank accounts or our talents or our preaching, will turn out not to matter next to something we think of as purely personal.” – Carol Grizzard Browning

University of Pikeville professor emeritus of religion Carol Grizzard Browning, Ph.D., contemplated the subject of legacies in a sermon she wrote and delivered on the Book of Ruth. Although Carol ultimately decided that, “We don’t know what our legacies may be,” her husband, UPIKE professor of religion James Browning, Ph.D., has no trouble identifying Carol’s legacy.

“Unknowingly, she created her own legacy by her impact on students.” James said. James took Carol’s legacy a step further and established the Carol Grizzard Browning Lecture Series to attract top scholars to speak at the university.
Illness forced Carol, who taught at UPIKE for 23 years, to retire in 2011.

“Carol is the brightest person I have ever met, and she has a remarkably sharp wit,” said UPIKE assistant professor of religion and alumna Sumer Bingham. “I admired the way she approached her lectures. She was always funny. I feel bad for the students here now because they didn’t have her in class.”

“As genuine a person and a teacher as I have ever met, Carol has always shared something special with her students: herself,” says Jessica Varney. “It was clear each time she lectured that she taught from her heart. Her passion for the subject and for the student was unquestionable. Inside and outside of the classroom, Dr. Grizzard sincerely expressed interest in her students, and I personally benefitted from her caring spirit and words of wisdom and encouragement.”

Carol also served as an advisor to UPIKE’s academic team and published scholarly articles including “Kingship in Israel” with Marvin Tate in the Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, the study notes on I and II Samuel in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, and “Life, the Universe and Everything: Medieval Spanish Judaism Dealing with Aristotle and Sacred Texts” in Cuaderno Internacional de Estudios Humanístticos y Literatura. She earned her doctorate degree in Old Testament and Christian ethics, and master’s degree in divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a bachelor’s degree in English and religion from University of Richmond.

Vivian Carter
Vivian Carter has been described as the epitome of what true educators should represent. The countless students she has impacted includes a young man she first met when he was a struggling third grader. “Mrs. Carter was the first person who believed in me and didn’t give up on me,” her former student shared. “Once I felt that love I knew I could do anything I put my mind to.” He is now a successful business man.

Carter serves as the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative district innovation coordinator for Hazard Independent Schools. Prior to her current position, she spent time in elementary and middle school classrooms before serving as principal at Roy G. Eversole Elementary and Hazard Middle School. Focusing on the strengths of each student, Carter tries to instill a love of learning. Realizing that success is relative, her goal is that every student strives for personal success. 

Carter received her bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Kentucky, a master’s degree in education from Morehead State University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Eastern Kentucky University. Recognized as teacher of the year, Carter’s professional activities include serving as Appalachian Renaissance Initiative Appalachian leadership design fellow, STLP coordinator, Kentucky Association of School Administrators member, Kentucky Principal Academy, Kentucky Education Association member, Kentucky Science Teachers’ Association member, NASA NEW Teacher representative and Kentucky Site Base Association member.

In her community Carter has served as an RGE Parent PTO officer, parent volunteer, RGE parent member school committee member, community concert series board member, Hospice volunteer, Sunday school teacher, Methodist church board of trustees member, Perry County Museum board member, Challenger Learning Center board member, Housing Alliance volunteer and Perry County Community Ministries board member.
She and her husband, Ralph, have three children, Kenton, Parker and Mary.

Christina Crase
Every year, Christina Crase gives the same speech to her students: “Give me a chance. Forget what you have experienced in the past and just give me a chance.” Given the right learning opportunity, Crase believes that every student can learn to like math. Crase has been teaching secondary math education at Betsy Layne High School since 2004 and serves as department chair. Although she teaches some of the toughest high school mathematics courses, she strives to inspire students.

Her innovative approach to learning was recognized by the Gates Foundation. Melinda Gates wrote in her blog, “Like all of the most successful schools we’ve visited, Betsy Layne’s teachers and administrators use a combination of compassion and sky-high expectations to drive its young people to succeed.”

There is no doubt Crase’s selfless dedication has been impactful. “Ms. Crase is a leader by example; she dedicates every moment to ensure students are gaining a quality math education while helping them accomplish their goals,” said Ricky Lee Thacker, fellow teacher at Betsy Layne High School. “She serves as a mentor, friend, and most importantly, a student advocate.”

Crase is always looking for ways to enhance her classroom. She received grants from Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) to develop a project-based unit and to “flip” her classroom to maximize student achievement and increase student interest and engagement. She served on the KVEC STEM committee to develop STEM units for the region and works with Teach for America to provide training and curriculum development for new math teaching prospects in Eastern Kentucky. Crase is an AdvanceKentucky goal awardee for advanced placement (AP) calculus exams and her class was first in the state on percent proficient for algebra II end-of-course assessment.

She received her bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Pikeville College, master’s degree in administration from Morehead State University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in mathematics from Western Kentucky University. She is a Hope Street Kentucky State Teacher Fellow (2016-2017) and active in her church. She is the daughter of Charlene and the late Willie Crase of Wayland, Ky.

Lesley Cunningham
Lesley E. Cunningham retired after 37 years of teaching at Pikeville Elementary School but with her passion for teaching she didn’t stay out of the classroom for long. Following retirement she returned to the classroom to help kindergarten, first-, and second-graders with math. She is currently involved in an after-school tutoring program at Pikeville United Methodist Church.
“Mrs. Cunningham used both ‘old school’ methods and ‘trending’ teaching methods to help her students learn,” said retired UPIKE professor of education Carol Baker. “She actively involved students in real-life situations to give them an understanding of how subject matter and skills are used in everyday situations.”

Cunningham engaged students by gearing activities and assignments to students’ levels of learning. She encouraged students to use critical thinking skills to problem solve and incorporated technology in the classroom. Importantly, she also instilled the life skills of appropriate behavior, in and out of the classroom, manners and personal responsibility.
“Of all the people I have had the pleasure to work with in my more than 24 years as an administrator, I can honestly say Lesley Cunningham is among the greatest,” said Robert Jones, principal at Pikeville High School. “No teacher, in my tenure, has ever reached the heights she reached concerning student achievement. She consistently went above and beyond the call of duty to see that her students were prepared. Her work ethic is exemplary and her leadership is extraordinary. I can honestly say that she is truly one of a kind!”

Cunningham received her undergraduate degree from Pikeville College and her master’s degree from Morehead State University.
She is a member of the Pikeville Education Association, Kentucky Education Association, National Education Association, Pikeville Junior Women’s Club and Pikeville United Methodist Church.
She and her husband Bobby have a son, Chris, and a grandson.

Nikki Gearheart
Nikki Gearheart is currently in her 18th year as an educator in the Floyd County School System teaching fourth and fifth grade math and social studies at James A. Duff Elementary. 
“She has a genuine concern for her students and their learning,” said Belinda Martin, principal at Duff Elementary. “She is constantly looking for new and exciting ways to teach her students. She truly believes all students can learn at high levels. She is a role model for her colleagues and has a great rapport with students, staff and parents. She is an excellent teacher.”
Gearheart earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Morehead State University and a teacher leader master’s degree from the University of the Cumberlands. She is currently pursuing a leadership degree from the University of the Cumberlands.  

“Mrs. Gearheart has a passion to teach. She has the ability to motivate her students to work hard and take pride in their accomplishments,” said a colleague. “She set a slogan for her classroom to be, ‘Novice is not an option.’ Her students continue to excel on state test exams. Her rapport with her students is outstanding and the entire class knows she cares about their education and life long goals.”
She is involved with the Kentucky Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Gearheart resides in Minnie, Ky., with her husband, Tommy, and two children, Lauren 12, and Colin, six.

Christine Higgins
A devoted educator, Christine Higgins is in her 52nd year of teaching in the Pike County School System and currently teaches first-grade at Bevins Elementary School. Despite obstacles, Higgins continues to faithfully serve her students. “She has more grit than anyone I know,” said Amy Swiney, principal at Bevins Elementary School.

“I have witnessed Mrs. Higgins teach struggling students to read,” said Swiney. “A student entered our school at age eight or nine that had never attended school. By the time the child exited her class, Mrs. Higgins had taught the child to read well. She has a special way with students that can motivate these children.”

Throughout her five decades of teaching Higgins has impacted the lives of countless students.
A parent shared, “My child has a severe case of ADHD, but is a good learner if inspired to stay calm and do her work. Mrs. Higgins did both so expertly and lovingly that my daughter had her first wonderful year and looked forward to school, felt a part of her peer group for the first time and succeeded academically as well.”

Higgins received her master’s degree in education from Morehead State University. She is involved with Bevins Parent Teacher Association, the National Education Association, Kentucky Education Association and served as the faculty coordinator for “Parents as Tutors.” Previous honors include Pike County “Best of the Best” Elementary Teacher.

Susan Huffman
A Pikeville native, Susan Huffman began her 25th year of teaching at Pikeville High School this fall. She teaches English, fine arts, journalism and yearbook. Huffman works tirelessly to ensure that students not only receive a quality education, but also a memorable high school experience. She is instrumental in creating special moments in the lives of her students at events, including homecoming, prom and graduation, and documenting those memories in the school’s yearbook. As a proud Pikeville High School alumna, infusing spirit into the school environment is important to Huffman.

She generously gives her time to support the Pikeville community through many service projects organized by the school’s KEY Club, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Student Council. Prior to her teaching career, Huffman worked at Pikeville College from 1981-1989 in the public relations and alumni affairs office. She has also spent the past 25 years teaching in the Upward Bound program at UPIKE. Huffman eared her bachelor’s degree in English from Pikeville College and a master’s degree in English education from Morehead State University.

She is a member of the Kentucky Education Association, Pikeville High School Alumni Board, Pikeville First Baptist Church and has served on the site-based council at Pikeville High School. Huffman is the daughter of Jack and Patricia Burchett and has three sons, Chase, Matthew and Luke.

Retha Hunt
Retha Nell Baldwin Hunt knew from a young age she was meant to be a teacher and felt she was led to the profession. Throughout her 27-year career in the Pike County School System, she impacted the lives of countless students as a mathematics teacher and yearbook adviser at Belfry High School before retiring in July 2016.

Hunt earned her bachelor’s degree in secondary education and mathematics from Pikeville College, a master’s degree in secondary education and mathematics from Morehead State University, and also holds national board certification and Rank I.
She was a member of the Belfry High School Leadership Team for more than two decades and served on multiple committees, task forces and teams throughout her career.

Hunt not only shared her leadership skills at Belfry High School, but on the district and statewide levels as well for serving on various committees and also conducting professional development sessions for fellow faculty. She was selected to meet with senior team members from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on two occasions and was the only Pike County classroom teacher selected to meet with the couple to discuss education in Eastern Kentucky when the duo visited Pikeville in 2015.

Hunt’s list of awards and honors are extensive and include, Rediford Damron Teacher Education Award/secondary major, Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, Quality Teacher Award, Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year, McGlothlin Award semi-finalist, University of Kentucky ‘Teachers Who Made a Difference’ honoree, Murray State University ‘Kentucky Outstanding Teacher Awards’ honorable mention, Outstanding Educator Award from Kentucky’s Governor’s Scholars Program, National Board Certification AYA Mathematics, Pike County Schools Secondary Teacher of the Year and William S. Justice Excellence in Teaching Award. She also received the National Golden Galleon Award for Yearbooks for 22 consecutive years.

While teaching, Hunt was a member of the National Education Association, Kentucky Education Association, Pike County Education Association, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and Kentucky Council of Teachers of Mathematics. She is currently a member of the Pike County Retired Teachers Association and Kentucky Retired Teachers Association. Outside the classroom, Hunt conducted parent information seminars at Belfry Middle and High Schools and Southside Elementary, tutored students after school, and supported school fundraisers for cystic fibrosis, Relay for Life, Susan G. Koman and March of Dimes. Hunt is a member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Williamson, W.Va. She and her husband John have a daughter, Chelsea, who is married to Jeremy Workman.

Tammy Mills
Tammy Mills has taught mathematics in the Pike County School System for 25 years. Mills taught algebra and geometry at Johns Creek High School for two years before the school was consolidated to become Pike County Central High School. At Pike Central she teaches algebra I, algebra II, accelerated algebra II, geometry, accelerated geometry and a dual-credit early college education course for Morehead State University.

Mills earned her bachelor’s degree in secondary education mathematics from Pikeville College, a master’s degree in education from Morehead State University and Rank I from Union College. Outside the classroom, she serves as KEYs Leadership Summit committee member, Pike County Central School Leadership team member, senior sponsor, National Honor Society co-sponsor, Pike County Central mathematics department chair, program review committee member, committee member for the PCCHS Gala sponsored by the chorus and band, member of the district wide EOC practice test committee and peer observer.

Throughout her career she has also served as gifted and talented coordinator, co-sponsor of the Future Educators Association, mathematics academic team assistant coach, future problem-solving team coach, volleyball team assistant coach, cooperating/supervising teacher for several semesters, CSIP committee representative for mathematics department, CASL committee representative for mathematics department, district FAL teacher representative. She is a member of the Kentucky Education Association, Pike County Education Association and Kappa Delta Alumnae Chapter of Eastern Kentucky.

Her awards and honors include, Who’s Who Among America’s Teacher, Appalachian News-Express Teacher of the Week and Pike County School System Hall of Fame Future Educators Association Coach. She also served as co-sponsor of the Pike Central Future Educators Association which earned several first place regional, state and national awards.
She and her husband have two children, Nathan (Savannah) and Lakin, and one granddaughter, Blakely.

Nell Ruth Spears
Nell Ruth Spears enjoyed a career in education that spanned nearly four decades, despite getting a late start. After having five children and being a stay-at-home mom for 20 years, she worked seven years as a teacher’s aide, a job which inspired and allowed her to go to college on nights and weekends to become a teacher.

Spears earned a bachelor’s degree from Pikeville College. At age 44, she started her career as a teacher in the Pike County School System. She taught 21 years at G.F. Johnson Elementary School, most of it in third- and fourth-grade language arts. While teaching, she also earned a master’s degree and Rank I from Morehead State University.

“There are some people that touch our lives and remain a vivid memory, more so than others,” wrote Miranda Roberts, former student and current teacher at Valley Elementary. “Nell Ruth Spears was a compassionate, competent and lively teacher from my elementary years. I remember her classroom and learning about math. I remember her hugs and pats on the back of encouragement. I remember walking up to her desk and having her work with me one-on-one if I was struggling. I remember her as the embodiment of how a teacher should be.”

Spears retired from full-time teaching at age 65, but returned to work almost immediately as an ESS tutor and substitute teacher, teaching for 10 more years at schools throughout Pike County. She specialized in helping young children raise their reading comprehension skills.

In addition to raising a family and teaching, Spears always made time to volunteer for important causes. She was a fund-raiser and countywide coordinator for the American Cancer Society for several years, helping secure tens of thousands of dollars to fund cancer research. She lost her father, two sisters, a brother and her husband to cancer, so fighting this disease was always a passionate and personal service for her. After retiring, she devoted a great deal of time as a volunteer fund-raiser for Pikeville College as one of the top callers for the annual Phonathon.

Spears has always been a person of strong faith. She is a 65-year member of the Church of Christ. Most of her worship has been at the Church of Christ at Virgie, one of the oldest churches in Pike County and where her parents, Noah and Pearl Johnson, attended when she was a child. Spears was married for 62 years to the late Bobby E. Spears of Virgie. They have five children who all attended Pikeville College – Bobby N. Spears, Anona G. Little, Betty R. Tackett, Terry L. Spears and Jerry K. Spears; six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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