Former Hartselle teacher celebrates 91st birthday with students, friends
Special to the Enquirer
Anyone lunching at Oh Bryan’s! in Hartselle Feb. 22 might have noticed a group of ladies who seemed especially lighthearted. A sign declared this was a celebration of their teacher’s 91st birthday – and it might have been a little hard to tell which was the teacher and which were her former students among this crowd of laughing, smiling ladies.
They still giggle and tell the same jokes and funny stories they have been telling on each other since 1957, when their class went to Washington D.C. with this same teacher, Gurnialene Braswell, and her husband J.O. Braswell as their chaperones.
What must she have thought when she walked into class the first day of school and realized her students were only 10 years younger than she was? It must have been daunting, but she got their attention and quickly became their favorite teacher.
Now, after all these years, she is still their favorite and remains, to this day, their beloved friend.
“The 1957 Mt. Hope girls were one of the special groups,” said Braswell. “They were intelligent and friendly, even to the teachers.
“I have never taught a group that was as close to one another – more like brothers and sisters than classmates,” she added. “I love every one of them.”
The group makes it a point to get together every year on her birthday to celebrate this somewhat unusual friendship. They all still credit her with being a wonderful role model, with inspiring them and challenging them while setting an example for them to follow.
“You were so caring for our class,” former student Sherry Witt said.
“She was a very good teacher,” recalled Carol Sue Roberson, “firm but always fair to all of her students.”
Deloise Sanford said she remembers her teacher talking to them a lot about life.
“Every time I looked at Mrs. Braswell, I would wish that I could have her tall skinny body,” added Alma Ann Anderson with a laugh. “She could wear her clothes so very well!”
All of the ladies present at the birthday luncheon agreed that Braswell was a wonderful example and role model and thanked her for helping them get though their teen years.
She said she remembers them as a great class.
“They were special,” she said. “My husband was a coach and principal at Mt. Hope, and we took them all to Washington D. C. on a train. We had so much fun, both on the train ride and in Washington. I’d never been there myself, so it was fun for all of us.
“They behaved very well,” she added.
She attributes the trip with creating the bond that has kept them all so close.
“They got out and worked, picked up and sold scrap metal, picked cotton and all kinds of things to earn money for their trip,” she explained. She said Sen. John Sparkman was instrumental in seeing that they enjoyed their trip to the capitol.
The Braswells came to Mt. Hope in 1950-51 and were there for nine years. She said although she was only 10 years older than her students in ’57, if she was intimidated by them, she would never have let them know it.
“Someone once gave me a quote that said, “A teacher must be firm, fair and friendly but not familiar,” she said.
“They were good students; there were about 28 in that class, and a high percentage of them went on to college,” she added.
When asked the secret to her longevity, good health and beauty, she laughed and credited it all to good genes. “My parents and grandparents lived long lives,” she said.
The group meets annually for a reunion with the entire class. “I’ve been fortunate to be included in that, too,” she said with a smile.
For her birthday, though, it’s usually just “her girls” who treat her, and this year was no exception.
At 91 years old, she said she is proud and blessed to have been there with them and to be able to have good health to enjoy celebrating her birthday with these special people in her life.