School Day Memories – Suzanne Heath Russell
GHS Class of 1958
By Nancy Hicks Williams
Special to The Enterprise
Willie Floyd and Edna Bullock Heath brightly lit up their Lansing, Michigan, home on October 24, 1940, with the birth of their daughter, Suzanne Heath Russell. She has been lighting up people’s lives ever since with her big smiles and sweet personality.
Her first five years were a cycle of living in Lansing before WWII, moving to Gleason, Tennessee, during the war, briefly returning to Lansing post-war, before permanently settling in Gleason. Suzanne remembers wartime ration stamps for sugar and coffee, and the shortage of tires for automobiles. She adds, “If a pair of ladies’ hosiery had a ‘runner,’ it would be sewn up and hidden.”
An only child usually has a limited family tree, but Suzanne had an abundance of loved ones in her life. Aunties, uncles, cousins, teachers, nurses, neighbors, faculty, and friends all played a part in her young, formative years. Suzanne fondly remembers her “Aunties,” two widowed sisters, Mary Susan Parks Jones and Malcy Parks Hodges, who had boarded Suzanne’s mother Edna to enable her to attend city school during those early years before bussing. “These ladies loved my mother; they loved me, as well.”
Her many cousins are surrogates for the lack of brothers and sisters. Don and Doug Heath, Ruth Ann Heath Bingaman, Eva Sue Rucker Dorris, and many others, play important roles in Suzanne’s life. She just returned last summer from visiting Ruth Ann in Idaho.
Suzanne remembers the kindness of the nurses from St. Lawrence Hospital who tenderly nurtured her as a five-year-old when she was hospitalized for a tonsillectomy. Her parents were not allowed to spend the night. She felt special when Uncle Ray, her mother’s brother, walked in with an armload of flowers for his little niece. “I was fine,” Suzanne explains, “but Daddy was a little sickly. He first saw me immediately after my surgery — before clean-up — and fainted. Family was gathered around when they wheeled me out to a chorus of ‘How’s the baby? How’s the baby?’ Dr. Sanders replied, ‘The baby is fine. Your big baby brother-in-law is laying back there on a table. Fainted.’” Suzanne reflects, “I was truly loved.”
Suzanne enrolled in Oak Park School in Lansing, September 1944. “I cried and tried to run away from school. I thought my mother could not manage alone at home without me. My kindergarten teacher Ms. Esther Tupper would call for my cousin Don who was in sixth grade to come calm me down.” Midway through her first-grade year with Miss Goff, the Heath family moved to Tennessee. When her family returned to Lansing on vacations, Suzanne would always call or visit with her former teachers, who had no families of their own. Teachers, in those days in the North, could not be married.
“We lived with my grandparents, Charlie and Bonnie Swaim Bullock, in the Sandhill Community, while Daddy remodeled our future home on South Cedar Street in Gleason. I attended Parks School for the last half of my first-grade year. Sometimes, I walked to school through the pastures with my teacher, Miss Clara Roney. Sometimes, I rode a bicycle. And other times I even arrived at Parks School on horseback. Cousin Harry Swaim saddled up the old horse and away we went.” Harry’s paternal grandfather and Suzanne’s maternal great-grandfather was Clint Swaim.
“In 1947, I rode to Gleason Elementary each morning with Daddy, and returned to Grandma’s on the afternoon bus … well, almost. That first day, I was afraid I would not know the right place to get off the bus, so I got off with my friend, Evelyn Mitchell, and started walking the rest of the way. Mr. Morris, the bus driver, tried to convince me he would take me to the right place. It was a long walk by myself, taking a right at the ‘T’ in the road. The pea vine phones along the route kept up with me, calling ahead, and finally, Cousin Harry met me with his trusty bicycle.”
“My early memories were of not being able to read well (in the B group) in the second grade. Why should I? I could listen to my cousins read to me, any time.”
The Heaths moved into their permanent home during this timeframe, opening for Suzanne a whole new set of adventures. Miss Lottie Garrett (Haskins) taught her in third grade, and Miss Annie Laurie Phillips taught fourth grade. Miss Olive Duke and Mrs. Annie Wiseman were the lunchroom ladies. The lunchroom was located in the basement along with the elementary classrooms, underneath the high school floor upstairs. Meals were 20 cents/day.
Suzanne was now developing her reading skills. The “Trixie Belden” series of girl detective novels, “The Bobbsey Twins,” and the “Orange Biographies” series dominated her pre-teen reading list of favorite books. Suzanne’s friend Ruth Ann Atnipp and cousin Eva Sue Rucker were her playmates in games of Old Maid, Bingo, Monopoly, and Chinese Checkers. Family outings and day trips would include a picnic lunch at Shiloh National Park, a trip to Nashville to tour the 30-floor Life & Casualty Tower, or a day at the newly-constructed Kentucky Dam State Park.
“During my school years, I could not ride the school bus since I lived within the city limits, so I walked to and from school. I visited all the way home. Some days, it was a short visit in Jozelle’s Beauty Shop, followed by a stop at Richee’s Grocery on the corner for candy, if I had any money. Some days I would stop by the Coal Office (where the Steele Plant Co. now is) to visit with Maxine Ross. Moving on toward home, if Mr. and Mrs. Johnny Motheral were on their front porch, I would take a rest on their steps and share some stories with them. Other neighbors visited as I passed along their way.”
“If I ever found a stray cat along the way, I would encourage it — sometimes with a melting ice cream cone — to follow me home. Mother wouldn’t say ‘No’ if the poor thing ‘came there.’ Throughout my life, I have been an avid friend to and supporter of animal rights. My late husband, Dr. Harold Russell, and I helped to start the Carroll County Humane Society, located near McKenzie.”
By the seventh grade, Suzanne’s home chores and other responsibilities increased. Suzanne’s aunt Lillie Mae Rucker and cousin Eva Sue helped her and her mother pick and pack strawberries from their patch for shipping. The Heaths’ seven acres included an apple orchard, which kept Suzanne and her mother busy picking apples that they canned, dried, and made into apple jelly and apple butter. “My parents had survived the Depression and they never forgot it. They didn’t waste anything.” Suzanne also picked turnip greens from the property to sell to City Cash Grocery for $1.00/bushel. “Mama couldn’t drive. She sewed and made all of our clothing. I ran errands for her to A. J. Bond’s dry goods or Barney Klutts’ department store for sewing notions and other household needs.”
“Televisions were scarce back then, but we finally got one — a small-screen, black and white with rabbit ears. Saturday nights were special. Mr. and Mrs. Bride Wray, our neighbors, would gather at our house to eat popcorn, drink Pepsi, and watch ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘Bonanza,’ ‘Lawrence Welk Show,’ and wrestling.”
Mr. Heath built a grocery store on their property called Bill’s Market. Suzanne’s father would stand her on a box behind the counter and teach her how to check out, count money, and bag groceries, all the while reminding her that “our customers are doing us a favor by choosing to come to our store,” further developing Suzanne’s winning ways and people-skills.
Mr. Heath eventually sold the grocery to Miriam and Lura Bouldin, and it later became Ann’s Beauty Shop. He also gave the land for the Pug Scott Road, and later sold Mr. Ridgeway a plot for a funeral home which eventually became Gallimore Funeral Home (now Williams’ Funeral Home). Mr. Heath developed his little part of South Cedar Street into basically what it is today.
“The Gleason First Baptist Church, in my youth, was a little, white-framed building, pastored by Brother R. J. Cooper. His son, Larry, was in my class at school.” Suzanne’s memories include Hugh Gordon Stoker playing piano there until he left for Nashville and the music business, becoming a member of the Jordanaires Quartet who sang with Elvis Presley. “Mr. Ambus and Mrs. Willie Stoker, Hugh Gordon’s parents, remained faithful church members all their lives. He was a deacon, and I always remember his quote in every prayer: ‘Help us to overcome all evils with good.’”
“Church revivals lasted two weeks and involved both morning as well as evening services. There was always a full house, no air-conditioning, wide-open windows, and lots of complimentary ‘funeral home’ fans. Bible School was held in the early summer. I remember before their building was constructed, the Church of Christ congregation held big tent revivals on their current site.”
The old Baptist church was torn down, replaced by a new, brick one that Suzanne grew up in. Miss Reba Oliver taught Suzanne piano, enabling her beginning in about the sixth grade to play for Sunday School and Training Union at Gleason First Baptist Church. She then became a regular church pianist during high school and college, as well as afterward. A love of music ran in her family, as Suzanne’s mother Mrs. Edna was also a pianist for the Gleason First Baptist Church, having studied piano with Mrs. Penny Jones in the late teens and 1920s. Suzanne recently learned that her great-grandfather, the Rev. John M. Davies, started the first Cumberland Presbyterian congregation in McKenzie, Tennessee, in 1867.
Suzanne attended Gleason High School from 1954-1958, near the beginning of Principal J. T. Moore’s era. “Mr. Moore summoned me one day from study hall and asked me if I would go help his wife Mrs. Ruby Moore punch tickets and take up money in the lunchroom. Of course, I would! That assignment, which I thought was only for a day, lasted two years and earned me my lunch. Sometimes she even sent me to the bank with the deposit. That was the beginning of a life-long, special friendship between Mrs. Moore and me.”
“English was my favorite subject, and I later returned to Gleason High School to do student teaching with one of my favorite teachers, Miss Annie Laurie Phillips. Algebra I and II were my hardest subjects. I was very often present in Mr. Vernon Dunn’s 3:00 p.m. class for additional tutoring. My report cards were always marked, ‘Talks too much.’ One even said, ‘A good student but likes to visit.’”
Suzanne was an active, engaged young lady — serving as a member of FHA, G-Club, on the annual staff, and a class officer. Extracurricular activities included performing in music recitals, serving as a basketball cheerleader for two years, and participating in the senior play. “I wanted to play basketball, but my parents didn’t want me to. They thought I needed to spend time on my books.”
“I had a happy high school life. Only a few of us had cars. We all just did everything together, in groups. After ballgames, Cheri Capps and I would go to Hattie and Hiram Trentham’s Dairy Bar. We would take turns calling our dads to come pick us up — hers one night, and mine the next. Or, we might go to the City Cafe, on the corner where Horns’ Hardware now is. Everybody would go to the back room to play the jukebox and jitterbug. For weekend entertainment, we often went to downtown Gleason’s Carlton Movie Theater for a Saturday afternoon feature. Admission was 25 cents. The theater building later became a potato house.”
Suzanne had a job pulling sweet potato slips for J. D. Bradberry. While she attended Bethel College, she typed advertisement envelopes for him. After college graduation, Suzanne began her teaching career which spanned thirty years. Her first year’s salary was slightly less than $3,000. She recalls arriving at school “at the break of dawn” and staying until almost dark for early/late bus duty. Teachers were assigned to work the gate at ballgames on a rotating schedule. “It was just all part of the job.”
During one of her early years teaching at Gleason High School, Suzanne was Student Council Sponsor. With the help of fellow faculty member Mr. Dudley Sanders, Suzanne and Student Council President Dennis Beasley organized a Veterans’ Day program at Gleason School. As far as she knows, this was a first for the schools in the area.
Her early retirement years were spent traveling with her husband and caring for her aging parents. Since Dr. Russell’s death in 2018, Suzanne has downsized to a smaller home. She enjoys reading, spending time with friends, and delights in her family. She has generously shared her light with others, a warmth which has never faded.
I miss you, my friend! I enjoyed the time we worked together!
Suzanne was my supervisor of teachers at Bruceton. I have so much respect for her. She holds a special place in my heart from my teaching days.
Susanne is a very fine lady. I used to see and talk to her all the time while I still worked at Walmart