At Thursday’s meeting of the Carmi Rotary Club, the Rotarians were given a fascinating look in to the past by Judge Tom Sutton. However, as Judge Sutton pointed out at the beginning of his presentation, the real speaker was his father, Hubert Sutton.
Judge Sutton was on hand to discuss the era of the one-room school house in White County. He stated that he came from a teaching family. His father, mother, sisters, wife and one daughter were all school teachers at one time. He described himself as the “black sheep” of the family for choosing the law instead of education.
He explained that his father served three – four year terms as Superintendent of Schools for White County, beginning in 1930, leaving that position in 1951. At the height of his tenure, there were 119 school districts in White County. At that time, this was an elected position, and his father lost the primary in 1951, a fact his mother blamed on the wave of school consolidations that happened around that time.
Judge Sutton explained that he had time to do some “Covid cleaning” over the past few years, and came across a slide and notecard presentation of his father’s during his time as Superintendent. These note cards were an incredible snapshot of visits to each of the school districts over the course of a year.
Just a few of the districts mentioned were: Trousedale, Pomeroy, Ward, Bootjack, Fox Island, Cushman, Springerton, Maunie and Lincoln.
The slide show featured pictures of many of these schools, along with Hubert’s notes about the buildings, the enrollment, and the outlook.
An example was the note on the old Maunie school, which featured a picture of Mr. Dauby, and Mrs. Williams teaching a class. Another note spoke of the Enfield school, which was a modern school with a good building and actual music and art classes. Hubert noted that many parents wanted their children to be able to attend the Enfield School, but there simply wasn’t enough money in the budget to expand the building. The opposite of that school issue was the Fox Island School, which had an oil claim on their property. At one time the evaluation of that school showed a value of 1.2 million dollars, all for a student enrollment of 7.
When looking at the haves and have-nots in the district, the Super asked the question, “is it really an equal education when students in Carmi have modern buildings and playgrounds, while their rural counterparts are taught in old buildings with no amenities?”
One note about the Carmi school though, he noted that there were as many as 50 children in a grade in Carmi, which begged the question of the quality of time spent in school.
Judge Sutton handed out pencils to the Rotarians, which his father had apparently used as a campaign tool at one time. His father also gave these pencils to each student when he made his visits to the various school houses. In fact, after giving this talk at a different gathering, a man came up afterwards and said he still remembered Mr. Sutton giving the pencils away. Just an indication of what something as simple as a pencil meant back in those days.
Judge Sutton also showed several framed diplomas of his parents. He closed with a story his mother had told him while she was living in the nursing home. He said while visiting one day, something made his mother say, “Oh yes, that was the year your father and I didn’t live together.” Needless to say that statement required a little explanation. It turns out, that at that time, women were not allowed to be school teachers if they were married. This meant that for a year, Judge Sutton’s parents lived apart to make it appear that she was still a single woman.
Noted Norris City historian Ed Oliver was on hand as a guest, as well as Mr. Sutton’s wife, Cheryl.
The Carmi Rotary club meets every Thursday at noon at the First United Methodist Church on Main Street in Carmi. Anyone wishing to learn more about this civic organization is welcome to attend a meeting or speak with any Carmi Rotarian.