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Campus School’s open house recalls historic fun with ‘Miss Mary’

Even the parties are historic at the Homer Pittard Campus School, which celebrated its 86th year April 14 at a noisy, joyful open house with a special twist.

Fifth-graders scurried through the halls, acting as ambassadors and tour guides for dozens of guests. A 1930 film touting the work of the facility, then known as “The Training School,” played on a lobby screen as current and former students, teachers, parents and employees greeted each other and other community members.

Meredith Williams, center, vice president of the Friends of Campus School, answers a parent's question at the welcome desk for the Campus School open house celebration April 14 as the crowd behind them watches a video, looks at displays and greets each other. (MTSU photos by News and Media Relations)

Meredith Williams, center, vice president of the Friends of Campus School, answers a parent’s question at the welcome desk for the Campus School open house celebration April 14 as the crowd behind them watches a video, looks at displays and greets each other. (MTSU photos by News and Media Relations)

The late-afternoon gathering featured displays honoring students from the 1930s through today and a painstaking exhibit on the school’s first teacher, the devoted and innovative educator Mary Ella “Miss Mary” Hall, inside her former north wing classroom.

“The last time she was in this classroom, where she’d taught, Miss Mary was 91 years old,” former Campus principal Dr. Rita Schaerer King said of a 1986 visit from Hall.

“She sat down at a computer and said, ‘I wish somebody had a minute to teach me about this.’ So the children did. That was Miss Mary,” added King, who organized this year’s open house as president of the Friends of Campus School and did her dissertation at Vanderbilt University on “Mary Hall: A 20th Century Pioneer for Educational Progress in Tennessee.”

Hall, a native of the Kittrell community in Rutherford County, was:

  • the first teacher at Campus, then known as the Training School of Middle Tennessee State Teachers College, when it opened in 1929;
  • Tennessee’s first state education supervisor in 1936;
  • MTSU’s dean of women in the 1940s; and
  • the lone female faculty member in the university’s Department of Education for more than 20 years.

Though she retired from MTSU in 1960, Hall remained active in education and in the community until her death in 1991. She maintained her interest in educational opportunities for all, according to her great-nieces and great-nephew, along with her blunt but loving guidance for everyone from her family to her students.

Mary Ella "Miss Mary Hall,"    circa 1960s

Mary Ella “Miss Mary Hall,” circa 1960s

“She had very strong convictions and morals. She didn’t change her beliefs because of what others thought or how trends changed,” Angie Kleineau said of her great-aunt, whom the family called “Me-Me,” as her siblings — Benita Lane of Carthage, Tennessee, and Ginger Lowery and Ben Hall McFarlin Jr. of Murfreesboro — nodded in agreement.

“She cared very passionately for children and for education. She was calling legislators all the time to get them to do more for education.”

Indeed, Hall, who’s on the cover of the Heritage Society of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County’s “In the Footsteps of Notable Women” self-guided tour brochure, convinced the Tennessee Legislature in the mid-1960s to change a law that banned using state funds for public kindergartens.

MTSU later began operating one of the state’s nine pilot kindergarten programs at Campus School, allowing student teachers from the university to get their training as well as providing early education for youngsters.

The siblings also laughed while recalling a story about Hall’s unexpected visit to the MTSU dormitory that bears her name several years after its 1964 dedication.

It wasn’t being maintained to her standards, they said, so Hall marched into an administrator’s office and ordered him to “’fix that place up for those girls,’ or take her name off it and shut it down,” McFarlin said with a chuckle. “They had people over there by that afternoon.”

Campus School, which is now a K-5 facility staffed and operated by the Rutherford County Schools but still owned by MTSU, initially served first through eighth grades.

Its last eighth grade class left in 1972, when the county opened Riverdale and Oakland high schools and turned the former Central High into a middle school.

More fifth-graders helped capture memories from former students and faculty on video, encouraging the reunited visitors to share favorite stories of their time at the school.

Siblings Bobbie Jean Parkhurst Snoddy and John Parkhurst, for instance, had young Sam McGill and Ingram Parks struggling to stifle their laughter as they used their iPads to record the pair’s first-grade memories from 1936 and 1946, respectively. Former Campus principal Stan Baskin kept them fascinated as he recalled the building upgrades that helped bring the aging facility up to more 21st-century standards in 2008 and 2009.

“The best part was seeing everybody laughing and visiting and enjoying history,” King said as she and other volunteers packed up the open-house necessities for another year. “It just thrilled me to see our students from the ’30s talking with the children enrolled today. They were having so much fun.”

You can learn more about the Homer Pittard Campus School’s history at the Friends of Campus School’s website, http://friendscs.wordpress.com. The 1930 film is available there as well as below. You also can watch a series of video interviews with Hall archived at the “MTSU Memory” Digital Collection at http://ow.ly/LF3m3.

— Gina E. Fann (gina.fann@mtsu.edu)

Murfreesboro businessman Bubba Woodfin, left, who attended Campus School through 1948, listens to Russell Norton, a member of the last eighth-grade class at the school in 1972, recall school days during Campus School's open house celebration April 14.

Murfreesboro businessman Bubba Woodfin, left, who attended Campus School through 1948, listens to Russell Norton, a member of the last eighth-grade class at the school in 1972, recall school days during Campus School’s open house celebration April 14.

Former Campus School principal Stan Baskin, center, discusses memories of his students and colleagues while a pair of fifth-grade "memory keepers" capture his words via iPad video at the school's April 14 open house.

Former Campus School principal Stan Baskin, center, discusses memories of his students and colleagues while a pair of fifth-grade “memory keepers” capture his words via iPad video at the school’s April 14 open house.

Sisters Angie Kleineau of Murfreesboro, left, Benita Lane of Carthage, Tennessee, and Ginger Lowery of Murfreesboro pose with an extensive display commemorating the life of their great-aunt, renowned Tenneesse educator Mary Ealla "Miss Mary" Hall, in her former classroom at the Campus School open house April 14. Not pictured is their brother, Ben Hall McFarlin Jr. of Murfreesboro.

Sisters Angie Kleineau of Murfreesboro, left, Benita Lane of Carthage, Tennessee, and Ginger Lowery of Murfreesboro pose with an extensive display commemorating the life of their great-aunt, renowned Tenneesse educator Mary Ella “Miss Mary” Hall, in her former classroom at the Campus School open house April 14. Not pictured is their brother, Ben Hall McFarlin Jr. of Murfreesboro.

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