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Former teacher honored by Mayflower campus namingOriginally Published September 22, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 20, 2013 at 1:24 p.m.
Elois McCaghren, 89, stands in front of Mayflower Elementary School on the campus named in her honor Sept. 13. A graduate of Mayflower High School and Arkansas State Teachers College, now the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, she taught for 31 years, starting at the elementary school.
Elois McCaghren, 89, has been honored by Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, the Mayflower Chamber of Commerce and now the Mayflower School District.
The elementary school in Mayflower where she started her career has been named the Elois McCaghren Campus.
Beginning at the elementary school, McCaghren taught in the district 31 years, then was immediately elected to the school board, where she served 15 years.
“I think it’s awesome,” said her niece, Patricia Barnes. “It’s about time after all that time she put in. I think she taught half of Mayflower.”
McCaghren took a break from playing a card game with her niece and sister at the Mayflower Senior Citizens Center, where she serves as volunteer director and spends about 11 or 12 hours a day.
It was McCaghren who wrote two notes to then-Gov. Bill Clinton and secured the grant to build the center.
McCaghren said the naming of the elementary-school campus in her honor was a shock.
“That [school] and this center have been my whole life, outside of my family, of course,” she said.
Her sister, Fayrean McCoy of Mayflower, whose 87th birthday is today, said, “I think it’s one of the greatest things to ever happen. She deserves it.”
McCaghren said her daughter, Joann Townsend of Greenbrier, told her they were going to the school to get pictures made as a fundraiser.
“I wondered what was up — here’s all my family — what are they doing here?”
In addition to family members, former students and friends showed up to honor McCaghren.
One of those was Lanny McConnell, counselor at Guy-Perkins High School.
He said McCaghren was his supervising teacher when he did his student teaching in Mayflower in the early ’70s.
“Wild horses could not have kept me away,” he said of attending the ceremony.
“Good gosh, what can I say about Elois McCaghren? One of the greatest ladies I’ve ever met in my life, taught me so much about education and kids and stuff. I was very, very fortunate to have that lady as my supervising teacher,” McConnell said.
He said McCaghren, who was teaching high school social studies then, did him a favor.
“She taught me something very quickly, and bless her soul, it was the best thing that could ever happen to me,” he said. “She said, ‘You need to know whether you can handle kids or not, so take the class. I’ll be down the hallway, one door down.’”
McConnell said this is his 41st year in education.
“She was a strict disciplinarian, but with that being said, she also was one of the most caring teachers for kids I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Denean Green, human resource officer for the Mayflower School District, said she had McCaghren for seventh grade.
“She was a good storyteller, kept your attention, spunky. She meant what she said,” Green said.
“I very much enjoyed having her. She had all sorts of stories, from personal to historical … town stories.”
Green said McCaghren successfully used stories to help illustrate her lessons.
McCaghren said she always knew she wanted to be a teacher.
She was born in Greenbrier, but her family moved to Mayflower when she was about 6, she said.
“I just came here and fit right in, I guess,” she said.
Her parents were farmers, and she chopped and picked cotton every summer, starting when she was about 10 or 12, she said.
McCaghren said she walked seven or eight miles, one way, to the farm. She recalled that the supervisor, Mr. Fisher, insisted that she make 50 cents an hour, like the adults.
“He said, ‘She works just as hard as everybody else and keeps up,’” McCaghren said.
Even though her parents had little or no education, they believed it was important. Her father got her admitted to Jones Hill School one summer, not because she was behind, but just so she could get further ahead.
McCaghren married her husband, Joe, in 1941, when she was 17. Joe, who died in 1985, was six years older, and McCaghren said he joked that he could “train her the way he wanted.”
In reality, “I did whatever I wanted to do, and it was all right with him,” she said.
They discussed decisions and worked together, she said.
McCaghren has never been known as a shrinking violet. She said she spoke up “if it was my duty to do it,” and if it involved teaching.
She attended Arkansas State Teachers College, now the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, and was hired by the Mayflower School District before she had enough hours to graduate. She graduated with a degree in elementary education. Later she went back and got a social studies certification.
“I loved it; I loved it,” she said. “I just loved the kids. They just loved you to death. Elementary kids, they hang all over you all the time. That didn’t bother me, still doesn’t.”
She taught elementary, middle and high school students, and she said she enjoyed each grade.
McCaghren’s former students are known to drop by the center to see her, even the ones she had to discipline by taking “out in the hall.”
“They knew what that meant,”she said.
“I told them, ‘I’m warning you now,’ and if they didn’t do what I asked them, I said, ‘I’ll meet you in the hall,’ and they didn’t want that because I paddled them.”
She said parents could sign a note if they didn’t want their children disciplined that way.
“I never had trouble with the kids. I had some very good kids,” she said. “I never had a kid I didn’t like.”
McCaghren had a heart for the underdog, too.
“The one I really loved spent his whole life in prison,” she said.
The student became addicted to drugs, she said, and killed someone.
She said he told his sister, ‘Whatever Mrs. McCaghren tells you to do, you do it.’”
One day she suspected two students were going to cheat, so she asked them to hand over their cheat sheets. They denied that they were going to cheat.
“I said, ‘I don’t believe you have any intention of cheating, but I don’t want you to be tempted,’” and the boys handed over their notes.
McCaghren doesn’t beat around the bush.
When she was on the school board and an effort was made to put in a football field, she opposed it.
“I said, ‘Everybody is not going to make a living playing football, but everybody has to make a living. Education is important,’” she said.
The new middle school was built then, she said. The football field with the track around it came later, with her help.
She served as president of the board several times during her tenure, and she helped write grants for the city park and the high school track.
Once, when McCaghren thought she might be overstaying her welcome on the board, she decided to see what fellow board members thought.
“I handed out a sheet of paper, and I said, ‘We’re going to vote,’” she said.
“The superintendent said, ‘We don’t do that,’ and I said, “Well, today we’re going to.’”
She left the room, and the board members voted anonymously.
They voted for her to stay, so she remained on the board the rest of the year.
McCaghren thought the board knew what was best, but when it was discussed whether or not to hire a New York firm to advise the board on some matter, she balked.
“What do people in New York know about what people in Mayflower need?” she asked.
One thing McCaghren thought Mayflower needed was a senior citizens center.
The senior center was using the Methodist church, and McCaghren said she wrote a note to then-Gov. Clinton asking for money to build the center.
She told him that he wanted to be president; she wanted a senior center. “You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours,’” she said she wrote.
McCaghren didn’t get the money then, but after Clinton was elected president, she wrote another note and sent it by a woman on her way to the inauguration who said she was a friend of Hillary Clinton’s.
The grant money was approved, and the center opened in 1994.
McCaghren said numbers have dwindled, and she thinks more people should come to the center to socialize instead of sitting at home.
Her son, Billy Wayne McCaghren of Mayflower, drops her off at the center no later than 7:30 each morning, and sometimes she doesn’t leave until 6 or 7 in the evening, she said.
Former state Sen. Gilbert Baker signed a proclamation honoring her in 2003. In it, he congratulated her for being “a lady who has found the secret to life, on her efforts and accomplishments on behalf of the Mayflower schools, community and citizens of the area.”
McCaghren also is a past Mayflower Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year. She was given the Volunteer Service Award by then-Gov. Clinton and received the Point of Light Award from then-President George H.W. Bush.
Asked if she would rather be loved or respected, McCaghren didn’t hesitate: “I’d rather be respected,” she said.
It seems that she’s both.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or email@example.com.
Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.