Becky Perkins wanted to retire as a Bison from the Carlisle School District, but plans changed after she left Carlisle to become the librarian at Lonoke Primary School. However, she is getting a second chance to retire — this time as a Bison.
Perkins, 66, who retired from Lonoke following the 2012-13 school year, went back to work at Carlisle as the high school librarian in March 2014. She will retire for the second time at the end of this school year, with more than 41 years of teaching.
“I never thought I would leave Carlisle,” said Perkins, who taught at Carlisle for 24 years, including 13 as an elementary school librarian. “I wanted to retire from Carlisle. When I was told about an opening at Lonoke and that there was a big pay difference, plus it was an extra-month contract, I had to think about my retirement. That would make a big difference in my retirement. Who would have that opportunity on the Prairie? Those kinds of opportunities do not fall into your lap.”
Perkins said she spoke with several people, including her brother-in-law, Eddy Kelly, who was on the Carlisle School Board at the time, as well as Montine Mashburn, who was the longtime Carlisle Elementary School librarian and Perkins’ predecessor.
“Montine said, ‘Well Becky, it’s a no-brainer,’” Perkins said. “It was a wonderful staff to work with. It was awesome.”
Carlisle Superintendent Brad Horn, who was high school principal when Perkins was hired, said he enjoyed working with her.
“I loved working with Becky,” Horn said. “She was great for us. She was great for the kids. Timing was great. She fell into our lap. I love working with her. She did a lot for the kids and a lot for the program. The kids love her.”
Perkins originally retired in 2013 because the strain of the job had taken a toll on her voice.
“It was 36 years working in primarily the primary school age,” she said. “I couldn’t talk all day long anymore. I would record myself reading whatever book I had chosen to teach the lesson. I couldn’t teach all day. I’d read it once, and my voice would be gone.”
After leaving Lonoke, Perkins was at a basketball game watching her granddaughter Ashby Terry play, when she was approached by former Carlisle Superintendent Jason Clark about filling in for the rest of the year following the resignation of librarian Barbara Bush because of health reasons.
“I said I would be interested,” Perkins said. “My sister Mary [Kelly] and I both retired at the same time. We walked in the mornings. We’d be like, ‘We’re not as happy as we thought we would be.’ When that job came open, I went in to interview and told them I’d like to be considered for the next year also.”
Perkins was hired as the permanent replacement for Bush for the 2014-15 school year.
“I had to get six hours more to be K-12 certified, so the first semester of my first year here, I took those six hours online,” Perkins said. “I’m glad I got to finish as a Carlisle Bison. I told them that in my letter of resignation. It wasn’t my plan to ever leave Carlisle.”
Perkins, who was born in Arkadelphia, moved around as a child because her father was a Baptist preacher. She moved to Carlisle in January 1966, when she was in the eighth grade. She graduated from Carlisle High School in 1970.
Perkins attended one semester at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia before deciding to commute from Carlisle to the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, where she received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.
She didn’t start teaching until the fall of 1977, after having her two daughters, Shelley and Charla. Perkins taught second grade for five years before teaching first grade for six years. Then the chance to become the elementary librarian happened.
“I wanted a master’s degree,” Perkins said. She originally wanted to get into administration but had second thoughts.
“I went to the library when Mrs. Mashburn retired,” Perkins said. “I had gotten my master’s in library science.”
When Perkins left Carlisle, she intended to teach only four more years, giving her 28 years, which is when a teacher in Arkansas can retire with full benefits.
“The year that I would have retired, oil prices doubled, and farming went south,” she said, as her husband and brothers operate a farm. “I felt like I didn’t have a home. Lonoke was a great place. I loved it at Lonoke Primary School.”
At the same time, Perkins said, there is nothing like being at home in Carlisle.
“My children and my husband, David, were all Bison,” she said. “I wanted them in the sports they participated. My husband was a good athlete. To see the Bison spirit n the town, that’s a special thing. I am happy that I got to come back and finish here.”
At the same time, Perkins said, she doesn’t want to diminish her time at Lonoke.
“I made special friendships that will last a lifetime from Lonoke,” she said. “It was a wonderful place to work with some awesome people. Working on Character Education Rallies were so much fun, and I believe it had an impact on the students.”
And finishing at Carlisle allowed her to do something she thought she’d never do — work with high school students.
“I had always been nervous or afraid to be in the high school,” Perkins said. “I didn’t know if I could handle them, but what I found out right away was that they are just bigger kids who need to know that someone is there for them and that someone cares for them.”
Perkins said that while she was growing up, she really didn’t know she wanted to be a teacher.
“But I realized that my two older sisters had an influence because Ann was already a teacher, and Karen was studying to become one, though Karen ended up in accounting when she finished her degree,” Perkins said. “Daddy also taught school a year or two.”
But once she became a teacher, Perkins knew she had made the right decision, she said.
“There is nothing like the feeling when a student who thought they could never learn to read or write realized they were reading or realized they were writing a story,” she said. “In the library, there is nothing like the feeling when a student reads almost every book you spent hours choosing, or they come in crushed because they’ve finished a series, and they didn’t want it to end.
“I am blessed to have enjoyed such an exciting and rewarding career.”
One of Perkins’ accomplishments during her teaching career was serving as cheerleader sponsor at Carlisle. She held that position for 18 years, coaching both the junior high and senior high squads at one time or another. Her Bison squads won five state championships from the Arkansas Cheer Coaches Association.
“That was a great time,” she said. “I had great support from parents. I had the kids’ respect. I had the parents’ respect. We grew the program.
“We weren’t that good when we first started out, but I had girls who wanted to be good and wanted to be better. We kept pushing through that.”
Darla Highfill Dennis, a 1990 graduate of Carlisle High School and one of Perkins’ cheerleaders for six years, said Perkins was a second mother to her and the squad.
“Obviously, Ms. Becky was a huge part of my life,” Dennis said. “She wasn’t just a sponsor. She was like a second mom to all of us. She definitely was a big part of six years of my life.”
Dennis said that when Perkins became a librarian, some of the cheerleaders would get a pass out of study hall and go to the library.
“We’d just hang out with her,” she said. “Some of it was legitimate. We had some cheerleading things that needed to be discussed or projects that needed to be done, whether it be homecoming or making run-through signs for football games. A lot of times, it was just we didn’t want to sit in study hall. So Ms. Becky was an easy out. She was definitely a big part of those years for me. You could just always count on her.”
Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.