There is no higher calling than helping young people find their way because you care about them and their futures. There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the good of young people is the highest creed. Reward follows service.
Kathleen Cleaveland gave most of her adult life to her students at Hendersonville High School and she served them extremely well. There are many of her former students who will testify to the fact that she gave generously of her talents to all who came her way. Making an impression follows making a difference. Without question, Kathleen Cleaveland made a difference in the lives of so many young people. I know because I was one of them who benefited greatly from her caring.
What a legacy! Life and work together are a journey, not a destination. She taught students that you earn what you get out of life and that you do not benefit from looking for the easy way out. An education is earned; it is not a gratuity.
I was privileged to know Kathleen Cleaveland better than most of her students knew her. She took a special interest in me, and I am very thankful that she did. I became a pretty good typist and was not too shabby at shorthand as a result of being in her classes. Bookkeeping was a different story. I needed the bookkeeping credit to graduate from high school. She kept me after class to tell me that she would pass me in bookkeeping if I promised never to try to keep anyone’s books. I have kept that promise to this day!
She had no relatives other than a cousin who lived with her on Main Street next door to the Waverly Boarding House where she had lived for years before buying the modest house next door to the Waverly. When her cousin died, she sold the house and was planning to move to a senior-citizens’ living facility in the area. About that time she fell and broke a hip. Having done so meant she would be forced sooner or later to move into an assisted living facility. She suffered terribly from arthritis and wore oversized nurses shoes all of the time to ease the pain in her feet. She took a lot of Bayer aspirin. I recall an oversized bottle of Bayer aspirin that was always in a handy place for her use. This was about the only relief available during her time.
I had just accepted the position as head of the chamber of commerce in Jacksonville, Florida, and was making plans to move there. Miss Cleaveland had retired from teaching sometime before her fall that resulted in the broken hip. I was visiting her at her new home and quickly decided that she was somewhat depressed and really did not want to be where she was. Probably on a whim or an effort to brighten her day a bit, I said to her, “Why don’t you come to Jacksonville with me,” not thinking in my wildest imagination that she would take me up on it. Well, she did take me up on the offer. We set about the job of looking for an assisted-living facility in Jacksonville that would take her on short notice. This was 1964, and there were not many assisted-living facilities anywhere.
While living in Jacksonville, she almost died a couple of times. On one occasion, she was in the hospital and in a bed in the hallway. She was not in a room. I kept asking the doctor, nurses, and anyone who would listen to me when they were going to get Miss Cleaveland a room. The doctor finally took me off to the side and told me that my friend did not have long to live and that they were not going to put her in a room. This upset me to the point that I grabbed the doctor, shook him hard and told him that she was going to live and I expected him to get a room for her right now. In just a few minutes after our confrontation he did exactly that – he got her a room. She lived another twelve years afterwards.
One experience we had at the assisted-living facility in Jacksonville is one for the books and certainly one that I have never forgotten. I had taken my daughter and three sons to visit Miss Cleaveland since it always pepped her up to see my children. She had never been married. During our visit, two of my sons became restless as very young boys will do, so I took them down the hall. My son, John, who was more curious about things than most boys, spied a fire red contraption which was affixed to the wall in the hall and which had a fairly long handle on it. John looked up at it and asked what it was while pulling the handle at the same time. He had immediately set off the fire alarm. As a result, several fire trucks with sirens going full blast arrived at the facility in minutes. One can imagine how red-faced I was telling the firemen that my son had set the alarm off.
When I moved to Memphis in the fall of 1968 to become president of its chamber of commerce, it was understood that Miss Cleaveland was going with us, so before moving, I started working on finding her a suitable place to live there. We were fortunate in that one of the chamber’s board members owned an assisted-living home within walking distance of the neighborhood in which my family and I were to live. We contracted for space for her there. Miss Cleaveland liked her new surroundings very much. Several afternoons a week after school, my daughter, Ann, would go to the nursing home and read to our friend. She was very appreciative of what Ann did for her. Occasionally, we had her in our home. From time to time, we would take her for a ride in the country.
A year or so later, Miss Cleaveland became concerned that she might be slipping into senility or that she had mild dementia as it is referred to today. She came up with the bright idea of teaching herself Spanish so as to avoid senility. I purchased Spanish books for her and we would test her every now and then to determine if she was learning the language. She was a good student and made good progress.
Either being pulled in her bed by a nurse or facility worker or maybe falling again, she re-broke the hip that was fractured in Hendersonville. She did not do too well after that and died in September 1972. We took her remains back to Jacksonville, her birthplace, for burial.
Kathleen Douglas Cleaveland was born January 13, 1893. She was a graduate of Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee, did graduate work at San Diego State College, and taught at Rider College. Her first pay at Hendersonville High School was $150 per month. In 2010 I had the privilege of proposing her for membership in the HHS Hall of Fame. She was elected by acclamation.
A lion’s share of the credit for anything I have accomplished in my lifetime belongs to her. She was one of the very best and most loyal friends I have ever had. Kathleen Cleaveland was my favorite school teacher.