As an elementary school teacher, Wilma Shaw Temple did things decades ago that caused former students to remember her fondly and to creatively show their appreciation amid the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
Now retired, Temple, who turned 85 last week, was celebrated on Saturday by nine of her students with a parade in front of her residence. Police-car sirens blared and shared the road with other vehicles adorned with balloons and signs signaling happy birthday.
Masks and other safety precautions against the novel COVID-19 virus were part of the day’s protocol.
“It was a blessing to see all of the students I had some kind of impact on express their feelings about me,” Temple said after the parade. ”I’m overjoyed and feel very special for that many former students to show up.”
One of the masked visitors was Michael Ingram, a bishop in the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship.
“I was sitting in Miss Wilma’s class when John F. Kennedy was assassinated (in Nov. 1963),” he said. “There was a lot of activity, people running here and there. They explained to us that it was the president of the United States who was killed.”
Ingram, 63, said Temple – his first teacher “outside the home” because he didn’t attend kindergarten – ”was the one who got me started.
“She was my foundation,” he said. “She was a sweet woman and she was a great teacher.”
Andrea Crawford was in Temple’s first-grade class at Norris Elementary School during the 1964-65 school year. Now 62, Temple said Crawford, “was a very good teacher. …I remember her being so kind, compassionate and patient.”
Crawford described herself as a “cry baby” as a child.
“She (Temple) washed my tears away and made me feel safe,” said Crawford, who went on to serve 12 years in the U.S. Army and today is a hairdresser, who also owns a travel agency.
Angie Cowan, 60, was five when she attended first grade under Temple in 1965. She remembers Temple filling in for another first grade teacher who was on maternity leave.
“She was nice, she was not loud, she wasn’t mean,” said Cowan, who now is an investigative specialist for Adult Protective Services for the state of Tennessee.
Temple’s soft-spoken character also still resonates with Linda Earl, who offered some light-hearted deductive reasoning about Temple’s effectiveness as a teacher.
“My child was a straight-A student, so I must have learned something from somebody,” Earl said with a laugh.
Daphne Truitt, the administrative director of nursing at Methodist Hospital Germantown, was in the first grade at Norris Elementary in 1970.
“I truly looked up to her because she cared about the students and she instilled confidence in our young minds,” Truitt said.”She encouraged us to dream big about our future.”
Truitt said Temple would have her students come to her house for a party when they did particularly well on a task.
Temple had no crystal ball to tell her the destiny of children in the first grade. She simply was wed to the idea of putting forth her best effort for each student.
“I had no idea, just doing my job as best I could,” she said. “I always wanted to be a teacher from when I was a little girl.”