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Chalfant shares fond memories of Concord

With lovely penmanship and a storyteller voice 94-yearold Jessie Mae Lilly Chalfant recently penned a delightful letter to the Concord University Office of Advancement. The correspondence was an R.S.V.P. for a University event filled with Mrs. Chalfant’s personal memories of college and career.

After graduating from high school in 1933, Jessie Mae attended Concord and began teaching in 1935 at just 20 years of age.

Dancing through the lines of her handwritten note are images of a determined young woman with aspirations of becoming a teacher. Jessie Mae recounts how getting to her college classes was an adventure in itself, a daily journey over Mercer County’s mountainous country roads in all kinds of West Virginia weather. Finding time for homework was another challenge. Her love of teaching shines through as she tells of her early years as an elementary school teacher in the coal camps of neighboring McDowell County. Praise and admiration for her alma mater are evident as she speaks of participating in commencement ceremonies at Concord.

Her letter follows: “My brother, Stanley Lilly, and I were both students at Concord. We were living at Camp Creek, WV, and drove from there to Athens. We also picked up two more students along the way. At that time, Concord offered a Standard Normal Degree, which enabled a student to teach in Elementary School. I proudly wore a cap and gown, and received my diploma. In the winter, we left home before daylight, and returned after dark, which meant ‘burning the midnight oil’ to study.

“I taught fourth grade in the small coal camp of Premier, WV. My ‘homeroom’ was fourth grade, but I also taught English in fifth grade, and geography in sixth. After I was married I taught third grade in another ‘camp’ called Mohegan. The children were so well behaved it made teaching a pleasure. My brother went on to receive an A.B. degree and taught Chemistry and Physics at Gary High School. Our area is fortunate to have Concord University in our midst.”

In a later telephone conversation, Mrs. Chalfant shared more of her story. More than 75 years beyond her Concord days, the excitement and determination still shine through. And, so does the impact of the daily commute from Camp Creek to Athens and back. “It was a tough way of getting an education. It was rough in the winter. We had to stay up late to do our homework,” she said. “When we had to leave home in the wintertime, it wasn’t even daylight.  It was almost bedtime when we got home. That didn’t leave you a lot of time to study.”

But in the long run, she readily agrees, all the effort was worth it. “I wouldn’t take anything for those days,” she said. “I’m so glad I did it.” She was rewarded by being surrounded by a classroom full of youngsters. “They were the nicest, sweetest little children,” she recalls.

Mrs. Chalfant has fond recollections of the “Campus Beautiful” in the 1930s. “It was a pretty campus, so much smaller than compared to Concord now,” she said. “About a year ago we drove all around the campus,” she said of a return visit to her alma mater.

Mrs. Chalfant and her late husband, John Chalfant, were married for 60 years. She has two daughters, four granddaughters, eight great-grandchildren, and four step great-grandchildren. After 94 years in the mountains, Mrs. Chalfant recently moved from Princeton to be near her daughter, Mary Lynne Huggins, in Charlotte, NC. She continues to share her gift of letter writing with friends and family from her new home.

Created on Oct 28, 2013. Report incorrect information.