Longtime F.J. DeLaine employees reflect on careers

'Family' atmosphere made school special, duo says

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 6/3/18

WEDGEFIELD - F.J. DeLaine Elementary School's Willie Jenkins and Gloria Anderson share many things in common. The duo are the longest continuous-serving employees at the small school that will officially close at week's end as part of a …

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Longtime F.J. DeLaine employees reflect on careers

'Family' atmosphere made school special, duo says

Posted

WEDGEFIELD - F.J. DeLaine Elementary School's Willie Jenkins and Gloria Anderson share many things in common. The duo are the longest continuous-serving employees at the small school that will officially close at week's end as part of a consolidation effort by Sumter School District.

Jenkins has been at F.J. DeLaine for 25 years - dating back to 1993 - as the school's head custodian, while Anderson has served as a paraprofessional teacher for 24 years.

Like most students and other staff at DeLaine, Anderson will move to nearby Cherryvale Elementary School - located three miles away - next year as part of a combined pre-K through fifth-grade elementary school. Jenkins will move to Oakland Primary School near Shaw Air Force Base and hold a similar position.

Both said they loved and enjoyed their careers at the school and that because of the close "family" atmosphere at DeLaine, they never had a desire to leave for another opportunity.

Their favorite memories relate to staff and the kids.

"It's the good times and the people I worked with over here," Jenkins said. "There were a good many teachers that came through here and moved on. It was real, and we all got along well."

Anderson said her favorite memory was working for 10 years with the kindergarten classes under teacher Beth Guess. She said Guess was an outstanding teacher and that she learned a lot from her.

Both also take a lot of pride in working hard and helping children.

Even though he and his assistant maintained both the inside and outside of the school, Jenkins said his favorite part of the job was being outside and cutting the grass on the grounds.

He said he takes pride in the fact that in his first years at DeLaine, he got the school up to par, and "it was one of the cleanest schools that anyone would walk into."

Anderson said she will miss the children the most, even though most of them will be going to Cherryvale.

She said her parents and her sisters inspired her the most while she was growing up to get an education and do her best.

"My mom always inspired us to get an education and then enjoy your job," Anderson said.

Then, she got the opportunity to join the school district and the DeLaine staff and never looked back, even though she lives in Mayesville and has about a 30-minute commute to DeLaine.

"I could have moved to another school, but it was more family oriented here," Anderson said. "I was happy and content here."

In their early years with the school in the 1990s, both estimated DeLaine had about 500 students. A series of rezonings in the mid- to late 2000s and an open enrollment system - which allows parents to move their children to other district schools as long as they will provide their own transportation - contributed to the loss in enrollment over time, they said.

This school year, DeLaine's enrollment for kindergarten through fifth grade was 110 students, according to district data.

History of F.J. DeLaine Elementary

In 1911, the property on Cane Savannah Road in Wedgefield - where F.J. DeLaine Elementary sits - originally opened as a Rosenwald School, built for the education of black children in Sumter County.

Mr. Frank James DeLaine was a teacher/principal at the neighborhood school, which was originally known as Reese Chapel School, according to oral history. Later, the school became known as St. Michael School and was associated with St. Michael A.M.E. Church next door.

Upon completion of a new public elementary school by a former Sumter school district in 1959 on the lot, the St. Michael School building was removed, and its site became a playground. The new school was named after DeLaine, who dedicated more than 50 years of his life to educating children in the area.