A couple of weeks ago I posted a picture of a young man with a team of mules and promised more details to come. Today I want to deliver on that promise and tell you a little about Mr. Elbert Hall whose ambition and perseverance could inspire us all.
Many readers will remember Mr. Hall as a school teacher in both the elementary and high schools at Clarkrange as well as the surrounding communities’ elementary schools. As with most men of his generation, there is so very much more to this man.
He was born in Roslin, one of four boys, and grew up on the typical subsistence farm that we are so familiar with on the mountain. He says they lived in Roslin, “Until we were old enough to work for ourselves.” That very beginning seems novel through our twenty-first century eyes. These families were raising men and those young men accepted both the challenge and the responsibility for their own future. He and his brothers attended the Roslin Elementary School until it closed for lack of a teacher. The family was unable to send all four boys to school and the elder two sacrificed their own education to provide for Elbert and Jack. So, when many students would have taken the hard winter months off, Elbert and Jack Hall rode horses four miles to Longbranch School; that allowed Elbert to get an eighth grade diploma which would be the sum total of most educations at the time.
In fact, this young man set off as so many others did with eighth grade diploma in hand, to find work. He went to Toledo, Ohio, however, after just four months he knew that was not where he wanted to stay and he came home with the intent of going to high school. Now, the Halls’ home in Roslin is just about ten miles from the site of the old Clarkrange High School, but without buses and certainly without a family car and fuel to deliver a child to school each morning, Mr. Hall had to find a place to stay closer to the school. He found that right on the corner of what is now Highway 127 and Highway 62 with the Irvin Peters family.
Mr. Peters agreed to keep this student for the price of farm work. It was a good deal for all that Elbert Hall had to bargain with was his own two hands. He cared for the Peters’ livestock and did general chores on the farm in exchange for a room and board - and he saw this as his “chance”. His ambition didn’t end when he secured a means to finish his high school education. When he was sixteen, he worked for his brother and made a crop as well as hauling cross ties and lumber during that same year. The following year, he bought his own team of mules and a wagon and took a logging job. He notes that public school lasted only six months per year so that allowed him a good opportunity to work the other half of the year. The picture we have is of that team of mules and what a proud young man he must have been for he had truly accomplished something in owning them.
With four years of high school completed and another diploma in hand, Mr. Hall set his sights on further education and went to Murfreesboro to attend Middle Tennessee State University in 1933. After four quarters he was eligible for a teaching position. He returned home to serve the next thirty-three years as a teacher in both the high school as well as seven area elementary schools.
In 1939 Mr. Hall bought a farm which he would operate the entire time he was teaching, and beyond. He would serve as a county commissioner, secretary and treasurer of his local church and member of three Masonic branch lodges. All of these titles speak to the man’s dedication to his community as well as a willingness to continually work hard. I wish I could ask him when he was inspired to teach, but even without his input, it doesn’t seem hard to imagine that with a limited number of role models, he had to have understood the power teachers have to inspire the children.
The beginning of this story is all too common among our people – born to an impoverished community, raised to hard work and expected to make it on-your-own from an early age. He would have been every bit as respectable if he’d stayed in a factory in Toledo without a high school education. His family would have loved him just as much if he’d continued driving a team delivering logs and cross ties. But he caught sight of a dream, he simply refused to accept mediocrity and he was willing to work as hard as necessary to overcome it. He did not receive a large inheritance, nor was he given any unique opportunities. He sought out his own prospects and when he was given a chance he did not squander it.
That is an inspiration to me today, over one hundred years since his birth. I wonder if any of his students in the 1940’s and 1950’s were able to understand what this man had gone through in order to stand before them and teach? And again I stress that his story is not unique. Most of the teachers of that era came to the classroom through similar adversity, in fact the doctors and businessmen of the day also tread comparable paths to success. Tom Brokaw called the World War II generation “The Greatest Generation” and Elbert Hall seems a perfect example of what made them great and what we ought to remember about that generation to continue an American legacy of greatness.