2008-10-24 / Life

Remarkable Lampasans

Early-day teacher still leading by example
Bobbye Alexander Behlau

Wannah Taylor is shown with two of her former students, Kelly Whitis, left, and Lyndon Walker in her classroom in 1967. Before I introduce my Remarkable Lampasan, I would like to make a confession. Someone asked me why I write this column, and I must say I do it for me -- to help me get through the problems of aging. It isn't easy to see your body deteriorate and skills diminish. Of course, my religious beliefs and the promise of eternal life help, but I find myself needing some positive examples of individuals who seem to live happily unto death.

So far I have written about 16 remarkable people. When I feel low, it helps me to reread these. Now let me tell you about another individual.

My remarkable Lampasan this month is 97-year-old Wannah Taylor, who still manages her attractive house and yard and participates in church and community activities.

I have always felt a special fondness for Wannah because she was my Aunt Lois' housemate in college. All my life I have heard of their escapades while attending Southwest Texas State Teachers College.

Wannah was born Sept. 16, 1911, into a pioneer Texas family. In fact, the town of Lampasas was once named Burleson for her father's maternal ancestors who settled in Lampasas County in 1852.

Her parents were Edgar Burleson McCrea and Hazel Cornelia McCrea. She was the eldest of four children which included Deana (later Briggs), Betty (later Perkins), and Edwin.

After living for one year at Roby, Texas, where Wannah was born, the McCreas moved north of Lampasas to the McCreaville Community where she attended a one-room school. Later she lived with an aunt and attended school in Lampasas.

Wannah said she is grateful for parents who taught her first to get along with her brother and sisters, then to respect the rules of their household and the community. They also taught her to value money, and gave her spiritual guidance and insisted on church attendance.

Wannah's childhood memories include riding a horse or walking the half-mile to the mailbox every day to see if there was a letter from an uncle serving overseas in World War I. She also remembers going to McCreaville Methodist Church to knit socks, scarves and gloves for the soldiers -- a frustrating experience for so young a girl.

Wannah Taylor displays a portrait of her with a former student. Other reminiscences are of camping on the Colorado River during family reunions and train trips to New Mexico to visit relatives. She also recalls going with her grandmother in a buggy to attend the circus in Lampasas.

Wannah must have decided to become a teacher at an early age when devoted teachers, such as Nan Casbeer and Ollie Lloyd, made learning so much fun. She remembers Miss Casbeer once took her "spooking" on Halloween -- a real treat to be singled out by a teacher, but Miss Casbeer was like that, always doing special things for her students.

Wannah graduated from Lampasas High School in 1929, and she enrolled in Southwest Texas State Teachers' College in the fall. She attended there for a year until she got her teaching certificate.

There, she met her future husband, who liked to tell that he and Lyndon Baines Johnson did furniture refinishing to help with their college expenses.

She came back to Lampasas County and taught at Lynches Creek, a one-room school between Nix and Bend. The county had 32 schools at the time, with County Judge John Higgins acting as superintendent.

At Lynches Creek School, no water or restrooms were available. Water had to be carried in a bucket from a neighbor's, and the children used the woods as restrooms. Boys were assigned on one side of the school; girls on the other. The children were required to bring a Big Chief tablet, one pencil and six crayons on the first day of school and had to take them home each weekend because a church met there on Sundays.

Wannah taught eight grades, utilizing the older students to help with the younger. There was no playground equipment, so during recess students played games such as Red Rover, Anti-Over, Flying Dutchman, Pop the Whip, Standing Sticks and Jacks. She remembers that during freezing weather the children would slide on the ice in the nearby creek and called it "skating." She doesn't recall any broken bones.

For the holidays, students decorated the school room with cedar, red berries, colored leaves, burrs and other findings from nature. Wannah thought the schoolhouse more attractive than now with all the store-bought decorations available. Also, the natural items provided more opportunities for art projects.

When lunchtime came, students took out their buckets and ate biscuits with meats of venison or pork or sometimes smeared with peanut butter. Apples were a rarity and much appreciated.

Wannah's second year of teaching was at Mt. Pleasant School, a three-room building between Kempner and Lampasas. She really felt she had moved into the "big time" because she only had to teach three grades. At one point she was appointed principal but still taught three grades along with her administrative duties. This school even competed with surrounding schools in basketball, baseball, volleyball and tennis.

Wannah still hears from one of her Mt. Pleasant students -- 84- year-old Larry Bradley, a retired engineer who calls her from Minnesota. He was her only student who could say the alphabet both frontward and backward when he entered school.

Then on March 4, 1932, she married her college friend, William Henry Taylor, at the Lake Victor Baptist Church. The Revs. George Brown and Carl Schlomach officiated; a few friends were present. Wannah remembers she wore a new blue dress with beads on the bodice and that it poured down rain on their wedding day -- a good omen in Texas.

The newlyweds lived in Burnet County and taught at the Oatmeal and Mt. Blanc schools for seven years, right in the height of the Great Depression. Sometimes there was no money to pay teachers, so the school district issued scrip which some merchants would accept.

Clothes were made from feed sacks, and younger children rarely got new clothes because families used the hand-me-downs from older siblings. Every family had a garden, and store owners sometimes would accept their produce for payment of merchandise.

A big boon for the young couple cane when Wannah's husband got to work building Buchanan Dam during the summer months. There the workers were paid real money.

In 1938, son Glynn Dwayne was born; in 1945 came daughter Sylvia Ann (now Eddy). Both live in the Lampasas area and help Wannah with housekeeping tasks and transportation.

In 1942, just as their financial situation was easing, the country entered World War II after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Her husband wasn't inducted into military service because of a neck injury sustained when he played football for a Marble Falls team, but their lives changed anyway.

They, along with other teachers, dispensed ration books on Saturdays. Commodities such as sugar, gasoline and tires were rationed. Wannah remembers the gold stars in the windows of families with military men and women, and the fierce pride and patriotism everyone felt for their country.

During the Taylors' teaching careers, they also served at Yancy and Eola. While her husband was superintendent at those locations, Wannah devoted herself to the elementary age students. In both places, their housing was furnished. She remembers that although her monthly salary was about $85, they managed to buy some furniture and made the "teacherage" where they lived quite attractive.

One Eola student who stands out in Wannah's mind is Elaine Wyatt, whom she suspected of having a vision problem. She persisted until Elaine's mother found a doctor who could diagnose and correct the problem.

One of Wannah's proudest possessions is a portrait Elaine -- who later became a well-known artist -- did of Wannah.

Wannah and her family moved to Lampasas in 1953. Their lives were filled with family, school, church and community activities. Jamie Briggs, Wannah's nephew, remembers that she added to the family Christmas fun when she dressed in a red suit and played Santa.

Field trips were her "thing." Wannah took her classes on train trips, to zoos, to local businesses and later to airports. On one trip to the Klose farm near Lampasas, a chicken laid an egg in a student's hand. Wannah said she can't remember ever having a more astonished student.

Both Taylors continued their education at the University of Texas, Southwest Texas State University and Howard Payne College. Wannah got her bachelor of science degree in 1948 from Southwest Texas, where she first began 19 years before.

In Lampasas, she and W.H. were Scout leaders, sometimes taking the boys on weekend outings. They also took children into their home when parents were not able to care for them or when housing was needed for them to continue their education. Wannah recalls that as one of the happiest times in her life.

She is proud to be a charter member of the Lampasas Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, a national honor society for women educators. (It probably was through their influence that I secured a principal's position and became one of the early women principals in Northside school district in San Antonio).

Wannah retired in 1976, after 46 years of teaching. She still recommends the profession, knowing it is not the highest salaried but because the rewards last a lifetime. She said there is no greater thrill than seeing a child's eyes light up when he realizes he can read, and knowing she has played an important role in that achievement.

She also finds it gratifying when former students stop her in stores to visit, to report how their lives are going and to give her credit for their successes.

After the Taylors' retirement, they enjoyed traveling to many states, in Canada and in Mexico. One of her favorite trips was through the Canadian Rockies and staying in Vancouver.

After her husband's death in 1980, Wannah has stayed busy enjoying her home, the company of family and friends, and gardening. A visitor rarely leaves without a plant or food, fresh from her oven. She still attends Delta Kappa Gamma meetings, the Retired Teachers Association events and those of the Methodist church.

She has traveled with her friend, Jewell Lawrence, but says her traveling days are over. Wannah is content to stay home but looks forward to the visits of her two children, five grandchildren and 11 greatgrandchildren.

Lessons I learned from Wannah that will help me to contend with my advancing years: build strong relationships with your family, for they are the people who will be around most when you are aged; contribute to the community so you will have positive memories of many people and events; try to remain cheerful despite adverse happenings; and continue to be interested in local and national events. Wannah still reads the local, the Burnet and the Temple newspapers to keep up with what's going on.

I'll try to remember Wannah in her peaceful home and garden when old age and its limitations begin to depress me. And I'll remember that it's not a time for sissies, which Wannah isn't. She's a remarkably stalwart lady who makes the best of each day.

Bobbye Alexander Behlau was born in Lampasas and graduated from LHS in 1946. After living in San Antonio for 50 years where she was an elementary school principal, she and her husband, Joe, have retired in Lampasas.

She is a descendent of the Alexanders and Davises who settled here in the 1800s. She can be reached at 556-4076 or at beh1323@earthcom.net.

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