“I walked into my fifth grade classroom at Lingleville and standing up front was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen in my life! I was 10 years old and I fell helplessly in love.” - Richard Lucas
That's the most vivid memory Lingleville resident Richard Lucas has of his teacher so long ago.
“We called her Miss Opal and I have been in love with her ever since," Lucas said. "She must have been not more than 18. She was always ‘the lady’, sweet, caring. She has had a profound influence on my life and actually her teachings have been the very basics of my education.”
Opal Gazaway was born Aug. 14, 1912 on the Ogles’ farm at Pigeon, Texas. Pigeon, (at first it was called Union) was one of the dozen or more settlements in Erath County that existed and thrived briefly only to fade into the mesquites and cedars as Stephenville, Dublin and other small towns smothered their businesses and attracted more of the population. For just a little while the one and two-room wooden school buildings were filled with girls in gingham and boys in knee pants whose parents sought to make a living by walking behind plows pulled by sweaty mules. Pigeon stood at the intersection of two narrow dirt roads that are now paved and named Farm Roads 3025 and 2303 (Pigeon Road).
“We had a school, a gin, grocery store, church, barber shop, and maybe other businesses that I can’t remember,” Miss Opal said.
The prim little lady speaking was dressed in a pink blouse and coordinating pants, and she sat relaxed in the living room of her house in Stephenville. She shares her house with her daughter, Anita Dennis. It is hard to believe Miss Opal, the pretty young schoolteacher, the farmer’s wife that loved driving a tractor, will be 100 years old this week.
“I grew up there and Thurman (Carter) grew up on the next farm. We went to school together at Pigeon and were married March 3, 1934. We shared 32 years together before he died of a heart attack. We had one child,” she said .
Miss Opal smiled across the room at her daughter, Anita Dennis, who lives with her mother and takes care of her since her own husband died. Before that, Opal married Clifford Brummett in 1970. They were married four years before he passed away.
Opal Gazaway graduated Stephenville High School in the spring of 1929 and enrolled in Tarleton Junior College in the fall.
"This was in the days when we all wore uniforms,” she said. “After one year of college instruction, I was granted my teaching certificate and I went to work at something I loved. I began my teaching career at the school where my education had begun, Pigeon. I was there three years, then Lingleville two years followed by Huckabay two years and finishing at Oak Dale in 50-’51. The school at Oak Dale closed after that year and students went to Huckabay.”
Monty Stewart of Hannibal remembers Miss Opal as a classroom teacher at Huckabay.
“That was one teacher that never raised her voice to us. She had such a calm, soothing nature that we just behaved when she was around. She was beautiful and she was kind. That’s a sure-fire combination in the classroom. She was just the best of the best and inspired us to learn,” he remembered.
Laquita Elston didn’t have Miss Opal as a teacher but she and her cousins, Linda Pack and Rudene Pack, used to ride the bus to her house. “We’d stay and play, she’d cook supper for us and we’d spend the night. I remember that there were no indoor bathrooms in those days and Miss Opal would bring out a chamber pot and put it under our bed. She was always such a lady that we loved being with her.”
Anita showed a picture of the school bus that picked children up and carried them to school. Sometimes the teacher also rode the bus.
Monty said the bus had no power steering in those days and hardly any brakes.
“There was a narrow wooden bench along each side for us to sit on and sometimes it was a really rough ride over all those unpaved roads. Sometimes we got stuck,” he said.
Miss Opal had to laugh remembering a day when there had been a long rainy spell and the roads on the way to Lingleville were really slick.
“We slid off in the ditch,” she said. “Jack Beyers was just a youngster on that bus but it wasn’t too far from his house so he got off, walked home hitched up a pair of horses to their wagon and came back for us. The horses pulled the bus out of the ditch and then he took us all home in that wagon.”
Besides teaching in public school, Opal worked in the Stephenville Public Library for four years beginning in 1969. After that she was a “sitter” at the foster home. When Emily Lilljedahl who was the child of the family she “sat” for was married a few years ago, she asked Opal to be maid of honor.
Opal has been a faithful member and attendee of the Church of Christ since she was baptized in 1922 at 10 years old. “Brother T.H. Bass baptized me in Jim McAdams tank,” she remembered. “My cousins, Hazel and Alene Bills were baptized too.”
Opal is a regular member of the Graham Street Church in Stephenville and members are planning a birthday party for her on Saturday, Aug. 11. Friends want to honor a lady on her 100th birthday but this is more than that. It is a special time when old friends can come together and remember and hold especially dear the wonderful influence that “Miss Opal” has been in their lives.