By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKRK — The First Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall was filled with love and laughter Sunday afternoon, July 2, as friends and loved ones met to celebrate the 101st birthday of church member Dena Hull. Thirty-nine years ago, she retired from a career as an educator, a job she was passionate about, and even after hitting the century mark, she still recalls fondly the years she spent in the classroom.
Hull was born July 22, 1918 to Arthur and Vada Fletcher in Fox, Okla. Arthur worked in the oilfield and Vada kept the farm running, and together they had four children: Hull, David Arthur, Hazel Unita and Patsy Lawana.
She finished high school in Fox in 1935, and married her husband, William “Chick” Hull in March 1938, only a matter of months before they started their first teaching assignment that July, in Simeoun Okla. They were there for only one school year, but would be the start to a long career.
Hull turned to teaching not as much for a passion, but for a lack of options for women at that time.
“The only things for a lady to do was to teach, or be a nurse,” she said.
The young couple’s first school was a two-room school, and conditions were primitive by modern standards. There was no electricity, so all lighting was provided by oil lamps, and water was pumped from a well outside.
“One of the children would pump the water, and it would go through a long tube with holes in it, and the water would come through the holes, and the children would drink while the other was pumping,” she said.
During her first year as an educator, she mostly filled in as needed as an aide, but at later schools, she taught everything from elementary classes to junior high and high school English. These other schools also would have utilities, she said, all located in Southern Oklahoma, including in Love and Carter counties.
The education system was greatly different in that era. For one, there were more schools, as there were more towns and a larger rural population
“About every four miles, there was a community, and the community had its own school,” she said.
Modern school systems have a bus transportation system to pick up students outside the community, but during the Great Depression, the students many times would walk, or ride horses. They also didn’t have a school lunch program, as modern schools do, but that doesn’t mean the students went hungry.
“We had an oil stove in (Chick’s) room, and he would cook food for the children,” she said. “He would stir the food as he taught.”
Her son, Mike Hull, added, “There wasn’t school (lunch) programs, but the schools, since they were not-for-profit, they could buy food, like rice and beans.”
Christmas was a special time for all the rural schools. There would be a traditional program, much as many schools still do today, and all families would receive gifts.
“Every school for Christmas, had a pie supper, to furnish money for treats on Christmas,” she said. “Every family received a bag of candy and fruits and nuts for the children. Every family member was counted, and we always had a big play at Christmas.”
There were many ways where being an educator in generations past was better than today, especially for classroom discipline.
“Back in those days, it was easier to teach, because the children’s home life was different than it is today,” she said.
The Hulls had children of their own, Mike Hull and Royce (Hull) Pendergrast, both of whom would provide them with numerous grandchildren.
Hull eventually retired in 1980, and ended her career abruptly, never stepping foot in a classroom again as an educator.
“My husband taught for more years after I did. Even when he needed a sub, I told him, when I quit, I quit, even though I loved it,” she said.
Retirement was still filled with activity. In addition to time spent devoted to reading and watching television, she continued to spend time with friends, as well as her children and grandchildren.
Her life has been long, but she is proud of it, and her career, and remembers about it even after decades of retirement.
“I love it, but after I quit, I had grandchildren to love and nourish,” she said.