Saxon has dedicated life to West End students

Published 8:01 am Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A pair of dusty chalkboards, donated by the Chilton County Board of Education years ago, are still cemented to the walls of Gussie Saxon’s garage.

Gussie Saxon has worked with countless students from the West End community.

Though she has been retired from teaching for 24 years, there was a time Saxon put those chalkboards to good use — tutoring and mentoring students from West End during the summer and after school.

For most of her life, Saxon has dedicated her time and made it her personal duty to make sure the children of her community received a good education.

“I made a vow with God that if I could get my degree, then I would give it back,” said Saxon. “And teaching was the only way I could think of returning it to him.”

Before integration, Saxon began her career substituting at the City School, which became West End Elementary School. After integration, she was sent to Thorsby High School, where she taught for 22 years.

“I truly love teaching, especially first grade because back then they didn’t have technology,” said Saxon. “The first grade teacher was the television. It was something about when they came into class with blank minds … and they learned to write, read and do math — that was most gratifying.”

Common during that time period, Saxon dealt with discrimination and adversity. Being black and being an educator did not alleviate the situation, but she did not let anything stop her from doing her job.

“I had to swallow a lot, but when I stood up and told them, they knew I wasn’t a toy,” said Saxon. “I had to be a role model for the black kids, and it’s about equality and being respectful.”

Saxon is viewed as a pillar in her community and is known for her numerous acts of kindness, but perhaps her biggest impact on children’s lives was her free six-week summer school program.

For nine years, Saxon taught preschool through eighth grade in her garage for absolutely no charge.

“She would open her home in the summer and teach students for free,” said Greg DeJarnett, principal at Chilton County High School and a Clanton city councilman. “She’s been a resourceful woman to the people of West End and has been a good example to young people through the years of what one person can do in their community.”

Her summer school made such a big difference that the Chilton County BOE allowed her to get books from schools for different grade levels and donated chalkboards, tables and chairs.

“The superintendent during that time period was most helpful in this effort,” said Saxon. “I just wanted to give the children who were having problems that I could help a chance, and I enjoyed it – I truly enjoyed it.”

One of many examples of her successful teaching occurred after she retired. Saxon was asked to tutor two boys from Clanton Elementary that were not achieving, she said.

An administrator called her and asked her if she would work with the two students, and she said yes. At the end of the six weeks, the boys had progressed from ‘F’ students to ‘B’ students.

Some of Saxon’s former students or their parents stop by her home and visit her at various times, she said.

“Somebody is here every day to check on me and bring me stuff,” said Saxon. “Even Clara’s Café brings me dinner every week. Blacks and whites come to see me and check on me, and I appreciate that.”

Saxon, who is 90, retired from education in 1986. She is the founder of the West End Neighborhood Watch group, is active in her church and has received numerous honors, awards and recognition for her accomplishments.

Saxon founded the neighborhood watch in 1991 because young people kept breaking into older people’s homes, so she went to the City Council about it, she said.

Now, Clanton Police Chief Brian Stilwell, Clanton Fire Chief David Driver and other group members assemble once a month in Saxon’s living room for the neighborhood watch meetings.

“I would describe Saxon as an even-tempered, very likeable person who is easy to get along with,” said Jessie Binion, Neighborhood Watch secretary. “She is just a good stable person in the community and in the church.”

Saxon holds numerous positions in the church. She serves as a Sunday School teacher, steward and trustee. She has held numerous programs in the church to help raise money for the community.

“Saxon’s personality is one of assertiveness, a take-charge type of person and a compassionate individual,” said DeJarnett. “As a representative and a city councilman, I would like to thank her for all that she has accomplished and for all the things she has done to help me as a councilman.”

Editor’s note: This story is included in The Clanton Advertiser’s special publication, Progress 2011. The annual section was inserted into the newspaper the weekend of Sunday, Feb. 27. Copies are still available at The Clanton Advertiser office.