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Knocking a few back in honor of a favorite teacher - and all teachers.

The conversation, like so many of mine do, started out being about wine.

I was telling my friend, Julie Rainbow, about a really good and cheap wine I’d discovered at Trader Joe's named Big Churn.

“I had this wonderful teacher named “Churn,” she said wistfully. Despite trying mightily, she couldn’t recall her first name.


"Was it Peggy?'” I asked.

It was. We both had met her - 35 years apart - and we both agreed that she was one of the best human beings we'd ever met.

Rainbow, a social worker and grief therapist now living in Philadelphia, spent the next 30 minutes on the phone gushing about Mrs. Churn, the first white teacher she’d had after Raleigh schools integrated.


“I was one of two Black students in my class” at formerly all-Black Lucille Hunter Elementary School in 1971, she recalled. “The other was a boy named Clarence. We’d been in the same classes since first grade, and we didn’t like each other.”


None of the other students liked either of them, she said.


“As an awkwardly tall, talkative Black girl, I felt damned… I was teased for my curly hair and brown skin, and was often ignored when I tried to join in conversations,” she said as we talked and in notes I asked her to write about her experience.

“Mrs. Churn was the one redeeming thing about that 6th grade experience. She was unforgettable… an excellent teacher who made the most difficult subjects comprehensible,” she said.

“She also approached difficult topics with the nimbleness of a diplomat. Mrs. Churn did not need the prodding of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion protocols to address prejudices or acknowledge the value of those who were different. Not only did she validate me, she made me feel special.

“Looking back,” she said, “it appears that she felt my pain as she observed how I was being treated by my classmates. She did not have on blinders or tell me that I was being too sensitive.”

I'd planned to save this story for National Teachers Appreciation Week in May, but any time is a good time to appreciate and extol teachers. (Besides, I might print it then, too.)

Peggy Barfield Churn, a teacher who left a lasting positive imprint on one student following integration of Raleigh's public schools - and on The Saunders Report.



Rainbow, 62, said that while visiting her family home in Raleigh recently, she found – on a bookshelf tucked between two books – public school report cards that her parents had kept.

Mrs. Churn had written “She is a delightful young lady with a keen sense of humor and I thoroughly enjoy her. She seems to enjoy life and she has so much to contribute.”

“She wasn’t remiss when it came to being critical, either,” Rainbow said. “She wrote ‘She is beginning to distract her classmates by her unnecessary talking. It’s hard to make her realize that even though she can finish her work rapidly, others need more uninterrupted study time.’”



Then, it was my turn to tell Rainbow about the Peggy Churn I knew:

Several years ago, she had wanted to do something special for her husband, Bill, who was a fan of my columns.

She’d heard about a charity auction in which one of the items being bid upon was a lunch date with moi: she spent more than anyone had ever spent to spend time with me - and won - and we went to lunch not just that day, but on many others over the years.


“You know what? We should call her,” Rainbow said.


Alas, that darned internet informed us that she’d died in Feb. 2022. She was 86.

I knew we hadn’t spoken in awhile, but I chalked that up to Mrs. Churn’s fondness for traveling: we could go months without talking, then she’d call with a lunch invitation to tell me about her latest adventure.


In an obituary on her well-lived life, one reads “She loved nothing better than sitting on her front or screened porch with a ‘healthy pour’ of Big Churn Chardonnay visiting, catching up, and laughing with friends and neighbors.”


Yep, that’s the same libation that got my friend Rainbow and me talking about Peggy Churn in the first place.


Anyone who knows me knows that I’ll take any opportunity to praise memorable teachers. And good wine.

Mrs. Churn is gone, but we can still toast her memory and that of every other great teacher.

Cheers, Mrs. Churn. Cheers!


click to enlarge photo



2 Comments


Mr. Saunders, I just want you to know that you have made my entire year, sir. Peggy Churn was my mother, and I would give my soul for her to be able to read this article. 1. Teaching and public education was her life’s work - she worked until the very end for equity in public education, and she was proud of that work; and 2. She adored you so much that I am certain if you had ever run for office, she would have applied to be your campaign manager. Thank you from the bottom of my sore but full heart. ♥️ And please tell Julie Rainbow that this story is a gift to someone she never met….me!

-…

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Margaret is so moved by your responses, Mr. Saunders, and as her sister-in -law, I am elated by your timely article with Julie Rainbow, about the most wonderful, caring, activist Peggy Churn. She was such a giver and to read your article was just heartwarming and incredibly Peggy. Thank you for your attention to such a mover and shaker , and I am so grateful you put thoughts to pen in such a remarkable article.

Gratefully,

Bettie H. Goodwin

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Meet Barry Saunders

For over 20 years, Barry was a columnist for The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. He also wrote for other publications, such as the Atlanta Constitution and the Richmond County Daily Journal. Often described as powerfully honest and illustratively funny, Barry's writing is both loved and hated by readers- sometimes simultaneously.  

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Want more? Get your own copy of one of Barry's published books featuring reader favorites (and not so favorites) from his years writing columns for The News & Observer. Titled "Do Unto Others...And then Run" and "...And The Horse You Rode In On Saunders!", they're full of guaranteed entertainment. 

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