rene Icie (Sutherlin) Emde was born August 17,
1909, in the tiny White County community of Davenport, known today as Hickory
Flat. Her forebears came to the Arkansas Territory about 1818, only 15
years after the Louisiana Purchase. Several of her relatives signed the
petition in 1836 to establish the county seat. Her family moved to
nearby Pangburn when she began elementary school. Her father Sam
Sutherlin, a landowner with tenant farmers, taught his children to work.
Irene decided to become a teacher one hot, humid day while she was picking
cotton. Using her mind was a lot easier than dragging that heavy bag of
“Miss Irene” became a teacher in 1927 at age 17 and continued until 1987.
Her 60-year career began at Stringtown, where her father had also started
teaching. She was called a “seven-week wonder” because she got her
teaching credential after a seven-week course. She taught in many
schools in Arkansas, including Olive Branch, Dewey, Plainview, Georgetown,
Bald Knob, Forty-five and Barling. She went on to teach throughout
the Midwest in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. After retiring
from the Pierre Public Schools, she became a substitute teacher at the Pierre
When she returned to Arkansas for a 90th
first-grade students she had taught at Georgetown in 1929 came and told how
she had inspired them to learn. One student, Algie Lance, said that
thinking about her and her class kept him alive in his foxhole in France
during World War II. Lance became a noted engineer, who worked on the
Pioneer II space project. He engraved the initials M.I.
for Miss Irene on the nose of the rocket that was sent into outer space.
Former student Sammy Cleaver, said, “When Georgetown hired Miss Irene, they
hired a crusader. She was concerned about each family that was
unemployed during the Depression.”
Meeting her husband Herbert Emde was an extension of her teaching. She went to
apply for a school at the president of the school board’s home, the farm of
Christian Emde. His son Herbert was reading the paper and didn’t even
look up when she arrived. But after she left, she said, “I’m going to
marry that man some day,” and a month and a day later she did!
She joined Eastern Star on April 30, 1928, at age 19 as a charter member of
the Pangburn Chapter. She was presented a 75-year pin in 2003 by the
Golden Oak Chapter in Los Gatos, California. Irene Emde traveled with
her husband during many heavy construction projects, first building Camp
Chaffee in Arkansas, then building landing boats for the war effort, and
highway construction throughout the Midwest before settling in South Dakota,
where he was involved in the construction of two large dams, Ft. Randall and
Oahe, which at the time was the largest land-filled dam in the world.
During this time she taught in the local schools. They settled in
Pierre, SD, in 1954 and built a house. She taught fourth grade at that
time. Herbert died in 1969.
She continued to travel throughout the United Sates during summers, leading an
International Girl Scout tour of eastern states. And then, with three
awards from the National Science Foundation Institute, she studied at Purdue
University, Iowa State University and Northern Arizona University. She
had been to every state but two. She and her daughter, Fiona Sohns,
traveled around the world on a 55-day tour visiting Japan, Hong Kong,
the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, India, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Cypreus,
Israel, Palestine and Greece. She later went on a tour of the major
countries of Europe, another tour to Russia and China, and tours to Mexico,
Canada and Alaska. One Christmas was spent with her daughter on tour of
South America visiting Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.
During her 35 years in Pierre, she became a Girl Scout Leader and was involved
on the Girl Scout Council and elected Girl Scout Leader for the International
Hertage Trail Tour. She also served as president of the Association of
Certified Eeducators and president of the Association of Childhood
Education and was active in the American Association of University Women.
She remained active after moving to Los Gatos to be near her daughter in 1988.
At age 80 she returned to college and took creative writing classes at West
Valley College where her daughter taught English. She continued to write
her reflections of her life and her experiences until her eyesight failed.
Her daughter Fiona retired two years ago after teaching 35 years at West
Valley College in Saratoga, California. Fiona’s husband Oscar
Sohns is a retired architect. A scholarship has been established in
Irene and Herbert’s honor for graduating high school students whose goal is to
become teachers. Miss Irene died January 25, 2005, and was buried at
Henderson Cemetery, east of Pangburn.