(W.C. Welch was president of the White County Historical Society in 1972 and ’73.)
.C. Welch, better known in White County as “Spud,” is familiar with the country school system common in the county during the 1920s and ‘30s, first as a student and later as a teacher.
Welch was born in the Mt. Pisgah community west of Searcy, across the road from where he now lives, and attended the area country schools, including the Redus School. “I had to go where my sisters went. I had six of them,” he said, adding that they went where the school had men teachers.
There was one teacher that he did not like because the instructor would rub the students’ heads with his knuckles as punishment. So Welch and four of his friends – Alva Head, Claude Harrison, Eugene Black and Charlie Yarbrough – set up a surprise for the teacher.
Welch explained that there was a bell the teacher would ring every morning and sometimes the bell would get turned upside down. So he and his friends sabotaged the bell one afternoon by filling it up with water and leaving it upside down. After ringing the bell that morning, the teacher “had to go back to the house and change clothes,” Welch recalled.
The school had a springhouse where the students would get water. “We carried that water from the spring house to the school and everyone drank out of the same dipper,” Welch said. And sometimes people would store milk in the springhouse to keep it cool. “Some of us got to drinking that milk when we’d go up there for water,” he said. “So the teacher stopped us boys from carrying the water and had the girls do it.”
The area was also a “hideout” for many of the moonshiners. He said there were several stills up in the area, and once when the boys at school saw a plane land near the school, one of the boys said he was afraid the law was looking for his grandfather’s still.
Another incident he recalls was when a teacher, trying to break the boys from smoking, had them pour their tobacco through the knotholes in the floor. But after school, they just crawled back under the floor and scraped up the tobacco with a little dirt in it.
“I started teaching in the community called Crosby in 1927-28,” Welch said. In 1928 he married a teacher and they taught at many of the local schools including Smyrna, Joy and Mt. Pisgah.
In 1936, when he and his wife were teaching there, Welch said Mt. Pisgah had a nice school, a railroad and a cotton gin.
He recalled one incident that happened in the classroom where his wife was teaching. One of the students became sick and vomited on his desk. His wife thought the boy was sick on tobacco, but Welch discovered that the illness was from what he’d been drinking, some home brew. He said the boy told him, “I’ll take the punishment, just don’t tell my grandma.”
“We didn’t have to get permission from the school board or principal to punish a kid, because we were it,” Welch said. “If a kid needed punishing, we did it.”
In the late 1930s, Welch retired from teaching and went into the cattle business. His wife taught at Harding Academy until she died of a heart attack.
Then in 1976 he married Elsie Welch, “after he found out I could cook,” she says. They now live west of Searcy, across the dirt road from where “Spud” was born.
[In a handwritten note attached to a clipping of this newspaper article, W.C. Welch wrote, “Every community had a one-room school. The teacher usually boarded with some family close by. Some schools didn’t have a well. We carried water in a bucket and … every one drank out of the same dipper. One teacher had about 35 or 40 students. The boys sat on one side of the building and the girls on the other side. We had some two boys to a desk. We took up school at 8 o’clock and stayed there until 8 o’clock. We had two or three old maid teachers that tried to change we boys on our thinking, such as break us from smoking. She would pour our tobacco through a hole on the stage. You didn’t have to get permission to punish a student. Some teachers kept a long switch up in the corner of the building and they didn’t mind using it. For entertainment we had spelling matched or spelling bees… We usually walked to school and we carried our lunch in a dinner bucket. Sometimes the dogs would come up, get in and eat our lunch. The first school I attended was down the road about ¼ mile on the Gloss farm, called Redus School. One thing about the school I well remember it had a large bell. They rang it quite often. My mother went to school at the Parks schoolhouse up the creek a short distance from the old Parks homestead, where my mother was born. John Brown Parks gave the land for the schoolhouse. That is why it was called the Parks schoolhouse. They all had to walk to school. An early school that I attended was Collie Neal School north of Center Hill and west of the old Parks home. I had to go to school where my sisters went. When they had a lady teacher, they didn’t like that. So they went to school down at Redus School. It was about the same distance.” W.C. Welch died in 1990 and was buried at Center Hill Baptist Cemetery.]