As a retired teacher, Louise Laxton Cockerham has a great appreciation for how much those following in her profession give back in their jobs.
“I taught more than 32 years in this area,” Cockerham said. “I saw many children who needed help, and I bought school supplies for them. I purchased items to use in my classroom also.
“There are so many things teachers need, and I enjoy helping at this time of year.”
Her desire to help teachers inspired Cockerham — who was known as Mrs. James when she taught in this area — to make one of the two first major contributions to the Elkin City Schools Foundation to use at its discretion. “School funds are being reduced,” she said, “but the needs are not. They’re increasing, and I wanted to help.”
Every year when schools are getting ready to start back, Cockerham said she becomes melancholy and goes shopping for back-to-school supplies as she reminisces about her career. “I go to Wal-Mart and get a big cart and go down the aisles and buy crayons, pencils, scissors, notebook paper and composition books,” she said, “to donate to area schools.”
Cockerham said she took supplies to schools in Elkin and Jonesville this year and also donates them to the United Methodist Church for missions in places where they are limited.
It was the late Lois Reinhardt, Cockerham’s third-grade teacher, who inspired her to follow in her footsteps. “She also taught my brothers, Lawrence and Allen,” she said. “She was a wonderful elementary school teacher.”
Many days as a child, Cockerham would get home from school and practice teaching her dolls and/or her friends like Reinhardt taught her. “There was never a doubt what I wanted to do,” she said.
After graduating with an education degree from Greensboro College, Cockerham said she had the wonderful opportunity to teach third grade with Reinhardt for a year at Elkin Elementary School.
“She was my friend and mentor,” Cockerham said. “She was the teacher I would go to if I had a question, if I had a challenge or wanted advice. I knew that with the long career and wisdom which she had, I was very fortunate to spend my first year with her.”
After that, she and her husband moved to Charlotte, and she was a stay-at-home mother until he was transferred back to Elkin in 1969. After moving back, Cockerham worked with Peggy Dudley to start a kindergarten at First United Methodist Church, remaining there as a teacher for two years. “My daughter, Ann, was in the 5-year-old class,” she said.
“At that time, my son, Thomas Laxton James, had started first grade and I would go in the old elementary school and smell the chalk dust and oily floors,” she said, “and oh, how I wanted to be in the public schools again.”
In 1971, Cockerham started teaching first grade at Boonville Elementary School in Yadkin County. When North Carolina added kindergarten to its public schools, she became one of the first kindergarten teachers in the state.
“Yadkin County had three kindergartens for the whole county,” she said. “I was sent to Jonesville, and we had a kindergarten in Courtney and one in Yadkinville.”
Cockerham taught kindergarten for 12 years, after which she accepted an opportunity to return to third grade. Even when she retired after 31 years, Cockerham returned for a year to fill a kindergarten teacher vacancy at Yadkinville Elementary School.
Cockerham said she and her husband, Jim, who worked as a principal in Charlotte, believe in education and donate two scholarships each year for Elkin High seniors to attend Surry Community College. She said she is impressed by the achievements of Elkin High School students.
“I was speaking with a student who is a junior this year,” she said, “and I was amazed at the classes she’s taking. Some are in connection with the N.C. School of Math and Science and some are in connection with Surry Community College.
“I’m very proud that our students have the resources in our small town to prepare them for college and careers.”
When asked about the advice she gave her students, Cockerham said she always told them to enjoy life and remember the slogan she kept on the wall in her classroom: “Do the very best you can every day.”
“My students knew I believed in that,” she said, “and we had another word which we considered a good word: ‘Try.’”
Cockerham lives in Elkin and attends First United Methodist Church. “I am always pleased when I meet one of my former students,” she said. “I ask, ‘What are you doing now?’ and they tell me. I am so happy to have been part of their lives.”
Recently, Cockerham said she read an article in The Tribune that Chad Mann was principal at C.B. Eller Elementary School and the president of the I Support My Community Foundation in Elkin.
“I taught Chad as a kindergartner and as a third-grader,” she said. “I believe in supporting the community and hope I will be able to help through the donation to the Elkin City Schools Foundation.”
Kathy Chaffin may be reached at 336-258-4058.