JONESVILLE — Gwen Gentry Clark, a Jonesville native born and raised, had a surprise retirement party courtesy of her mother and father, Mary and Bill Gentry, Saturday at the First Baptist Church in Jonesville. Friends and family came out to celebrate Clark’s accomplishments and to wish her luck on the next chapter of her life.
More than 30 people showed up for the celebration. A small buffet was served and several guests brought in cards and gifts for Clark .
“I was very surprised. Mother did good,” said retired school teacher Clark. “I appreciate everyone who came out today. They’ve all had some influence on me, whether they were my Sunday school teacher, they taught me how to drive, whether we were baptized together, we made it through college together, we made it through boyfriends together, or made it through teachers and students together. This retirement is going to be very interesting and I feel very blessed that the Lord has allowed me to get to this point.”
Clark went to school in Jonesville and later went to Starmount High School in ninth grade. During her time in high school, she took a horticulture class which started her interest in agriculture.
“When I was in high school, I took horticulture and also joined Future Farmers of America (FFA),” said Clark. “I really enjoyed the science part of it, the plants, and it just opened up a big world for me. I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
After graduating from high school, Clark obtained her associate’s degree in 1984 at Surry Community College. From there, she moved to NC State University for the school’s agriculture program and earned her bachelor’s degree in agriculture education with a concentration in horticulture. She also studied at NC A&T University in Greensboro for her master’s degree in education. She received her National Board Certification in sixth through 12th grades in teaching.
After graduation, she became a teacher at Avery County High School and has stayed there ever since. She taught students the skills and technologies needed to grow and produce plants for non-food uses as well as social and personal needs. Work also involved learning about plant cultivation, improving plant growth, yields, quality, and resistance to insects, diseases, and environmental stress. They also learn about plant biology sciences.
“I had planned to go there for one year and I stayed for 30,” said Clark of Avery. “After that first year, it was just so good. I felt it’s where I was meant to be. I had been offered other things to do, but I never wanted to leave. I’ve been afforded many opportunities to do great things. It’s been fun.”
Three cakes were baked for the party, one with a blue jay for Jonesville, one with a ram for Starmount, and then one with a Viking for Avery High School, each representing a different chapter of Clark’s life.
Clark met her husband, Dee Clark, while teaching at Avery and they had their big wedding at the First Baptist Church in Jonesville and had their reception at the old country club. Dee Clark is a nursery owner for Christmas trees. He grew up farming and got a business degree at UNC Chapel Hill. He and Gwen often travel to do tree shows and sell products.
Gwen Clark is the daughter of Bill and Mary Gentry.
“We’re pretty proud of her,” said Mary Gentry. “She goes to the meetings and the FFA national conventions. We’ve flown out to Kentucky, Indianapolis, and Kansas City many times in the past for the events. She loved her job and the kids loved her. They do things for her and it’s wonderful they’ve been good to her all these year. Mama wishes she was down here, but that’s her decision. She decided to stay up there, and then she met Dee, and she couldn’t have married anybody any better. They do the same types of things together. One of them talks and the other one jumps in.”
For Gwen Clark, being a teacher has been a fulfilling experience for the past 30 years.
“I just always loved school,” said Clark. “I liked going to school and liked all my teachers. It was a way to marry all of my interests together to teach. I’m glad I ended up where I was. I saw myself working at a greenhouse or as a florist. We have two greenhouses, a bio tech lab, a floral room, a community garden, all kinds of things at our school so I was able to work in all those areas.
“My absolute favorite is to see a child succeed, no matter what it’s in, whether they make a hundred on a test for the first time, they earn an FFA award, or they get to go somewhere they’ve never been before,” said Clark. “You see they’re successful and you can congratulate them. For any teacher, it’s about seeing successes, no matter how big or small they may be. To me, that’s very rewarding.”
Clark has done more than teaching at Avery County High School. She was a leader of her school’s FFA, which teaches leadership in agriculture classes and allows students to earn degree levels, awards, go in competitive teams, and public speaking events. Over the years, Clark also has worked on the prom, has been a cheerleading coach, and has served on of boards and committees. If someone can name it, she’s had her hand in it in some way, shape, or form.
“I’ve wanted her to go into music, but I never said it because I knew better,” said Mary Gentry. “One day she said, ‘I’m going to State to be an agriculture teacher,’ and I said, ‘Yeah right. I can’t get you to go outside to the garden to pick beans because if you saw a spider you’d yell,’ and she said, ‘I can’t stand that.’ She’s always been more like a sister to me than a daughter.”
For Clark, her retirement is a bittersweet choice but she’s looking forward to starting it.
“Thirty years is a long time to be teaching and I think that’s why it was a hard decision for me. I still liked the kids and doing things, but I feel that it was the right time,” said Clark. “Our school starts Monday and it will be very odd for me. I got a lot of calls and texts from my fellow teachers back in Avery. I’m glad that I’m healthy enough to be able to get to do this because some people don’t. They wait so long and they don’t get to enjoy this.”
Clark doesn’t know what’s in store for her next and is going to be taking things as they come.
“Right now I’m just going to enjoy myself,” she said. “I’m cleaning my house, helping some former students with weddings, I plan on visiting my daughter who is a senior at Meredith, and my husband and I are going to travel a little bit. I will also still be volunteering, helping with the county fair and the FFA. I’m going to still train a couple of teams, might be a chaperone for things like that, and I do things with our church. It has been an awesome 30 years and I never felt like I worked a day in my life. I started off strong, and I ended strong.”
Troy Brooks may be reached at 336-258-4058.