By Steve Huffman
LANDIS ó Gary Rhyne has been teaching for more than 40 years, longer than most of his fellow educators have been drawing breath.
So you’d think they’d have to get up pretty early to pull a fast one on him.
But the students and staff at Corriher-Lipe Middle School managed to do just that Monday.
Rhyne, 64, thought he was attending a luncheon to explain how education was when he was growing up, back when schools were segregated.
And Rhyne, a black man who teaches sixth-grade language arts at Corriher-Lipe, did so, explaining to students and staff about the days when black students went to separate schools, rode secondhand buses and learned to read and write from secondhand books.
But Rhyne, an affable sort who looks at life as a good deal more than half full, was also surprised that Monday’s get-together served as a sort of retirement soiree. After 43 years in the profession, Rhyne will be retiring at the end of the current school year.
“I’m pleasantly surprised,” he chuckled when he realized that Monday’s function was as much a going-away party as a chance for him to explain improvements in race relations over the past 50 years.
“I’m just a little shoe,” he continued. “I don’t like a lot of publicity.”
Maybe not, but administrators at Corriher-Lipe and Rhyne’s friends said he deserved all the praise they could bestow on him.
Dr. Barbara Pugh, Corriher-Lipe’s principal, said Rhyne protested whenever she or other educators mentioned giving him a farewell luncheon.
She said he told them he preferred to “just ride off into the sunset.”
Thus the need for sort of backing into Monday’s race relations/farewell luncheon.
The event was held in Corriher-Lipe’s media center and was sponsored by the school’s Mix-it-Up Council and Human Relations Council. Both are intended to help improve race relations, with the Mix-it-Up Council composed of students and the Human Relations Council made up of educators.
It wasn’t just students and teachers who attended Monday’s gathering. Several of Rhyne’s lifelong friends and those who attend church with him at Rose Hill Baptist were also on hand.
Joe Littlejohn is a fellow church member and said Rhyne drove his school bus when he attended Aggrey Memorial High, the school that for decades served black students in the southern end of Rowan County.
Littlejohn laughed that in those days, not only was there no horseplay on buses, there wasn’t even any talking.
“They had bus monitors,” Littlejohn said. “You minded your manners, I’m telling you.”
But Littlejohn said Rhyne was never considered anything but fair to the students he taught and bussed.
“I tell you, we had some good times,” Littlejohn said, smiling as he recalled the experiences.
By most anyone’s assessment, Rhyne, a lifelong bachelor, has lived an interesting life. He graduated from high school in 1961 and from Barber-Scotia College in 1965.
Rhyne told those gathered Monday that despite having a teaching degree, in the mid-1960s, he couldn’t get a job as an educator anywhere in Rowan County except at Dunbar High School, which served only black students.
It wasn’t until the 1967-68 school year that integration came to the county and Rhyne landed a job teaching fourth grade at Landis Elementary.
He said that even then, his reception wasn’t always pleasant.
Rhyne recalled Monday his first year at Landis when one white father pulled him aside.
“You see that little girl?” the man said, pointing to his daughter. “Don’t you put a hand on her.”
Rhyne said he simply nodded.
“I said, ‘Yes, sir,’ and went on,” Rhyne said.
He said the ignorance of the times took time to dissolve, and still hasn’t disappeared entirely.
Rhyne said that prior to 1954, when the Supreme Court ruled that the doctrine of separate but equal schools for black students was inherently unequal, not only would he not have been allowed to teach at a white school, he wouldn’t have been allowed on the property.
“Look around,” Rhyne instructed the crowd Monday. “What do you see? Diversity. Thank God we have that.”
Rhyne taught in Rowan County until 1973 and along the way got a master’s degree in education from Appalachian State.
He’s since lived across much of the world, teaching in Japan, South Korea and Germany before returning to the United States in the early 1980s, taking a job teaching in Harlem.
Rhyne also served as a social worker during his stint in New York City, staying there until 1998 when he returned to Rowan County and went to work at Corriher-Lipe.
He’s been there ever since.
Rhyne told those at Monday’s luncheon that if there’s one thing about his career he’d change, he can’t imagine what it is.
“I thank God he has let me be a part of his plan for peace and harmony,” Rhyne said.
He ended Monday’s talk with a simple message.
“God bless you and I’m going to miss you,” Rhyne said.
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or email@example.com.