After more than five decades of silence, Dorothy Kirk started singing again at the age of 65 years old
“We were practicing for a show that night and we were singing,” the Tryon resident said. “(My teacher) came by and put her ear up to everybody to hear them and when she got to me she said ‘Honey, don’t you sing, you just move your lips.’”
“I stopped that very day.”
After retiring from her job as a program manager, Kirk decided to take singing lessons.
“I found out there was nothing wrong with my voice, I could sing,” she said. “I went back to recover what I’d left behind and in finding my voice, I found that I was a performer.”
It was another teacher, Helen Jenkins, who made Kirk realize she should take the stage.
“I was a very shy, introverted kid,” Kirk said. “I didn’t think I had any particular gifts, but Miss Jenkins was the first and only person in my life who showed that I might have a gift for comedy and performance.
“Of course, it took me a lifetime to believe the image in the mirror, but, finally, I’m pursuing a gift she showed me I have.”
Kirk plans to dedicate the upcoming performance of her one-woman show “Hold Still! I Can’t See Myself” in memory of Jenkins.
“She was what I call a mirror of possibility,” Kirk said. “She was able to hone in on what people were good at and help them pursue that.”
Kirk said Jenkins was a well-known English teacher at Wiley Elementary School, but she also taught science, history and physical education.
“She taught in the Salisbury City Schools her entire career for almost 40 years,” Kirk said. “She had a reputation for being exceedingly strict.”
Some students called the petite Jenkins “Little Hell” while other referred to her as Helen “Complete Sentence” Jenkins, Kirk said.
“She would give us a D if we had a run-on sentence or a sentence fragment,” Kirk said. “We had to write everything in complete sentences.”
Kirk said Jenkins was the best teacher she ever had.
“Once I learned my English grammar from her I never worried about whether I was using English correctly, I knew it,” she said.
When Kirk gathers with fellow graduates of Boyden High School’s class of 1961 for lunch about once a month, at least one of the ladies typically brings up Jenkins.
Classmate Pat Weddington said she wishes she had told Jenkins what a “wonderful teacher” she was before she passed away.
“She had no idea probably what an impression she made on all of us,” she said.
When a letter to the editor penned by Kirk about Jenkins appeared in the Post in 1999, Kirk received letters containing stories about the teacher.
“One woman said she hated school and cut class until she had Ms. Jenkins,” Kirk said. “She said Ms. Jenkins saw that there was something in her and saw that she could be a writer, so she encouraged her.
“Ms. Jenkins was responsible for sort of turning her scholastic life around.”
Kirk said Rose Post, a former reporter for the Post, credited Jenkins with guiding her career choice.
“She pointed out to her that she had a gift for writing,” Kirk said.
Kirk said Jenkins was “just amazing.”
“I think she changed more people’s lives than I can even imagine,” she said. “Why they haven’t named a school after her, I just don’t know.”
Kirk will perform her one-woman show at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Looking Glass Artists Center’s black box theater, 405 N. Lee St.
Proceeds from the show will go to the Boyden High School class of 1961 Young Women’s Scholarship fund.
The first girl will be awarded the $2,000 scholarship this spring.
Kirk said the show is about her “long-hidden gift” not as a singer, but as a writer, storyteller and performance artist.
“The theme is that we all search for our identities through others and use them as mirrors to discover bits and pieces of ourselves,” she said. “We take their comments about who we are, what we’re good at and what we’re not good at to heart and often, we become who they tell us we are.”
The show will feature six stories linked together by the theme that “we are all mirrors for each other.”
“My show is structured around the mirrors in my life,” Kirk said. “My parents, who were the first mirrors; my grandmother, a woman ahead of her time; and teachers, one of whom gave me my first clue that I had potential as a comedic performer.”
Kirk said she’s excited about performing at Looking Glass because of its close proximity to the site of her family’s former business, Kirk’s Taxi, which was located on Depot Street.
“I’m sure the Kirk ghosts will be stomping around,” she said.
Contact lifestyle editor Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.