My Turn, Betsy Harris: Retiring teacher at West Rowan Middle School will be missed

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 16, 2023

By Betsy Harris

A local hero to children is retiring after 35 years of public school service, and I just wanted to spotlight the end of an era at West Rowan Middle School! After 30 years as a Bulldog, Jenny Horton is retiring.

The Horton Family has been such a pillar of strength in the West Rowan Community for decades with Jenny’s husband, Jon, a teacher at WRHS, growing up in the area and going on to play high school – then college baseball at Pfeiffer. He can now be found on most spring nights refereeing any number of softball games in the area.

Their oldest child, Brantley, was a star scholar and athlete at WRHS who played football at the U.S. Naval Academy and served as a marine before returning to the Charlotte area.

Their middle child, Mary Allison Melton cheered from the time she was old enough to do so — and is now a teacher at WRHS. She’s  also the cheerleading coach. (Her husband, David, was also a WRHS football standout who now helps with the football team.)

Their baby, Susannah, is a Carolina graduate who just completed her second year of law school at Campbell. For her high school senior project, Sue set up a mobile summer library serving the children of Rowan County at the two summer feeding stations.

This hardworking family has been a beacon of light and hope, whether on the ball field or serving their neighbors  — and the mother in this family poured into her children – as well as into thousands of others in Rowan County. They have served their church family, too. Jenny served at Vacation Bible School, on youth mission trips, and in the nursery at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Mooresville.

I met Jenny during her freshman year at Pfeiffer. I was an Admissions RA living in the freshman dorm so I could host prospective students. Being a small, close knit community, everyone has the opportunity to meet everyone else, and when we met, we formed an immediate bond.

We would end our time at Pfeiffer as educators and sisters who both married WRHS graduates who had played baseball and then football together from the time they were in elementary school. Jon and Mike Harris graduated from high school and college together – and they were also born on the same day! We have stayed as close as our lives allowed – given our changing landscapes, with babies and the Harris Family making business moves every five years or so. Regardless of the time or distance, we have always picked right up where we left off.

Throughout our lives, I have marveled at Jenny’s ability to see a need and rally her troops (whether that be her family, friends, co-workers, or the community). The students at WRMS are hers. Period. At the end of every summer, she rallied the troops on Facebook asking for help to stock her school closet with toothpaste, deodorant, earphones, pencils, notebooks, and more to supply children with necessities they might not otherwise have — without the love and care of Mrs. Horton.

Sometimes I would get an emergency text from Jenny asking if I have any Kohl’s cash because a child needed a pair of khakis or a winter coat. And Christmas gifts would not appear for many of the children in the West Rowan community without the extraordinary efforts of Student Support Specialist, Mindy Muire, Jenny, and their group of elves who collect wishlists from the neediest of children and work to get them what they request (with many wanting basic necessities — such as clothes and shoes). Jenny has spent countless hours making wishes realities, thinking nothing of the time and resources needed to make it happen.

Jenny loves the children AND her coworkers! She has spearheaded Teacher Appreciation Week in grand form! Her conscientious nature compels her to address the need to care and celebrate those who may not always be in the limelight — such as our teachers.

You would think a person like Jenny would have awesome parents who are constantly undergirding all of her efforts, but you’d be wrong. Jenny lost her mother to breast cancer when she was only fifteen. She lost her father to bladder cancer when she was a freshman at Pfeiffer. Through such personal tragedy and heartbreak, she never ceases to amaze all who know and love her, as she finished her undergraduate degree at Pfeiffer and then commuted to Appalachian (while working full time) to complete her masters degree. Her role as WRMS School Counselor could not have been more perfect, for she guided herself to success, married a great guy, and now they have raised an awesome family. What a wonderful role model she has been in her home, as well as in her community!

Jenny spent fourteen years leading the WRMS Relay for Life team, raising over $150,000 for cancer research. During that time period, WRMS was the top school every year, except one. Jenny would also host a dodgeball tournament that the WRMS students highly anticipated every year.  Her goal was not only to bring awareness, but hopefully to help her students find a passion for helping others and begin a trajectory of giving that would stay with them throughout their lives. That was also her goal during the past few years as the National Junior Honor Society advisor: to promote scholarship and to serve others.

I am so grateful to be her friend for life  — and know hundreds who are grateful to have been blessed to wind up in her care over the years at West Rowan Middle School. She will be celebrated at the end of May at WRMS, but I believe the whole of Rowan County will want to join me in congratulating her on a job well done  — because she is definitely going to leave a huge void in the Bulldog Family.

Hats off to Jon Horton for bringing Jenny, a Raleigh native, to Rowan County over three decades ago! What an impact she has – and will (no doubt) continue to make as she finishes her duties at WRMS and looks forward to spending even more time with her grand babies, Mary Charlotte, 7, and Cooper William (who was just born on May 8).


Betsy Harris lives in Mooresville.