The Denison Independent School District memorialized more than 90 years of combined service to Denison students by two former elementary principals with the dedication of the Mayes Memory Garden on Wednesday. The monuments and small garden area in front of Mayes Elementary School mark the contribution of Gordon Rutledge and Fred Smart.
“We’re here today to honor two gentlemen who are very, very special,” said Denison Superintendent Henry Scott.
Mr. Smart was the principal of Layne Elementary School from 1959 to 1967 and principal of Mayes from 1971 to 1984. “I appreciate this ceremony very much,” said Mr. Smart’s widow, Janice Smart, who also taught in the Denison School District for a number of years.
Rutledge, who said he was close to Mr. Smart, took over as principal of Layne Elementary School immediately after Mr. Smart and worked with the students there until 1997. He was also a member of the Denison School Board from 2000 to 2009.
“This is a great honor to be here with these 509 students,” Rutledge said. He praised the teachers for their ability to manage the more than 500 students and bring them outside for the ceremony, joking that the teachers did a “much better than I could do. I’d have to holler at one or two (students) to get in line and quit playing around.”
Former Denison School Board President Jay Watkins said even after so many years with students, Rutledge still hasn’t lost his love for them. “To this day, Gordon Rutledge can know the name of every student he’s ever had contact with,” Scott said.
Rutledge did just that as various former students, some now Denison teachers, and teachers Rutledge hired came forward to share their memories of him and Mr. Smart.
Mayes fifth grade teacher Sarah Ewton recalled being a student under Rutledge. Ewton remembered getting called to the office one day after one of her classmates was being bullied and had run away from school. Ewton said she had been recruited to help return the boy to school because she was one of the students who treated him well. The pair, Ewton said, climbed into Rutledge’s truck, found the boy, and returned him to school.
“He was not going to forget about any student,” Ewton said. “He needed everybody there.”
“I don’t have just one fond memory, I have a lifetime” of fond memories, said Mayes second grade teacher Christi Weger. She recalled being hired by Rutledge to teach first grade. It was her first teaching job. “I was so overwhelmed that he was going to trust me with all these little bitty kids,” she said.
“Without his encouragement, I wouldn’t be here today,” said Mayes fifth grade teacher Lisa Ward. She said Rutledge encouraged her to return to school and get an education degree.
“They (Rutledge and Mr. Smart) had a lot of things in common, but the thing that was greatest about both of them was their love for their students,” Scott said. “They went out of their way to take care of every student individually.”
In addition to a chance to honor that spirit in these two men, Scott said the Memory Garden is a way to unify the campuses of Layne and Mayes, which were combined in August after the district closed Layne Elementary.
“I appreciate the fact that you guys have come together — brought those two student bodies and unified them into one school,” Scott told the teachers. “We’ve had a great school year because of that.”