Two months before she was born, newspaper headlines proclaimed, “World War is over,” and troop members who fought in World War I returned to American soil. History buffs are quick to calculate, then, that Statesboro resident and long-time educator, Cleo Edenfield Mallard, is celebrating a century of life.
Mallard turned 100 years old on January 15, and family members recently hosted a party in her honor at Statesboro’s First Baptist Church where she’s been a longtime member. Though she knew something was planned, Mallard didn’t know the details of her special day.
“I was completely surprised,” said Mallard. “I rode in a limo. I wondered if I was dreaming. Was I going to my birthday or my funeral?” Mallard laughed at her joke and added that she had a wonderful celebration with friends and family.
Many of those in attendance at the gathering were former students. After all, when an educator has 40 years of teaching under her belt, an enormous number of students abound. Former student Wallace Newton, who was in Mallard’s very first class of students at Middleground School, dropped by the party.
Mallard remembers the exact amount of the first teacher’s check: “Sixty-eight dollars, that’s how much I made.”
The third child and first daughter in a family with nine kids, Mallard said that she wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember. She attended first through fifth grades at the Training School on the Georgia Southern University campus, then-called Georgia Teacher’s College. She attended Middleground School and graduated from Portal in 1936.
With only one car in the family that her father drove, Mallard found an interesting way to get to the college campus to attend classes. “My brother drove the school bus,” said Mallard. “I rode the bus with the elementary school kids.”
At that time, teachers could begin their career before completing all of the course work, and following her second round of student teaching days, Mallard got a job as a first grade teacher at Middleground School.
“I boarded with someone in the community there,” said Mallard. “Teachers had to live in the community where they taught.”
Mallard taught there for 12 years and completed her degree by attending classes during the summers and on Saturdays. She also eventually received her master’s degree, working on that degree for three summers in Nashville, Tennessee.
“I always had another job. If I wasn’t teaching, I was working downtown at the Favorite Shoe Store or Minkovitz. I worked at Winn-Dixie, too, and at The Soda Pop.”
Mallard’s next teaching stint began at Marvin Pittman School on Georgia Southern’s campus in 1951 where she spent the next 28 years teaching first grade.
For most of the time in her early career, Mallard rode the school bus her brother drove, walked or rode her bicycle.
“The first car I owned was a 1939 Plymouth. And it wasn’t new when I got it,” she said.
Some of her earliest memories are that of working on the family farm.
“I’ve done it all on the farm. I was right there working with all the boys on the farm. Except milking a cow. That’s something I never learned to do,” she said.
Mallard said she also wasn’t fond of working in the fields during tobacco season.
“There were these tobacco worms,” said Mallard. “I was terrified of them, had nightmares about them.”
Mallard said her mom, recognizing her daughter’s fears, would often put her in charge of the kitchen, as a young girl, to completely cook the dinner meal for the family while her mother worked in the tobacco field.
“My parents made a lot of sacrifices for me to go to college,” said Mallard. “When it came time to pay tuition, daddy would sell one of our milking cows.”
The hardworking educator bought her first house and lived there until she married James Mallard in 1955.
“We met through my sister and dated seven years before we married,” she said.
When asked her secret to longevity, Mallard didn’t hesitate at all and said, “People. I love people. That’s why I loved teaching. I loved my students. I believe there’s good in everybody. Sometimes it’s easy to find, and sometimes it’s not. But I don’t think there’s anyone that’s all bad. And the Bible tells us that we’re none all good. I try to find the good in everybody."
Mallard has learned a lot in her lifetime, and still wants to learn more.
“There’s a lot of things I might do over, because I’ve learned a lot. I’ve never stopped learning, and I still want to learn. That’s how you get wisdom. Wisdom comes from the Lord.”
Mallard’s plans for the immediate future are fairly simple, she said.
“Stay in touch with God. I know that God will be in touch with me, so I want to be in touch with him. And be well enough to keep enjoying life,” she said.