THE VICKSBURG POST

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2007 - SECTION B

 

Happy 100th birthday and happy Veterans Day, Mrs. Kinzer
 


              Audrey Kinzer

When she was a young woman, her birthday was celebrated with parades and speeches, bands playing and flags waving, Mrs. Audrey Kinzer used to jokingly tell her students.

It just so happened that the day was also Armistice Day (now called Veterans Day). On that first Armistice Day, 89 years ago today, she was at home near Learned when she heard her Uncle John's horse galloping at full tilt, something very rare. He had some exciting news— an armistice had been declared, ending the war in Europe. It was Nov. 11,1918 — the llth month, the llth day, at the llth hour — and it was little Audrey's llth birthday!

That young girl, who was bom 100 years ago today, grew up to be one of the most influential educators in the annals of Warren County Her career spanned 29 years in local schools plus nine additional ones in Arkansas.

"She was one of those 'pivotal teachers' for me," said Dr. Dan Jones, dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Mississippi. Jones, reflecting on his years as a student at Warren Central, said that Mrs. Kinzer "was tough on me as she was on everybody. And I needed that. She taught me a lot about discipline.... She gave homework in collegiate proportions, and when I got to college I was prepared to handle that workload." Jones said she encouraged him to think broadly and set high goals.

Mrs. Kinzer was born Audrey Lucille Blocksom in the Bear Creek community near Utica. She was one of five children born to Thomas Carey and Alma Fisher Blocksom.  The other daughter was Alma Lee;

two brothers died as infants, and her other brother, Thomas, was crippled by polio. The mother of the family died when Audrey was 3. It took all of her father's time to tend to her invalid brother, so Audrey and Alma Lee went to live with their uncle and aunt, John and Nary Bush, in the Auburn community near Learned.

The center of the community was the school — one room, one teacher and eight grades. The teacher was the children's Aunt Mary, who had been in the first graduating class at Belhaven. Audrey was a precocious child who at 4 started to school, absorbing much of what her aunt taught the older students.

Those early years at Auburn were the setting and focus of many stories, of many ventures the two girls enjoyed, for she and Alma Lee were inseparable. Once in her late 80s she told her son, Tom Kinzer in, "I can't believe I'm this old! When I close my eyes, I still see two little girls playing in the woods."
  One of the first cars in the community, an Oakland, was bought by John Bush, and when the family went riding Audrey sat in the front beside her uncle and watched what he did, so it was really no surprise one day when she took the wheel and drove her Aunt Mary to Cayuga. She had never driven before — she was only 10 years old! - and she drove for the next 80years without an accident.

The girls had a special pet, a big yellow tomcat named "The King," and while other children learned to sew by making doll clothes, the Blocksom girls made cat clothes for The King. His hats had little holes so his ears could stick out, and they

dressed him in royal regalia and rode him around in a baby carriage.

After completing r schools at Auburn, Mrs. Kinzer went to Learned through the llth grade and then to Raymond for her senior year at Hinds AHS. Two years later she received her AA degree from Hinds Junior College and then entered the University of Mississippi. In Oxford she lived with her relatives, Dr. and Mrs. Ephraim Nobel Lowe. He was on the faculty at the university and his wife was assistant registrar. He was a medical doctor, a botanist and state geologist.

Though science was Audrey's first love, her foster parents thought it more fitting for a young lady to major in something else, so when she graduated from Ole Miss two years later with a major in French (and she also played the violin) it should have been no surprise that she received the Taylor Medal in botany, for she devoted her free time and most of her energy to botany and biology.

After graduation she went to Arkansas as a teacher at Forrest City. On a visit to the Lowes' at Oxford, she met Tom J. Kinzer Jr. They eloped on Aug. 5,1934, and married in Port Gibson, keeping their marriage a secret for a long time. Eventually, to placate Uncle John and Aunt Mary Bush, they had a "public" wedding.

Tom Kinzer's parents ran the general store at Yokena, and for a while he and Audrey lived there. Then they went to Kentucky, later to Louisiana, before returning to Warren County. They now had a family — Tom III was bom in 1940.  In 1948 they built a house south of Yokena; it would be the family home for the next 49 years.

It was in 1948 that Audrey Kinzer became a substitute teacher at Jett High School; the job became full-time the next year. Her subject was what she loved — general sci ence. The county school was practically void of adequate facilities, but
Mona McClurg Whitson remembers that Mrs. Kinzer, probably out of her own pocket, "found laboratory specimens and equipment enough to teach a course comparable to any I had later in college."

The "Science Department" was an old, one-room building dubbed Siberia by faculty and students, and there was only one microscope for the entire class. Mrs. Kinzer assigned Mona the task of teaching one of the school jocks, who had failed the year before, so that he could pass.

"I remember Mrs. Kinzer as always smelling of lavender, loving the color blue, and always wearing a sweet, kind smile on her face. She was incredibly generous with her time and resources. She welcomed me into her room to use the microscope during my bits of free time, and she lent me her personal books for extra study," Mona said. She later became Dr. Whitson, earned degrees at MSCW and a Ph.D. at Mississippi State in physiology and microbiology, taught at Boise State
University, Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College.

"I dedicated my dissertation to Mrs. Kinzer," she said. "I have thought of Mrs. Kinzer with appreciation and affection many times over the years, and always on November 11, our shared birthday." Mrs. Kinzer's career at Jett flourished, and she moved from Siberia to a comer of the auditorium and then to the old shop building. Her courses expanded from general science to include two years of biology. In 1960 she lost her best friend and husband who died unexpectedly. Tom, their only child, went on to graduate from MIT and lived in the Boston area. Later, Mrs. Kinzer would earn a master's degree at Mississippi College, where she was the outstanding student in Dr.Charles Deevers' botany classes.

In 1965, Warren Central High School opened with Mrs. Kinzer as head of the science department. At last she had adequate classroom space and a fully equipped lab. All of her teaching, however, was not indoors. She and her students created a nature trail and they planted and maintained a rose garden. She also had a greenhouse.

James Henry was a 15-year-old sophomore when Warren Central opened, and he remembers Mrs. Kinzer's teaching as "one of my greatest experiences... Every student was important to this special lady. She had a unique way of winning the respect of her students, real respect." Henry, who later earned degrees in chemical engineering at Mississippi State, said she tried to teach her students not just to get the right answer but to understand the thinking process.

"In her quiet way, she challenged me to be the best I could be and not take the easy path to avoid hard work," Henry said. "She knew and tried to instill in her students the importance of a good work ethic in every phase of life."

Her abilities did not go unnoticed by students, for twice they dedicated the school yearbook to her, and twice she was chosen Star Teacher. She was honored by both the Mississippi and National Wildlife foundations, the Society of Professional Engineers and was named Outstanding Biology Teacher of Mississippi in 1971.

She was active in a number of professional organizations and was also a member of the DAR in Port Gibson and of Yokena Presbyterian Church. For the past several years, she has been a resident of HeritageHouse.

On her 100th birthday, James Henry, speaking for the multitude of students she taught, said, "Thank you for being a great inspiration to me, not just as a student, but as a person whose values in life were greatly shaped by you. Thank you and God bless you as he blessed me with your presence to my life."

 

 

GORDON

COTTON

 

 Gordon Cotton is an author and historian who lives in Vicksburg.