Barbara Gann Spurlin

Barbara Gann Spurlin

The day after her seventh birthday in 1940, Barbara Gann – along with her mother, grandmother and sister – left Atlanta in a Model T Ford for a 12-hour trip to Jacksonville, where her father had secured a new home on St. Johns Avenue.

Spurlin_04Recalling that time of transition as easy, Barbara Gann Spurlin said, “During the summer I made a lot of neighborhood friends. We skated on the new Roosevelt Highway while it was being constructed, picked huge bouquets of flocks that grew along the railroad tracks and enjoyed refreshing chips of ice on the porch of the St. Johns Avenue Ice House.

“In the summer of 1942, for a nickel, you could see a short movie while seated on the benches in Mr. Winter’s garage. He had a store called Winter’s One Stop Shop. Near the store was an old swimming hole that a few of the neighborhood boys enjoyed; girls were not allowed. Parents issued a stern ‘no’ to this activity because of the polio scare. Three children on my block contacted the disease. It was a neighborhood where everyone knew everyone else. You just had to be home by dinner.”

Fishweir Elementary School, Lakeshore Jr. High and Robert E. Lee High School had a part in forming the creative, energetic, and inspiring woman Spurlin is today. She related that while at Fishweir, the children collected newspapers and scrap metal to help the war effort. Spurlin_01

“One day the principal asked me to choose a friend and take the school’s red wagon to a home a couple of blocks away to pick up papers. Upon arriving, I realized the lady only had a few papers so I did not hesitate to go to a home a few blocks away that I knew had a lot of papers.

“After returning to school, the principal did not agree with my decision and informed me that I had to stay after school for a week. I learned a valuable lesson: ‘For every decision you make there is a consequence – either bad or good.’” Spurlin’s blue eyes twinkled behind her red framed glasses as she chuckled, “I spent a lot of time with the principal after school.”

Perhaps this and other episodes of willfulness was an indicator of the feisty woman she was to become – the thinker, creative problem solver, master teacher and, ironically, recipient of the National Distinguished Principal award in 1995.

Spurlin’s teen years were filled with hay rides to the beach, going to the Dreamette and Pops and shopping downtown at Cohen Brothers and Furchgotts.

“On Wednesday afternoons we would all walk and pay our dime to attend the ‘Tea Dance’ on Mr. Boutwell’s pier by the Ortega Bridge,” she said. “The traditional Thanksgiving football game (Lee vs. Jackson) was an opportunity for everyone to wear their best. Girls always added gloves and hats to their attire. Of course, the corsages we wore were later pressed between two books before being placed in our high school scrapbook.”

Spurlin was also busy playing piano in a band with her father Walter Gann, Leon Nichols, Margie Tebby, Roy Turkett and other local kids. They played for school dances, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, churches and square dances. “Pat Boone was a friend of mine. He would come to town and visit his grandparents, the Pritcherts, who lived on Marquette,” Spurlin said. “We traded comic books and he came and sang at one of our events.”

When her mother fell in love with a two-story shingle house in Riverside, her parents sat down to discuss finances. “Daddy decided that they could not afford the $8,000 asking price.” Spurlin mused how fun it would be if she could go back in time and buy it for them.

In between her education, career and busy social life, Spurlin found time to fall in love, marry (when she was an “old lady of 29”), and become an instant mother to three children before having two of her own. Her first date with Roger Spurlin, who passed away in 1998, was to a church dinner. She laughed, “His invitation was from them not just him.”

Like any proud parent, Spurlin revels in the accomplishments of her offspring. “Aren’t parents lucky when their children become good citizens? I am so proud of them,” she said. “We had a one-week honeymoon and then – there were my children, Roger, Bonnie and Bobby. My only experience had been babysitting for 15 cents an hour. Then Lisa and Troy came along.”

Spurlin_03Spurlin smiled as she recalled the time she taught Sunday school and stepson Bobby was in her class. He came in one cold day and she held his hands in hers and asked how had he kept his hands so warm? “His reply was so endearing. He said, ‘They’ve been in my daddy’s great big hands.’”

For Spurlin’s contributions to education, she has been recognized with induction into the Florida Principals Hall of Fame, and received the Environmental Protection Award and a Distinguished Educator Award.

After her “first” retirement from teaching and being a principal for 40 years, Spurlin went back to work for what was to be just one year as vice principal of Douglas Anderson School of Performing Arts. “I ended up falling in love with the children and the teachers. I got along great with the principal, Jackie Cornelius. So there I was for 10 more years.” Throughout her career she encouraged teachers to be creative and to motivate their students with praise. Her classroom motto was, “We are kind to each other.”

“At age 82 I miss not having as much energy. There is still a lot I’d like to do and share,” the Riverside resident said. “Times have changed but children are still children. Being a creative educator involves being visual and tactile. How can you teach about the Florida Coastline if a child has never seen it?”

Spurlin_06Now in her third retirement, she plays piano at various events, does readings of the five books she has written, works out regularly and has a vibrant social life, which includes Madeline Hyde – a friend for 71 years whom she met in 6th grade at Lakeshore Jr. High.

“When I finally retired I wasn’t ready to sit in a rocking chair. I wanted to keep in touch with children,” Spurlin said. “My cousin suggested that I write a book saying, ‘Start with a true story, the one about Lisa and Troy and the pony!’ Now, no matter what I read – kids want the “Wish I had a Pony” book.”

Spurlin chuckles at photos of herself from the 1980s; her zest for life makes her look younger now than then. She loves to laugh, loves a good story and loves to share. “If I’m not happy it’s because I have to sit still!” Spurlin said.

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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