by Neal Furr
I moved with my family to Chapel Hill in early June 1961 from a rural Cabarrus County area not far from what is now the Charlotte city limits. We ended up living in the Colonial Heights neighborhood that first year. Much to my great disappointment, I soon discovered that we had arrived too late for summer league baseball tryouts. So that summer, I spent a lot of time riding my bike down to the Little League field at Umstead Park to watch. I quickly associated players’ names with faces, so once school started, I realized who some of the boys my age were even if they didn’t know me.
Estes Hills Elementary School Chapel Hill soon after it opened
The 1961-62 school year and my experiences as a new sixth grader in town soon began. I was assigned to Estes Hills Elementary, north of town and the newest of the elementary schools in Chapel Hill at that time. The school was growing in student population, therefore, three new classrooms were hastily assembled and partitioned off in what had been a downstairs storage room. Downstairs classroom #1 was one of two sixth grade classes and was being taught by veteran educator Ms. Elizabeth Seawell. In the middle was classroom #2, the other sixth grade class with Ms. Mary Henley as the teacher, which was her first year back after several years away from the profession. This is where I was assigned. Next door in classroom #3 was a room of fourth graders, being taught by Ms. Helen Furr, who just also happened to be my mom. So when I got into trouble (which happened quite often that year), it was often double trouble. The principal at Estes Hills was an experienced administrator named Ms. Mildred Mooneyham, a lady short in stature with a very firm walk. Nobody crossed Ms. M. – not faculty, not staff, not students, not parents, nobody!
Ms. Henley was a widow who had grown children and lived on a farm south of town. She had no idea what she had got herself back into re-entering the teacher workforce. She had inherited a handful – make that several handfuls! It was a tough year for the teacher and some of the students as well. The best thing about our downstairs location was that it opened directly onto the playground. My first inclination was that maybe I could establish myself at recess since the classroom environment looked to be pretty tough. It turned out that some of my best memories of that year occurred on the playground. Although somewhat overweight, I did have a level of ball playing ability which I believe served me well in being accepted fairly easily. Other new kids were not always so lucky.
The rambunctious ringleaders (and all good kids) among the boys in my class were Mike Preston, Eddie Whitfield, Jimmy Vine, Jack Wilkins and Buzz Anderson (who moved away the next year). These were the guys you had to impress on the field of play. It didn’t take me long to figure out that we had some VERY smart kids in the sixth grade that year. Among the young ladies that were exceptionally bright were Sybil Wagner and Judy Schonfeld in my class well as the Kip sisters, Betsy and Nancy in Ms. Seawell’s class. Then there was Henry Hobson in my class and Walter Carter in Ms. Seawell’s class. They had only been in town a couple of years – their dads had been moved to Research Triangle Park in the late ‘50’s with The Chemstrand Corporation, one of the first major businesses to establish residency there. Now that I think about it, I had Ms. Seawell as a teacher as well since we switched up a few times each week for Reading class.
Estes Hills Elementary School First Grade Class 1966: in this photo are Gus Jerdee, Susan Cohen, Robbie Conley, Wilson Daughtry, Myra Powell, Ruth Aiken,Kim Williams, Mike Riggsbee, Vail Cart, R.L. Bynum, Robin Huffines, Blair Tindall Sara Edmonds, Mark Masson, Kristy Klatt, Dorothy McNeill, Mike Hampton, Drake VanDeCastle, Drake Van De CastleKristi Klatt, John Anderson, Billy O'Neal, Liz Curtis, Liz Holm , Chris Penny, Sue Brickhouse, Natalie Harris, Jim Manahan, Jud Worth (Photo submitted by R.L. Bynum - the photographer was his father,Rupert Bynum Jr.)
For the first time in my educational matriculation, I struggled somewhat academically. Moving to a new school environment was much more of an adjustment than I had anticipated. That seemed to kick off a long line of teachers over the next several years telling me that I should be doing better in the classroom. I guess my interest in school continued to wane somewhat as I got older, I often just did enough to slide by.
It was an exciting time in the world we lived in that sixth grade year. The Roger Maris/Mickey Mantle race to break Babe Ruth’s single season home run record happened that fall of 1961. I got to watch Tar Heel football live that year for the first time. President John F. Kennedy came to Chapel Hill to speak in Kenan Stadium in October – they bussed all of us students over to attend. I got to witness Dean Smith’s first game in Woollen Gym as the new Tar Heel basketball coach in late 1961. I played organized (somewhat) basketball for the first time that winter as part of the Chapel Hill Recreation Department’s program. Years later, it became the game that I had a true passion for - although never a great player, I thoroughly enjoyed playing and coaching basketball until well into my fifties. U.S. astronaut John Glenn orbited the earth three times in February 1962 – we were allowed to watch on TV in the classroom. And in the spring of 1962, The Chapel Hill Little League expanded from six to eight teams. I played on one of the new teams, the Colts, and a couple Colonial Heights neighborhood friends, Tommy Roberts and Andy Skakle, were my team mates.
Front entrance of Estes Hill Elementary School in Chapel Hill
Ms. Mary Henley went on to teach several more years in Chapel Hill. She was a conscientious educator who genuinely cared about her students. Several years later, an elementary school was named for Ms. Elizabeth Seawell. And Ms. Helen Furr taught at Estes Hills, Lincoln and Guy Phillips before becoming the librarian at Elizabeth Seawell Elementary, retiring in 1994.
That year at Estes Hills has never quite left me. I moved to my current Raleigh N.C. neighborhood in 1992. Where do you think the neighbor currently living right behind me and the one across the street when I moved in attended elementary school? Why Estes Hills, of course!
Neal Furr has enjoyed a long career at IBM in the RTP, and has a passion for Beach and Soul Music. He wrote a column for the The Beach Music Reporter magazine from 2001 to 2004, and now writes CD reviews at the website www.beachmusic45.com. He also writes a monthly called Southern Soul Corner.
Chapel Hill Memories is looking for class photos from Estes Hills Elementary School. Please send any you have to firstname.lastname@example.org.Comment
What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.