On Nov. 9, the Rossville Civic Center was filled with musings of first grade and toasts to Eunice Rooks' continued impact.
In anticipation of the former teacher's 100th birthday on Nov. 12, students, friends and others who have been touched by her life and career gathered to celebrate, singing songs and dancing the night away.
Rooks, the fourth of six children, was born Nov. 12, 1919, in Naomi, Georgia. The daughter of two teachers, in 1938, she enrolled at Forsyth State Teachers and Agricultural College and then at Fort Valley State College, one of the only schools in the state to instruct African American teachers.
Two years later, she began her teaching career at a turpentine plantation in Thelma, Georgia, according to a biographical telling of Rooks' life by two of her children and Walker County African American Historical and Alumni Association President Beverly Mitchell Foster.
Foster was part of a committee of 12 former students, friends and family members who have been meeting since April to make the birthday celebration happen. Foster, one of Rooks' Chickamauga first-graders in 1960, spent several months reaching out to various government entities to secure greetings and accolades — including a greeting from former President Jimmy Carter; a flag flown at the U.S. Capitol in her honor from U.S. Congressman John Lewis; a resolution recognizing Rooks's life and dedication to education from the Georgia State House of Representatives; and a proclamation declaring Nov. 12 as "Ms. Eunice Mae Clements Rooks Day" in Chattanooga from Mayor Andy Berke.
In 1952, Rooks moved to Chickamauga as a first-grade teacher at the now-shuttered Wallaceville Elementary School. While teaching, she continued working on her own education, attending summer and night school to receive her bachelor's degree in education from Fort Valley in 1959, at age 40.
With her degree, in 1960, Rooks started in the Chattanooga Public Schools system, taking on roles at East Fifth Street Elementary School, Howard Elementary, Clara Carpenter Elementary School, Piney Woods, Russell Brown Elementary School and Oak Grove Elementary School.
She retired from teaching in 1985, at age 66, but kept busy, and still does. She served as a board member of Good Neighbors Inc., which offers emergency assistance to those who do not qualify for public aid; is a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, a nearly 100-year-old national service organization; and is a longtime member of the Mother's Board at Orchard Knob Missionary Baptist Church, a distinguished part of the congregation who mentor other women in the church.
At her centenarian celebration, Rooks' smile didn't fade throughout the night. She thanked those for coming down to celebrate her life and share her story.
"God never forgets and I never will," she said. "I would do it all again if I could."
Email Sabrina Bodon at firstname.lastname@example.org.