For most of her life, Theresa has done just that. She graduated from Piedmont High, received her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Jacksonville State University and her Ph.D. in school administration from the University of Alabama in 1974.
For 35 years, she worked in the Piedmont School System, first teaching history and French and, in later years, serving as superintendent of education.
Still, she wasn’t finished with her education or fulfilling another dream, that of being an attorney.
Theresa was born in Piedmont to John Melvin and Ophelia Rankin. Her mother was always her inspiration.
“Not a day passes that I don’t think about her and what she meant to us,” said Theresa.
After Ophelia’s children were grown, she pursued her own dream. She moved to California where she earned a nursing degree. Then, she came back home where she put that degree to use at Piedmont Hospital.
At one time, while she was superintendent, Theresa thought she would leave and hand the reins over to someone younger with fresher ideas.
“I had seen people stay too long, where they lost their effectiveness,” she said. “I always felt like I didn’t want to stay until they didn’t want you any more. That was always a fear in my heart. I didn’t want them to get to a position to where they had to make me leave, and so I wanted to let them know that anytime they wanted me to go, I would leave.”
Theresa learned quickly that no one wanted her to go. In fact, everyone wanted her to stay so badly that a petition was passed around town encouraging her to stay.
She did stay, which made Piedmont residents, especially those who had children in school, happy.
“I had a lot of wonderful support from the people in Piedmont,” she said. “Piedmont has been good to me. Words just can’t express how I feel about this community. It’s not just that people were supporting me, they have always been so committed to their school system. We’re fortunate to have the leaders and teachers that we have in our school system. They’re so committed to the students.”
Theresa said when she and her siblings, who were brought up on a farm outside of Piedmont, ventured into the city to get their education, they were welcomed with open arms.
“We were country kids coming in,” she said. “It didn’t matter that my daddy was a farmer and worked at the cotton mill. Everyone accepted us.”
Theresa said when she started to JSU, in her first English class, the teacher told them to write a theme.
“Some of them didn’t know how to write a theme,“ she said. “But I was fortunate, because I had a teacher at Piedmont who had us write themes, so I knew how to write one. Piedmont has always had excellent teachers. They set a high standard for the students. Aside from my mother, no one else in my life, in terms of in what direction my life went, were more important to me.”
Theresa said Piedmont’s teachers were her role models. She always aspired to be able to touch the lives of others as they had touched hers.
In 1994, she was honored to have been named Alabama Superintendent of the Year. In 1985, when she became superintendent, there were only four women in that position. By 1994, there were many more and today, probably half of the superintendents are women.
She set a date to retire in 1996 – and she stuck with it – even though she shed many tears over the decision.
“My mother was getting older, and she needed me,” said Theresa. “I felt such a pull about being available to her. That, and coupled with the fact that you can stay too long and eliminate all the good you’ve done, I decided it was time to go. I always wanted to make people happy, but at the same time, I always wanted to do the right thing for education. You’re making a lot of decisions about people’s lives. I’d had 35 wonderful years with wonderful support from the community.”
After retirement and, during the time she helped care for her mother, she attended the Birmingham School of Law at night. After eight years of “taking a class here and there,” she had her degree to practice law. She worked in the State Department in Montgomery several days a week for a few years.
History, she said is her passion. Retirement has provided for her the time to travel to many countries where she has been able to pursue that passion. She now has the pleasure of seeing the places she has always seen photographs of and read about.
Theresa appreciates and studies Piedmont’s history. She enjoys reading and also working on projects that will, in later years, benefit her children and grandchildren, namely making memory books and, with the help of her husband Waylan, scanning hundreds of photographs so that each child and grandchild will have a copy.
“I have a long list of projects, and I’m never sure if I’m going to live long enough to get it all done,” she said. “I have boxes on each grandchild and his history. It’s very time consuming.”
A member of First Methodist Church, she sings in the choir, has been a delegate to the annual conference for the past 10 years and is church historian.
Theresa and Waylan have been married 53 years. Waylan is retired from Coats American Thread Co.
Their son and his wife, Jeffery Andrew and Karen, live in Piedmont. Jeffery is an engineer for Yellow Freight, and Karen recently retired from Piedmont City Schools where she served as special education and curriculum coordinator. Their children are Pamela Hammett, Daniel Hammett, Adam Hammett and Emily Kisor. Pamela is going to law school, Adam is at the University of Alabama, Daniel is at JSU and Emily is in seventh grade.
Their daughter and her husband, Valerie Theresa and Park Thetford Chittom III, live in Selma, where Valerie is an attorney, and Park is a doctor in practice with his father. Their sons are Park Thetford Chittom III (Ford) and William Kisor Chittom (Wilks). Ford is in sixth grade, and Wilks is in third grade at Morgan Academy in Selma.
“That’s our life right now, our grandchildren,” said Theresa. “Like most grandparents, I’m always babysitting or trying to do things for my grandchildren. We go completely overboard as far as our grandchildren are concerned. That’s our conversation at the table or before we go to bed at night.”
Theresa said when her grandchildren get to the point they don’t need her as much, she’ll probably take more courses at JSU “just for fun.”
Theresa’s sister, Ellen June Smith, lives near Bakersville, Calif. She has two brothers. Randall lives in Piedmont and Carlton lives in Atlanta.
Theresa said she enjoys cooking mostly basic meals. Occasionally, she prepares special dishes, but has learned through the years that her family enjoys those basic dishes more.
“I still cook at Thanksgiving the same dishes that my mother did, and I still cook according to her recipes,” said Theresa. “Her dressing, especially, is a favorite of my family. I also enjoy the recipes of other older family members, my mother’s mother and her sisters, as well as recipes of some of the older ladies in the community.”
Theresa said that’s why she chose to share some recipes from the older generations, either family or Piedmont residents, that are included in the Piedmont Historical Society’s selection of recipes.
Two such recipes, Lipton Soup Sticks and Peanut Butter Fingers, were two favorites of Ernestine Allgood (Mrs. Joseph P.) and were often served to the Piedmont Study Club in the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s.
Oatmeal Cookies, a recipe given to her by her mother-in-law, Violet Law Kisor, was a favorite of Jeff and Valerie when they were children.
Theresa’s aunt, Lecta Davis Welsh, made delicious Bourbon Balls. Theresa said the recipe was taboo when her aunt made them because the county and much of the state remained dry at the time. Today, Theresa has fun when she gives out the instructions for making them. She encourages everyone to not take the instructions too seriously while making them.
Blueberry Dessert is one of Theresa’s recipes that is enjoyed by her family and friends.
Lipton Soup Sticks
1 envelope Lipton’s onion soup mix
1 stick unsalted butter
Mix the two well. Spread on bread slices, crusts removed. Place on baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve warm.
Peanut Butter Fingers
¾ cup smooth peanut butter
¼ cup Wesson oil
12 slices of bread without the crusts
Cut bread into 6 slices or fingers. Place the crusts and the finger slices on cookie sheet. Bake at 200 degrees until dried out, but not brown. Roll the finger slices in peanut butter mixture. Crush the crusts into crumbs with a rolling pin. Roll the peanut butter finger slices in the crumbs.
2 cups sugar
3 T. cocoa
½ cup milk
l stick margarine
Dash of salt
Bring all to a boil and cook two minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat
Add l T. of vanilla flavoring
Add 3 cups or more of oats
Add ½ cup peanut butter
Stir well and drop on butter pan to cools.
1 cup crushed vanilla wafers
1 cup sifted powder sugar
1 ½ cups chopped nuts
¼ cup bourbon
2 T. white Kayro syrup
2 T. of cocoa
Mix all of the above ingredients together. Drink ½ cup of bourbon. Roll the ingredients into individual balls. Drink another ½ cup of bourbon. Roll in powder sugar (the ingredients, not you). Serve. Guaranteed a party favorite.
2 c. plain flour
2 sticks margarine
2 c. chopped pecans
Melt margarine, add flour and nuts and mix by hand. Press mixture in bottom of 13x9 pan. Bake 325-350 for 35-40 minutes. Let cool.
1 box Dream Whip (2 packages)
2 large packages cream cheese
2 c. sugar
1 can blueberry pie filling
Mix Dream Whip according to directions on package. Cream sugar and cheese. Fold into prepared Dream Whip. Spread on cooled crust. Top with 1 can blueberry pie filling.
Cool Whip (8 oz.)
½ cup finely chopped pecans
Use Cool Whip on top and sprinkle with finely chopped pecans. Chill and serve. Makes 12-15 servings.