“Whatever You Are, Be a Good One”
Retired teacher, coach, and Panola Crossroads editor Teresa Dennard was born in Concord, North Carolina, where her father, Doug Samford, played semi-pro baseball. He had played football and baseball for Stephen F. Austin State University and served in the Army during World War II before playing professional ball. Teresa says that after his short pro career, he was a lifelong teacher and coach. “Our summer vacations revolved around where coaching schools were,” she laughs.
Her dad’s first coaching job was in Timpson, then in Levelland, but since both of her parents were originally from Center, and now with three children—Teresa, older sister Phyllis, and younger brother Barry—they wanted to be back closer to home, and moved to White Oak. They remained there until Teresa was a sophomore in high school, when they moved to Carthage. Her mother Maxine worked for the Department of Human Services.
She attended Panola college and planned to be a business major but changed to elementary education. However, she substitute taught in an elementary classroom for one day, decided that she was much better suited for older kids, and changed to secondary education. She went to Sam Houston State University after Panola and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Teaching with majors in Physical Education and Business.
A friend in her apartment complex was moving to Houston and invited her to join her and be her roommate. She secured a teaching job at a private all-girls school and says, “It was definitely ‘country girl comes to the city!’ I drove an old Chevy Vega with puffs of smoke coming out the exhaust pipe, and these girls were driving high-dollar autos. One day when I had to discipline one of them, she spit on me, and because the school depended on the parents’ money to stay in business, nothing was done about it. I also had two little fender-benders in the city traffic, and said, ‘Get me back to the country!’” Returning to East Texas, she was hired at Tatum High School to coach the girls’ sports and teach driver’s education.
After three years at Tatum, she moved to Rockport and married her husband Jim Dennard. She taught business classes, coached volleyball and basketball, and Jim coached football, basketball and taught biology. Their daughter Casey was born in nearby Corpus Christi. Jim later had an offer to begin working for the Texas Animal Health Commission, testing cattle for Brucellosis in Morris County. He felt the job was a good fit for him, and it was an opportunity to move the family closer to home. Their son, Clint, was born soon after they moved and Teresa was hired to teach at Paul Pewitt ISD.
It was during this time the state mandated all students had to be computer literate, so the principal asked her to teach Computer Literacy. “I agreed to do it even though neither I nor anyone else on campus knew much about computers, and the kids and I just learned together. I was also asked to do the yearbook. I was clueless about that, too, but once again learned it along with my students.”
They lived in Hughes Springs, and as Casey and Clint got older, the family purchased horses and ponies and began taking trail rides and riding barrels in the “play days” on Friday and Saturday nights. “I remember from the time I was five watching Roy Rogers and Trigger every week on television,” Teresa says, “and wanting a Palomino horse more than anything. Jim surprised me with a Palomino for my birthday that year. We were always together on our horses. Jim was the driver, loader, and saddler everywhere we went, and the kids and I did all the riding. We continued the barrel racing for about 10 years, until the kids were into cars and other teenage activities and lost interest.”
The family moved to Carthage in 1990. There was not a computer literacy teacher vacancy in Carthage, so Teresa applied in Gary and was hired to teach computer classes in eighth through twelfth grades, keyboarding in the lower grades, and yearbook once again. Jim returned to teaching biology and coaching at Logansport. The computer literacy job at Carthage Junior High opened in 1994, and Teresa was hired. In her second year, volleyball was added and she agreed to coach. After a few years, she also began coaching track, which she really loved.
She remained at the junior high as a teacher until her retirement in 2011, but she stopped coaching in 2008. “The late nights were just getting to be too much,” she says, “and I was also doing websites for the city, the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, the Chamber of Commerce, and several other organizations, and there just weren’t enough hours in the day.”
“It was wonderful at the junior high,” she says. “I enjoyed teaching computers, junior high girls were my favorite to coach, the junior high was a fun campus, and I loved all the people I coached with. We were like a big family. We spent lots of time on a bus together at night, talking and dealing with all that girl drama, and we worked really hard to instill good character in the girls. I loved that my classroom was the place to hang out and joke around during breaks on in-service days. We always had such a close-knit faculty and did lots of fun things together."
She continues, “It was also a great place for me because there were lots of contests, and I am so competitive. Whatever the contest was, I would do whatever it took to win. We had penny drives, tug-of-war competitions, door decoration contests, canned food drives—you name it—and my class won just about all of them. Give me a contest, and I’ll try to win it! Both with my sports teams and my classes, I would teach them to take pride in working together toward a common goal, to work hard to accomplish something good, and that it was a lot more fun to win than to lose. I would always try to make it fun, keep encouraging them, and make a huge deal out of every kid’s smallest success and improvement.”
“We had a school talent show every year for a long time,” she says, “and a few of us teachers would always do something outrageous in it. I also encouraged my students to participate as well, and make it fun. At pep rallies we would have spirit competitions, and my kids would make signs and try to win. I just wanted to inspire them to be a part of something and, whatever it was, to do it right; to work together as a team and try their hardest.”
Not long after Teresa retired, Jim Holder at Complete Printing approached her about writing and editing the stories for a new local magazine, Panola Crossroads. Her first issue was April of 2011, and she continued the job through December of 2016. She says, “I enjoyed the interviewing and hearing everyone’s story, finding out so much about people in the county and letting others know about it. But I was not really a writer, other than what I had done in school and doing yearbooks, and the writing was not easy for me. I had also taken on some other responsibilities that were taking too much time for me to continue. But it was my baby, and until I knew it was in good hands, I just couldn’t let it go. It is still amazing to me that we have such a beautiful publication in our little town, and graphic artists of that caliber!”
One of those responsibilities was a job as an administrative assistant for the City of Carthage. “My sister-in-aw, Brenda Samford, was the city manager,” she says, “and we have always been as close as sisters. One of the girls at City Hall was going on maternity leave, and Brenda asked me to fill in for her for a few weeks. The baby ended up requiring several surgeries, and the mother was never able to return to work, so four years later, I’m still there, even though Brenda has retired! I enjoy being sort of a general flunky there, helping with every department and overseeing some of the city events. There are six women and one lone guy, City Manager Steve Williams, working at City Hall, and I love all of them. We have lots of stressful days, but for the most part we have a good time together. I offer lots of motherly advice whether they want it or not. I have a sign on my desk that says, ‘Whatever you are, be a good one.’”
She adds, “I am especially proud of an upcoming city project. We have been trying for four years to get a walking trail for Carthage, and we finally won a grant from Texas Parks & Wildlife last year to make it happen. The Matthews Foundation has provided matching funds, and we will begin construction this month and have it finished by the first of the year. It will be built in the ballpark area, with the trail head located behind the EMS building.”
Her other “baby” is the Footprints in the Sand Foundation. “I met sculptor Bob Harness when I was doing a story about him,” she says, “and he asked me to take photos of models he was using for the statue of Jesus. I also took photos of Baker-Koonce kids and other people in the community, including my own children, helping to put clay on the statue. I knew this monument and park were going to be something really special, and I was excited to get involved by serving on the Foundation Board. I am the president this year, and this project is very near and dear to my heart. We have built such a beautiful park, and every dime put into it was through personal donations from all over the nation. People stop and pour their hearts out with stories of what the poem has meant to them. They gather there to pray and to feel God’s presence, and it is very touching to me. It’s a place people will enjoy long after I’m gone.”
Jim retired from teaching recently and works part time at his favorite store, Tractor Supply. He and Teresa spend all of their spare time with their family, seeing them every day. Casey is married to Micah Falgout, and they have two daughters, Britton and Blake, ages four and one. She taught and coached volleyball in Beckville for awhile but is now a stay-at-home mom. They recently bought land in Beckville to build a home, so the girls will go to school there. Clint has daughter Landrie, age 8, and Natalie, age 12 who also go to school in Beckville. He is a self-employed contractor.
The family has vacationed every summer for 30 years at a beach house in Crystal Beach. The older grandkids are getting involved in sports, and Teresa hopes that maybe the whole family will get back into ponies and horses before too long. They are all big Dallas Cowboys fans. “We watch the game together every Sunday,” she says. “The grandkids call us Pop and T, and when the game is about to start, they holler, ‘Pop, T, it’s time!’ We all stand up with our hand over our heart and sing along with the National Anthem. We all love sports, these times together, and the down-home values our family still has and I wouldn’t take anything for them!”