EARLY DAYS OF TEACHING -Young Fred Culp with a team from Wellsview that he coached in earlier days.
by J.D. Pinkerton
Gibson County Historian Frederick Malcolm Culp is a retired high school teacher from old Peabody; he taught Tennessee History. He is often asked to speak at high school reunions, other events and is very colorful in doing so, even at age 89.
He left his Edison homeplace years ago and resides in an apartment on the court square in Trenton. His collection of Gibson County memorabilia is absolutely mind-boggling and will soon be housed at the museum at City Hall in Trenton.
Culp’s father, Fred Culp, had a twin brother. The twins were Fred and Ed Culp. Their parents allowed them -when they were old enough- to choose their own middle names. Ed chose Malcolm as his middle name. Culp’s father never used a middle name. He did tell his mother his choice for his name and his mother forgot it! Ed obtained his degree to doctor at Vanderbilt University.
Culp’s mother was Carrie Childress Culp from out west of Trenton. When Culp was growing up, the family called him Frederick. When his father passed, he shortened it to just Fred.
Culp’s grandfather was William Buchanan Culp. He signed his name with his initials, W.B. Culp. They called him Buck. He married Mary Elizabeth Denton. Buck was born in Wayne County at Beech Creek and Mary Elizabeth hailed from the Cedar Creek area in Perry County.
Culp’s oldest sister, Mary Estelle, lived to be 101. She married a Barker. His great-grandfather Culp was born in 1801 and died in 1887. Children by his first marriage served in the Civil War. His grandfather was by the second wife and her children were born at the start of the war. His great grandfather’s name was Henry Culp Jr. One of the children from the first marriage left home when he married the second time, he said he wasn’t going to stay home with those flax-headed kids!
They had a farm at Beech Creek and Tom Williams had a farm at Frog Jump in Gibson County. They traded farms and after living at Frog Jump awhile they moved to Edison to operate a store. Attached to the store was their living quarters. Culp was born at Edison. Culp’s father was 42 and his mother was 37 when he was born.
“I was born December 31, 1927, the last day of the year, the last day of the week, the last hour of the day. Dr. Will McCree delivered me; he lived at May West Curve in Trenton. His office was over Penny Richardson’s store on the square in Trenton. There was another Dr. McCree that lived out west of town; they used to call him Gumwoods McCree,” Culp recalls.
Culp attended as a child, and even to this day, Oak Grove United Methodist Church out at Edison.
Culp graduated Peabody High School in Trenton in 1946. He would catch a bus that took him to school. The bus originated from Fruitland. The man that operated the bus service was Mack Jones. Also there was a Humboldt bus that came too. His older sister, Aileen, went to Humboldt schools. Aileen’s nickname was Shorty. She graduated at Humboldt in 1939. Estelle graduated at Peabody in 1931. Both girls played basketball for the schools.
Estelle Culp also taught school. She taught at Eaton Center and also at Edison.
In 1951, Mr. Culp graduated from Lambuth College. He started teaching at Wellsview School in 1951. Wellsview was located between Frogjump and Gibson Wells. There was a school at Frog Jump called Longview. They took Longview and Gibson Wells and put them together and got Wellsview. His sister, Estelle, went to Longview when the family lived at Frog Jump. Culp thinks Wellsview came into being in the early 1930’s.
When Culp taught at Wellsview, he also had the duty of coaching the basketball team for which he was paid an extra $5. One of the years that he coached, his boys won the county tournament. He taught there four years. There were two other teachers working there when he started.
He recalls as a child having to watch the store if his father went somewhere. In the middle of the night someone might stop and need gas and he would attend to that. He remembers gas being sold at Edison Store for 32-cents a gallon.
Mr. Culp’s years in grade school, all the way up to the eighth grade, he attended at Edison School. He said that when teachers, back in these old days, secured a position to teach, they had to rent a place to live.
He recalled a teacher at Edison that died before she made it to her room. Ida Laurents taught in the big room of the two-room school, known in those early days as Edison Institute. There was another school before this one just north on Poplar Corner Road. It was called the Atkins School. They moved that school down to the crossroads and renamed it Edison Institute. One of the Koffman family of teachers wrote to Thomas Edison: “I guess he was looking for a big check.” Edison sent a big charcoal portrait of himself. It hung in the school for many years and later, one of the Koffmans took the portrait home.
One particular teacher at Peabody that young Culp liked was Coach Joyner. He had a thumb missing and had a short voice. He taught something in the ninth grade.
“They started P.E. when I was in school in WWII. He had us flipping up against the wall. It got down to just me and another boy we weren’t doing it. He told me he was going to knock us through that wall. My feet hit that wall and I flipped!” Culp recalled. “I told Coach Joyner’s widow and she said he was probably afraid of you and I said, no he wasn’t!”
They had a fire that destroyed the Peabody gym and it was a long time before they added the other gym. He can remember attending ballgames in that old gym because his sister played there.
Culp had the same room at Peabody all the years he taught there. He remembers fondly Mrs. Cary Lewis. She lived out his way. Mrs. Lewis graduated from high school the year Culp was born.
Culp said, “I learned one thing: you can’t tell the way kids are going to turn out. There is no way you can predict it. Talked to one person that said his brother is a pastor out west.” A look of complete bewilderment frosts Mr. Culp’s eyes!
Referring to his very first job, Culp said, “I worked at the Gibson County Creamery. At this time it was down near the jail. Before that I picked cotton. That (the creamery) was when I had my first Social Security card. Back then teachers weren’t covered by social security. I washed bottles at the milk company. I worked there just before I started teaching.”
He said he filled in teaching at Springhill and Yorkville during cotton-picking times. With so many teachers out harvesting crops, there was a teacher shortage back then. He had to give up those teaching jobs when Peabody reopened after cotton-picking. The schools would be open in July, then they would be out till October for the picking season.
Culp grew up during the Great Depression. His father had to close his store not because he went bankrupt but because no one could pay him what they owed him.
When he reopened Edison Store his father dealt with the Trenton Wholesale Company. Afterwards he dealt with Ragland, Potter and James Wholesale out of Jackson. He recalls an agent of Trenton Wholesale named Booker Little.
Little lived in Trenton on High Street in Dr. Happel’s old house. He said Dr. Happel was involved with the committee that built the courthouse. That house burned twice and was rebuilt a third time in a much smaller scale. Its still there on High Street today.
Mr. Culp taught school 39 years. He said he used to like going on vacation up in the Smoky Mountains. He said its an alright place to visit but he wouldn’t want to live there.