The Mount Nebo community maintains a strong community spirit. Maybe the early pioneer families, like the Wentz Family, valued close ties so much that they cultivated it. They built Mount Nebo Church on the highest hill and the Mount Nebo School on a level spot nearby so the children could walk to worship and to a first-class place of learning “reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.” In our interview, Lou Wentz Hansford paints that vivid picture. Her first six years of schooling in the Mount Nebo School gave her a solid foundation for life. She recalls, as I wrote in a previous column, the outstanding teaching she received there, three years from Mae Miller and three years from Jack Baxa. She describes the deep, loving and supportive relationship and influence of her father, our long-term Upshur County Schools Truant Officer Harvey Wentz.
Today we expound on the community of Mount Nebo. Whether through Excelsior or through Kesling Mill, the county seat of Buckhannon took about 45 minutes of rough driving to get to town. Therefore, the Sabbath worship of church and the social function of school is how community grew and flourished.
Mount Nebo Church, centrally built on the high point of a six-mile ridge, meant much to families for marrying and burying. Even the Biblical reference to where Moses stood looking into the Promised Land makes a point. Look at all the American places named “Washington” when considering George Washington’s role for citizens—honoring him first in war, first in peace and first in the heart of his countrymen. So, Moses, surely one of the greatest leaders in world history, has a central place on Mount Nebo.
Lou walked about a quarter mile both to church and to school during her formative years. The splendid isolation can be further emphasized when Lou tells tales of the harsh winters. “Teacher Mae Miller, when it got real bad weather, even stayed at our home when she couldn’t travel back and forth when our winters were really bad. And they didn’t call school off then like they do now. And so, when it was real treacherous to drive, Teacher Mae Miller stayed with us.”
Lou continues to reflect on the strong sense of community. “Our school was not used as a church. We had the church just a few more feet right on up the road. But the school was used for socials and I remember having so many nice socials there—cake walks, different occasions outside where we would all come together and have a wiener roast or something. Someone would build the fire and every parent would bring a dish and we would have a nice picnic outside of the school. The school was a one-room school with a potbellied stove in the middle of the school. We had a really large, what they called a cloak room, our books satchels or coats, have the boots to be in that area, so the school was not really large, but to us, I thought it was really big, you know?
“Then Mount Nebo folks built a community building kind of into the woods and they cleared it all off where they were having barbecues that were very well known throughout Upshur County—chicken barbecue and that was delicious. And they were the best barbecue in the county. Town people lined up and down the road, parked, coming to get barbecue.”
Lou emphasizes exceptional teaching also in Buckhannon, allowing her to enjoy the fruits that come with that. She recalls “the occasion that I was allowed, I think it was the seventh or eighth grade, there was a time that Mrs. Lewis—I think they lived in the Tennerton area and down—she was giving me a little bit more extracurricular activities to do because she knew a potential that maybe that I had, didn’t know it at the time. But she would have me to come home with her, with permission from Mom and Dad, so I got to go to her home sometimes and stay overnight for extra work that I could do at her dining room table with her assistance. So, I did stay with the teachers in Buckhannon even.”
The Lesson Learned for me is that students like Lou respond to caring teachers, whether in rural schools like Mount Nebo or larger schools like Buckhannon-Upshur. As we look at more closed rural schools, this may be a pattern we observe.