Sometimes you just can’t shake a moniker no matter how hard you try.
Geneva Rutherford, shooting forward on her high school basketball team, coach, math teacher, mentor, friend, inspiration.
Take your pick because it won’t matter.
To Maxine Huckaby Wilson, Geneva Rutherford, a feisty, grinning bowl of sunshine, smiles and winks, resident at the Lantern at Morning Pointe in Clinton, will always be “Miss Rutherford.”
Wilson, who ran the halls as a teenager at Clinton High School in 1961, had one Geneva Rutherford, mathematics teacher and basketball coach, as a teacher.
You’d think that 50-plus years later that connection would be … Lost? Forgotten? Somehow diminished?
“All of our teachers were good. I mean we had a really good group at Clinton,” Wilson said. “But Miss Rutherford stood out. She taught us so much more than math.”
In 1961 Clinton High School was a short memory away from a desegregation battle that left bitter memories for many. But it was far enough in the past for a teacher, any teacher, to pass on lessons about respect for others and values.
Wilson said “Miss Rutherford” instilled in her students the importance of being honest; about respect for others; and holding true to your values.
Keep in mind, this is 1961.
“We were past the desegregation,” Wilson said. “We didn’t really address that. But we did address respect for others and I think that was part of getting beyond that.”
Wilson said that Miss Rutherford encouraged students to ask questions about things they didn’t understand.
In 1961, in Clinton, Tennessee, those questions didn’t always relate to math.
“It was about respect. She respected us to be able to ask the right questions,” she said.
She doesn’t talk much.
In fact, she’d rather take a nap than put up with an annoying interviewer’s questions.
But ask her about her relationship with Maxine Wilson and she lights up.
Okay, you get that far, then you find out that at one time she not only played basketball, but coached it as well …
“I was a forward,” she noted. “And I shot the ball.”
The smile tells it all. Athletes talk about repetative drills, establishing “muscle memory” so that all actions are a reflex.
Geneva Rutherford has that
She has the smile of someone who was good at something — and although age has diminished those skills — she’d still take you to the hoop for a bucket.
She played collegiate ball at Tennessee Wesleyan College and at Lincoln Memorial University, and has the honor of being represented in both school’s “Hall of Fame.”
Geneva Rutherford could play some ball.
Yes, this is a 103-year-old woman, who pulls herself up and grabs her walker and outpaces you. She doesn’t ask for help — doesn’t need it anyway.
Did she enjoy teaching?
She enjoyed enlightening. It wasn’t the book work and tests, so much as the interaction, the guidance she thrilled with.
In 1961 Geneva Rutherford maybe didn’t know her life lessons would pay off somewhere down the road of her life.
Probably not. In 1961 that wasn’t her goal. Her goal then was teach math, show what a shooting forward could do on the court, and pass on a concept of respect for others and ask questions of her students that, at the time, maybe they didn’t understand.
In 1961 Geneva Rutherford was also busy keeping a ninth grade math student in her seat because this particular student, “Always wanted to get up and talk to people.”
Maxine Huckaby Wilson
The youngest of six children Wilson missed the desegregation of Clinton High School. She recalls it as something that her older siblings witnessed — a change they went through that in, a vague way, she also saw.
“You had teachers and other figures of authority that you didn’t really get what they were saying,” she said. “And then, when you’re older, you realize you’re following what they said.
“You never realize how much influence they’ve had on you. But it’s there.”
And yes, Maxine Huckaby Wilson was the student who always had to be chased back to her desk.
“She liked to visit,” Geneva Rutherford smiled.
After a 30-year career at Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge, Wilson began a second career at The Lantern at Morning Pointe. She is an Ambassador with the National Association of Health Care.
She should be sitting at a desk and making reports. But then Geneva Rutherford came to The Lantern at Morning Pointe.
“I … chuckled,” she said. “Miss Rutherford?”
Yes, it is “Miss Rutherford.”
Wilson will address other residents by their first name, such as, “How are you, Eve?” or “How are you, Mable?”
But not Miss Rutherford.
And it’s no disrespect to the other residents.
Like Miss Rutherford, Maxine Huckaby Wilson has muscle memory.
“I can’t say the ‘G’ word,” she laughed. “She’ll always be ‘Miss Rutherford.’ Doesn’t matter what we’re doing, she’s ‘Miss Rutherford.’ I can’t even think about calling her Geneva.”
Fifty-plus years later Maxine Huckaby Wilson looks at her former teacher. They smile. They hug.
“It just feels good to be able to help her now … After all of the things she did for me,” Wilson said. “I’m just thankful to be here for her.”