People: Nancy Waggener of Burgin

March 08, 2004|ANN R. HARNEY

Nancy Waggener seems to bring out the best in students at Burgin Independent School.

As she walks the halls, cane in hand, students slow their walk and try to help her anyway they can. She greets them and everyone with the broadest of smiles.

"One little boy comes down and gets my satchel and takes it upstairs and brings it back down," she said. "The children are always nice and want to help."

"She provides that grandmotherly respect," says Emily Steer, a volunteer at the school. "The kids act more respectfully when she's around."


Waggener, 73, has a part-time job at the school. The only time she is not at the school, it seems, is early in the morning. She usually arrives about 9:30 a.m. Her first job is working with third-grade pupils in their reading class from 10-10:30 a.m., Monday through Thursday. Friday is used for planning.

She has no idea when she retired and stopped teaching fulltime, but she remembers when she started. Little about Waggener and her life is on a set schedule. She enrolled at the University of Louisville to be educated to teach school.

"My idea was to become an old-maid school teacher," she says with a laugh.

She met Guilford Waggener, a basketball player at the university, and they got married when she was 19, after she had completed two years.

Then four children came along. She had promised her mother she would return to school. She did, but it took a while.

She graduated from Morehead State University in 1971 when she was 41 years old. One of her daughters, now Elizabeth Anna Welch, was in school at Morehead at the time, and her mother, Elizabeth Mayo, taught at the university. All three marched in the academic procession at her graduation ceremony.

All of her children and their families live in the area, and Welch is in charge of federal programs at Burgin School.

Waggener had planned to teach first grade at Burgin, but events changed her plans. At the request of her academic adviser at Morehead, she took the four-hour course that would qualify her to teach kindergarten, even though her heart told her she wanted to be with first-graders. It was not to be.

"They wanted to start a kindergarten class here, and I was the only one certified," she said. She loved it and continued to teach the youngest pupils until her bad back and rheumatoid arthritis held her back.

"I just couldn't get down on their level," she said, agreeing that getting down was not so much of the problem as it was getting up at the end of a session. "I think a kindergarten teacher needs to be able to get down on their level."

When she no longer felt up to teaching kindergarten, Waggener taught in other areas of the school and now works in the literacy program that is one of school's top priorities. And she is the school's one-woman public relations department, although she works with volunteers at the school who help get out the news about Burgin.

While she doesn't get up and down the halls and stairs as quickly as some, she says her job is literally what keeps her going. Doing little or nothing would probably worsen her back and arthritis conditions. She works from 9:30 a.m. until school is out.

"It's my choice," she said when asked why she works so many hours of the day. "I have to have something to push me. I have to keep moving."

Central Kentucky News Articles