A Booneville High School graduate last week donated $5,000 to the school district, to be used by the art and choral departments.
Yasmina (Goffin) Baledge, Class of 1980 and now a resident of Fayetteville, made the donation in honor of Mary Nell Prewett, Skip Wofford and June Culps and in honor of Jerry Hocott, Don Smith, Sharon Phelps and Web Watts.
“When my kids graduated from high school I realized how important some of their teachers had been,” said Baledge. “It made me start thinking about it and I’ve had this idea for probably a year, but I kept putting it off.
“My parents both passed away so I thought, I’ve got to get this done because it’s important to me. My permanent home in Booneville is gone.”
The teachers named, Baledge notes, is not a comprehensive list but are from classes she had.
“I really wanted to keep it to the high school teachers because I think those are the ones who have the most influence before you go to college, or don’t go to college, and they have some influence in that,” said Baledge. “Other than Mrs. Prewett who was a life-saver to me when I moved here.”
Prewett was Baledge’s elementary teacher was instrumental because she helped her to learn the language.
Born to parents of Spanish and Belgium descent, Baledge came to America after her parents divorced and her mother, Pepi Gill, met an American soldier outside of Brussels and came to Ione.
“She followed him and brought me with her. We got here in September of ‘69. The principal wanted to put me back in first grade and my mom said ‘No, I’ve made this jump from Spanish to French. Put her in class and she’ll learn.’” recalls Baledge, who spoke no English. “I had a really good teacher in Mrs. Prewett, who sat me down with a book every day with pictures and spent some time with me.”
In a letter to superintendent John Parrish with the donation, Baledge said Wofford and Smith “were instrumental in teaching students music and art. In an educational environment that no longer supports the arts as it did in the past, I feel it is necessary for individuals to continue that support.”
Regarding Culps, Baledge said she “was a phenomenal business teacher. I learned typing, shorthand and accounting from (Culps).
As for Watts and Hocott, Baledge said they “did their best to teach us advanced math. Math was never my favorite subject, but I admire and respect them as teachers and individuals. Mr. Hocott continues to be a life-long friend.”
Of Phelps Baledge said “whithout whom I would not have quite the same command of the English language. She was a tough taskmaster, but I am thankful for her.”
Baledge is married to a retired attorney, Les, who she says is the reason she is able to be generous. They have male-female twins who are Fayetteville High graduates and students at Southern California and Texas Christian who are junior French majors.
“I’ve been fortunate. I got to stay home with my kids and I have focused on being a mom to my children and other kids whose mothers were full-time workers,” she said. “And I’ve done a lot of volunteer work, particularly with kids at the schools who need clothing or go hungry. That’s kind of my deal.”
She says her late step-father, Billy Ray Gill, is the inspiration for that, having to walk to school each day without breakfast.
“I was never hungry. We had a farm, had a garden, I didn’t have much, but I had food,” she said.
The donation is about the teachers but it’s also about honoring her parents, Baledge said.