FROM THE BEGINNING: In the 1920’s, Ezekiel and Elizabeth Mabry relocated from Spartanburg, SC to Dante, VA. Mr. Mabry came here to work in the mines, whereby he hoped to provide a better life for his family. The Mabry’s little daughter, Velma, was about 2 years of age at that time. Her siblings were James, Sarah Hellen, and Emanuel Mabry, Jr.
Following the brief economic recession of 1921, the coal industry rebounded. Dante hummed with activity and was Russell County’s largest center of population at that time. Big families lived in the small company houses, so Velma and her siblings had many playmates. Dante also provided access to something that was very important in the Mabry family – education.
After completing high school, Velma enrolled at Bluefield State College, an historically African-American college specialized in the training of educators. Following graduation from Bluefield State, Velma began her professional career as a teacher at a segregated school at Dante. From there, she transferred to a one-room elementary school for the African American children of Lebanon, VA.
Although teaching all the elementary subjects to a group of students of varying ages may have been a daunting task to some, Velma made it work. Enrollment was typically small, ensuring an excellent teacher-to-pupil ratio. Because of that ratio, students received a high level of individual instruction. Velma stood up for her students and did her best to ensure the county provided the tools needed for education.
In the mid-1960’s, Virginia’s schools were desegregated. The little one-room school at Lebanon closed, and its African-American pupils were transferred to Lebanon Elementary School.
Velma didn’t miss a beat. She continued her teaching career at Dante Elmentary as a special education instructor, retiring at the end of the 1982 school year. In putting this article together, I was contacted by several of her former students, all of whom had kind words and praise for their mentor, Mrs. House.
In her personal life, Mrs. House has served as a Sunday school teacher, treasurer of her church, mission treasurer and teacher. She is the Mother of the 1st Mt Calvary Baptist Church at Dante, and Mother of the Clinch River Baptist Association. Mrs. House also worships at Longs Chapel AME Zion Church, pastored by Rev. Jimmy Ellis. This church is located in Sawmill Hollow, near the home of Mrs. House.
In addition to her church work, Mrs. House is a member of “Dante Lives On,” a community preservation group. As an educated person, she could have left Dante any time. Instead, she made a conscious decision to stay HERE, where she was needed most. Daily, she made a way where there was no way, leading young people by example; teaching them to take pride in themselves and their achievements. By so doing she ensured that her students’ “Flag of Self-Esteem” would be so tightly nailed to the mast that no ship flying the Jolly Roger could pull it down.
While it’s possible some people may have attained the age of 100 years without doing much along the way, Mrs. House is NOT that type of person. Inside, where it matters most, she is still young. When asked what she wanted for her 100th birthday, she replied “To either parachute from an airplane, or ride the Spearhead Trails on an ATV!”
Before writing this article, I was not personally acquainted with Mrs. House. Now, I am a member of her fan club! I would like to thank the House and Mabry families for providing personal information, memories, and photos for this article.
May God continue to bless Mrs. House as she inspires her family and many friends by her wonderful example.