Life comes full circle for Pam Hunter Holdcraft
By Jim Turner

Posted on January 1, 0001 12:00 AM

If someone is 'Hunt(er)ing' for the Meaning of Life, Pam Holdcraft might tell them, “You


go home again.”

Pam Hunter Holdcraft's life has come full circle, now that she has become an integral part of the Russellville Independent Schools once again. The 1970 graduate of Russellville High School now has her own office in what was once the copy room of the Teachers' Lounge while she was a student there. She returned to her alma mater last Nov. 8, over 41 years after her graduation.

In between, she earned degrees from Kentucky Wesleyan College and Western Kentucky University, taught at Auburn Elementary School in the Logan County School District for over 27 years before retiring, spent a year working in retail, owned and managed her own business for four years, and led the Gifted Education program at a Tennessee's Station Camp Middle School for over five years.

Now she is in charge of Gifted Education for the Russellville schools, working with the district's youngest students all the way through high school. She gave up a position in a school system where she was immensely popular and was named Teacher of the Year last year to “go home again.”

“I've been a Panther,” she says, accompanying the words with her trademark hearty laugh. “When I was hired at Auburn, I remember saying, 'At least I'll be wearing black and gold here, too,'”

Holdcraft is more than just a graduate of RHS; she was raised at the school. Her late father Harold Hunter, who had an even heartier laugh, was one of the greatest football coaches in Panther history. In fact, he was the all-time winningest coach at the school until the legendary Ken Barrett passed him during his 22-year tenure on the job. Harold Hunter was one of the first to congratulate Barrett for his achievements. Hunter was also the basketball coach who took the Panthers to their first regional finals in 1947 and they repeated as district champions the following year under his guidance. Also the RHS baseball coach, Hunter met his future wife while playing semi-pro ball in Allensville. He started the summer recreation program in Russellville, which was the forerunner of little league baseball,

Mr. Hunter was principal of RHS during his final years as an educator before leaving in the early 60s for a position at Commonwealth Fertilizer Company, working with his close friend, the late Joe Hicks. Succeeding him as the RHS principal was R.D. Reynolds, who died a few weeks ago.

“I always walked to the high school at the end of the day in elementary to Dad's office in the old building, but really enjoyed visiting the teachers,” she remembers. “I loved writing on those blackboards with the soft, yellow chalk. I particularly remembered Mrs. (Marie) Turner's lab in the basement with all the plants. She had a Venus flytrap that she said would hold on to my finger until it thundered if I tried to touch; little did I know she was protecting her plant!

“(Elementary teacher) Nora Edwards and (senior English teacher) Joanne Flowers were probably the ladies who touched my life most in becoming a teacher. Mrs. Edwards instilled in me the love for science. I specialized in 4th Grade science at Auburn, but I taught all subjects in other grades… science, social studies and math.”

She also remembers being part of the sports activities early: “I was crown bearer for football homecoming when I was eight and also the cheerleading mascot at 7 or 8. The cheerleaders would put me in the middle of a circle and had some cheer they would pat on my head and put me up in the air or something like that. Also, Mom (the late Laureen Murrey Hunter) was cheerleading sponsor when Daddy was coaching.”

When she came to high school, Pam Hunter found herself in the building where she now teaches, instead of in the building which currently serves as the central office. She was part of the first freshman class in the new building. That class became the first to go all four years in the building funded in part through the deGraffenried Legacy. Her dad had been the principal when Thomas P. deGraffenried decided to leave a large portion of his estate for the cultural and educational enhancement of Russellvillians.

As a student at RHS, she was a starter on the school's first girls tennis team, was involved in speech and drama, was a member of Future Teachers of America, and was very involved in Hazel Carver's chorus program. When she started Wesleyan, she intended to prepare to be a Christian education director and was active in the college Ministerial Association and Chamber singers. She was also president of the Panhellenic Society. Soon she realized that being a teacher was really what she wanted.

Family members have been influential in recent career moves. Her sister, Hattie Hunter Carter, who now lives in Auburn, made her aware that Sumner County Schools were hiring when she decided to return to education in 2006. Her niece, RHS teacher Christy Marksberry, introduced her to Belinda Ray, who had developed a highly respected Gifted program in the Russellville schools. Both were fighting cancer at the time and gave encouragement to each other, primarily through Facebook. Pam was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in May 2010. She has been cancer free for a year now. As most Logan Countians know, Mrs. Ray's cancer was very aggressive and after a gallant battle, she died just before this school year began.

Again family came into the picture. “People were concerned because I was driving 100 miles from Rockfield to Hendersonville and back every day, often staying for activities late into the evening,” she says. “Christy recommended that I apply for the Gifted part of Belinda's duties. I felt strange about it and at first I thought I shouldn't do it. She was so beloved and it was a huge thing to attempt to follow her. It was also difficult to leave Station Camp. The program was going well, and those kids had gotten me through my own cancer.” She did apply, though, and got the job.

At Station Camp, youngsters were doing a video newscasts daily, acting in a mystery dinner theatre which she directed, attending special events and going to Washington, D.C. yearly.

The newscasts haven't begun yet, but Holdcraft has Russellville students involved in a number of similar activities, including attending cultural events in Nashville, preparing for trips themselves, and being part of the Stevenson Scholars which Mrs. Ray initiated.

“Everybody has been wonderful to me here,” she says.

She has been active at Rockfield United Methodist Church throughout her adult life as teacher of the high school Sunday school class and as a member of United Methodist Women. She and her husband Jeff, who owns his own business and farms, have been very active in the 4-H Horse Club as its leaders. Jeff has served on the Warren County 4-H Council for 10 years, has worked at the state horse show and was named 4-H Area Volunteer of the Year.

Working in education runs in the family, it seems. Their son Jeffrey, 26, is married to Kristi Holdcraft, a first grade teacher in Franklin. Daughter Lauren is a senior at WKU, majoring in early childhood education. “My grandmother, who would now be 132, had a college degree and was a teacher,” she notes. Pam has served on SITE-based Councils at Auburn (as a teacher) and at Moss Middle School (as a parent).

Russellville Superintendent Leon Smith says, “We are pleased to have Pam Holdcraft on our Russellville team. She came with high recommendations as a gifted teacher in Tennessee. We are also excited to welcome a Russellville graduate back to our school system because she understands and promotes the great traditions of this school system.”

Pam Hunter Holdcraft proves you can go home again—and make a difference while doing it.

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