As volunteer, teacher makes the grade
by Rebecca Johnston
January 25, 2014 11:00 PM | 5221 views | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rebecca Johnston<br>Cherokee Tribune Managing Editor
Rebecca Johnston
Cherokee Tribune Managing Editor
Writing about our new Cherokee Chamber of Commerce First Citizen, Joan McFather, is a bit intimidating.

She might actually read this column and who knows how many grammatical errors she will see or what type of grade she will give my writing.

As an English teacher extraordinaire, she knows everything about creative writing. She could have written the book.

Even though it has been decades since she taught me at Cherokee High School, she still instills a little fear in my heart, but she also fills me to the brim with admiration.

When she left teaching after 30 years, she embarked upon a second non-paying career as a community volunteer. This is actually a job where she often pays instead of being paid, as she is generous in her financial support as well.

Some might think mentioning that would lead to her being bombarded with requests to serve on boards, but she has already taken care of that problem. She has served with most worthy organizations in the community.

There is hardly anything she hasn’t been a part of, from the YMCA to the Cherokee Arts Council to Cherokee FOCUS to the Chamber of Commerce to the Cherokee Chorale. That is just to name a few.

In her “spare” time she is a Master Gardener, acts as a docent at the Funk Heritage Center, answers the phone at her church, and still finds time to travel the world.


I doubt there are many people in the community who have not crossed paths with her at one juncture or another.

I am lucky that I was one of Mrs. Mac’s first students, and luckier still that my daughter, Ann, was one of her last students in 2000 just prior to her retirement.

She also taught my husband, Harry, and was adviser to the annual staff at the high school when he was the sports editor.

Mrs. Mac, as we called her, was one of those cool teachers, but she was also one of those no-nonsense types.

She actually expected you to apply yourself and do something while you sat in her class.

She challenged us to look outside the little world we lived in and dream of bigger things.

Most of all, she opened doors.

She had been a theater major at the University of Georgia, and while I didn’t know it then, I would later follow in her footsteps.

When I was a junior, Mrs. Mac was maybe in her second or third year of teaching. Some of the English department teachers decided to put together a humanities class where each six-week grading period students would rotate among four teachers in art, music, philosophy and theater.

I signed up for the class as an elective and it changed my life. Literally. I was introduced to Greek theatre and philosophers, and I probably learned a little about music and art as well, but those were not my strengths.

When I graduated from Cherokee and headed to college, I started signing up for courses in those subjects, eager to learn more.

Mrs. Mac set me on the path I would follow in humanities.

Back then students could opt to take college preparatory classes, but there were no real honors or AP courses.

Mrs. Mac designed the first Honors Program at the high school level in Cherokee County and later implemented the Advanced Placement program.

My daughter was lucky enough to get Mrs. McFather for AP English at Cherokee High, about 30 years after I had her as a teacher.

I always loved to read, but Ann was not as keen on it as I was as a child. Of course, by then people had other ways of being entertained, like televisions and computers and telephones. Just kidding.

But it was a different world, and I worried that Ann would never love reading like I did. Not to worry.

Mrs. Mac did what she did best. She challenged her class to rise up and embrace learning. In the process she inspired them to turn a page in their education and begin to really read the great tomes of literature.

I am happy to report that Ann is still reading everything she can get her hands on and Mrs. Mac gets an A+ from me for her efforts.

Thursday’s award honored Joan for a lifetime of impacting lives in this community. It is a tremendous accomplishment and well-deserved.

Many praised Joan at the awards banquet for her kindness and her friendship.

I praise her for way she came into this community as a young woman and spent almost 50 years making it a better place.

She might be the one who was honored, but we are the ones who are blessed.

Rebecca Johnston is editor of The Cherokee Tribune.

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