As I sat at my desk recently reading an article in my local Durham (N.C.) newspaper about a teacher making a difference in the life of one of their students, I began to think about the teachers during my school days who were instrumental in my development and who had an impact on where I am today. The first name that came to my mind was my strings teacher, Susan Ellington. Out of the blue, I decided to “Google” her on the Internet to see if I could find out how she was doing or if she was still back home in Greenville, S.C. To my delight, I found her and read the article from the Goshen News (Jan. 24) that she was in Indiana and was to receive the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Indiana American String Teachers Association on that very day that I was thinking about her! Is that a coincidence or what? One thing for sure is that it is a very fitting award for her as she is still doing for other students what she did for me, and that is develop a great love for music.
Mrs. Ellington came to my school when I was in the fourth grade back in 1974 at Simpsonville Elementary School in Simpsonville, S.C. and introduced me to the world of music. I was hooked from the very first day and went home to tell my parents that I wanted to play an instrument. I started off playing viola through my elementary and middle school years. However, I was growing into a big football player-sized kid, and carrying around that little violin-looking case just didn’t fit with my ego. I shared my dilemma with Mrs. Ellington and that I didn’t want to quit because I really loved playing and being in the orchestra. Well, she said how about playing the bass. Of course, the bass is a big instrument, so my problem was solved! She went on to teach me throughout my high school days where I earned multiple All-County and All-State Orchestra honors. Even though my orchestra career ended when I left for Clemson University to major in electrical engineering and play football for the Tigers, I never forgot my love for music or the skills that Mrs. Ellington taught me. I am still involved with music today as I am the Minister of Music at my church and play the electric bass. Even though my two sons didn’t follow me into strings, the older one plays drums and the younger one plays the trumpet.
I salute Mrs. Ellington and all the teachers like her who dedicate their whole lives to help kids like me to learn new things and expand our horizons. As they see so many children come and go over the many, many years of their teaching careers, I hope that they realize that their labor was not in vain. You had a major impact on many of us. Even though I’ll turn 50 years old this year, I will never forget my favorite strings teacher. Congratulations, Mrs. Ellington, on your well-deserved award.
Richard Burton is a native of South Carolina who is now a financial planner living in Durham, N.C.