Esther White, Russellville’s oldest living educator, turned 101 Saturday, July 25 at the house her husband built for her from the money he saved working on a farm in south Logan.

“This is the nicest house I have ever lived in,” said White of her brick ranch, reminiscing how her husband Horace, who is passed, worked so hard to give her a home.

White was raised in what she described as a “shack” in Warren County with her parents and nine siblings. The walls were papered with newsprint and she used the black background for a chalkboard to help teach her mother how to write.

“My daddy worked very hard as a stone cutter and farmer, but there were a lot of us,” said White adding the family made do with what they had. “My mother had a fifth-grade education but wanted to learn very badly so I taught her how to read and write when I came home from school.” Remembering walking to a one-room schoolhouse over a mile each way, White said the holes in her shoes didn’t slow her down. She loved school and loved to learn.

On the Friday before her big day, Mrs. White was honored with a celebration underneath her carport by the mayor of Russellville, the superintendent and board members of the Russellville School System, and former students she taught. She received a clock, a birthday cake, a day commemorating her life, and a framed copy of a letter she had written to R.E. Stevenson accepting the position as a teacher in the sixth grade.

“I agree to abide by all the rules and regulations prescribed by the Russellville City Board of Education. I have had my health examination on June 16 at the Logan County Health Office. It is an honor to be a teacher in this system, and I shall try to fulfill my duties there to the best of my ability,” said Esther Paschal White dated Aug. 3, 1953. Superintendent Smith told White they had found the letter in her file all these years later.

For White, nothing has changed. She told the crowd who attended wearing their masks and social distancing that she loved Russellville with all of her heart, just as she did when she moved here so many years ago.

“I pray for all of my kids daily (speaking of the hundreds she taught in her 31 years as a teacher), “said White. “I am so glad we moved here and made Russellville our home. I love Russellville and all those who live here.”

It wasn’t an easy path for White to become a teacher. When she finished middle school she didn’t have a way to get to high school as she lived out on a farm in Warren County where buses didn’t come. Her father spoke to someone he knew in Bowling Green that needed a nanny for their two children. White said she went to live with that family so she could continue her education.

Things have a way of working themselves out, however, since her husband first saw her walking down the street with those kids and according to her, saw her red hair and knew he had to meet her.

“My husband was 36 and I was 23 when we married,” said White. “I know that seems to be a big age difference, but to tell you the truth it really didn’t matter. He was the best man anyone could marry. He was so good to me and always acted like he was the lucky one to have gotten me. He would always say, ‘he got his redhead and she was also a teacher.’ ”

A back and forth college experience followed as the Whites had their daughter, who is now in her late 70s (a retired educator herself), and life became very busy.

“It took a little while to finish because I had to start and stop school,” said White who graduated from Western Kentucky University. But it was worth it, she said, because she got to follow a passion that was in her and that is still in her today. “Being a teacher has meant everything to me,” said White.

When Horace passed away in 1975, White said she didn’t feel she could live anymore. It was her students and teaching that got her through, she said.

“I would get up and not think I could make it. When I went to school my kids would make me feel happy again. I would say look at me, Horace. I would go home in the afternoon and sit on the floor crying while listening to a recording of his voice. But then I’d get up and go back the next day,” said White.

How she has lived this long is a question White has a simple answer for. She says it’s all because the Lord has taken care of her. “He is the reason I am here right now,” White smiled.