Dayton ISD announces this year’s Wall of Fame recipient

Sarah Reese Herndon

Former Dayton ISD Educator Sarah Reese Herndon and her life’s work were celebrated recently at a Dayton ISD school board meeting where Mrs. Herndon was inducted as this year’s Dayton ISD Wall of Fame recipient. Mrs. Stacey Gatlin presented the program to the Board along with many family and friends of Mrs. Herndon.

Sarah Reese Herndon was born in Durham, N.C., in 1932, to parents Riley and Eva Reese. Sarah was an only child and was involved in anything that had to do with the arts and high academia. When she was in middle school her father passed away from a massive heart attack. Her Mom was a trained nurse and she trudged ahead as a single mother but she had very high expectations for Sarah. Sarah graduated high school and earned a full scholarship to Duke University, where she graduated in 1954. Interestingly enough, after Sarah went to college, her Mom Eva followed her to Duke University as well and began pursuing her Bachelors in Nursing, graduating a year after Sarah in 1955.

Upon graduating from Duke University, Sarah taught for one year in North Carolina but at the time Texas paid teachers the highest salaries,  so on her own, not knowing anyone, Sarah bought a bus ticket, and headed to Texas. She started her teaching career in Alvin ISD.

 At that time, as a single woman, teachers were not allowed to live on their own so she was assigned a roommate Jimmie and Jimmie introduced her to her cousin Hubert, and Sarah and Hubert were married in 1956.

Sarah Herndon’s personality shines through in this photo.

The Herndons raised their two children Neill and Eva in the Linney Creek area. Growing up, being mediocre was not an option for her children and she always pushed them to the next level.

Eva is a trained dancer and Neill is a skilled piano player.  Neill served in the Air Force for 25 years and played in the air force jazz band. After retiring from the Air Force, he now teaches Elementary Music in Killeen. Eva started the dance program at Clifton J. Ozen Magnet High School, has now worked her way up, and serves as the Coordinator of Business & Industry in Beaumont ISD.  Both of her children are born educators just like their Mom. 

As a teacher, Ms. Herndon was an innovative teacher and was known as a Master Educator. She was able to motivate students through creative, hands-on interactive lessons. She relished in researching a particular person or subject and then she would come up with out of the box teaching methods. She had very high expectations from the moment her students walked in her classroom, including a positive attitude and she made sure her students knew that failure was not an option.

Ms. Herndon’s classroom was an adventure in itself. It was very tactile, with science specimens, fossils, artwork, flags hanging from the ceiling, and music constantly playing. If was filled from top to the bottom, all to give her students that spark that would hopefully push them to love learning.  When she gave lessons she dove right in. When it was time for her students to learn about Ben Franklin, Ms. Herndon would dress up as Ben Franklin and she would stay in character all day teaching the lesson from Ben Franklin’s point of view, This allowed her students to question and converse with the famous inventor and founding father himself.

She used student –centered methodology before it was the in-thing to do. Her students remembered using AV technology in the mid 1970’s. She asked Region 5 to send a technician to operate a camera to reel video for her student’s television interviews with famous people from science and history. The amazing part was students could then watch themselves on televisions live or on replay. She mixed Science and History at a masterful level. Ms. Herndon simply brought history and science to life.

Service to her students and their academic achievement was Ms. Herndon’s top priority. She would not stand for lowering of expectations of kids if she thought the students could do more. She loathed entitlement and didn’t have time for laziness.  

She was an exceptional seamstress and made all of the costumes for school plays and performances and created the set design as well.  One example of her costume designs were for the play from Hansel and Gretel, and performances held at the Methodist Church.

Ms. Herndon was also a trained opera singer and she took voice lessons every week. She looked at the arts as outlet for life.

Sadly, Sarah suffered from a stroke at the end of her career and she was unable to speak and did not have movement on her left side. But after therapy and with much determination she was able to teach herself how to walk and eat again and she even retrained her brain to talk but she could only do so if she sang the words, however she had no problem using cuss words and colorful language, because her daughter Eva says those just flowed out very naturally.  

Her personality was outspoken, opinionated, eccentric, effervescent, and she was always dressed to hilt with rings on every finger, lots of necklaces, and bracelets, scarves and beads.

When students of hers are questioned, “Who was your favorite teacher?,” Herndon is who many mention.

“I believe it is because she made learning fun and she challenged them at the same time. I must say, it is evident that Ms. Herndon made quite the impression as an educator because there were four nominations submitted this year in her honor, 27 years after her retirement date of 1996,” said Jeff Nations, a spokesperson for Dayton ISD.

Sarah Reese Herndon was articulate, intelligent, and compassionate, with a keen wit and hilarious sense of humor. Ms. Herndon helped paved the way for many other educators and she made Dayton ISD better by just being herself. She definitely walked to the beat of her own drum, and that beat made the most beautiful music.

Mrs. Gatlin concluded her presentation saying, “Thank you to the family and friends that are here with us tonight so that we were able to honor Ms. Sarah Reese Herndon, as the 2023 Dayton ISD Wall of Fame Recipient. I would like to ask her daughter Eva Herndon LeBlanc to accept this award on her behalf.”

Dayton ISD held a small reception before resuming the regular Board meeting.  


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