Saturday, May 17, 2003

Influential teacher is honored today

Annie Hargraves mentored Covington students for decades

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - For generations of Covington pupils, Annie Hargraves' lessons didn't stop when the school day ended.

When she wasn't teaching, the veteran Lincoln Grant teacher spent most of her time at the neighborhood park, organizing basketball and softball tournaments.

What: Dedication of bust of Annie Hargraves.
When: Annie Hargraves Park, Robbins Avenue and Chesapeake Street, Covington.
When: 3 p.m. today. Information: (859) 431-8959.
A firm believer in the importance of the arts, the widowed schoolteacher often took her students to Music Hall and the Taft Museum. Many youths had their first meal at a downtown Cincinnati restaurant as Hargraves' guest. Still others served as hosts and hostesses for parties she threw at her Covington home.

Hargraves taught night school, served as a Sunday school teacher at St. James A.M.E. Church in Covington, and was one of the founders of Northern Kentucky's Head Start program. She also found time to serve on the board of the West End YMCA, and write columns for the Pittsburgh Courier, the Cincinnati Herald and the Cleveland Post.

This afternoon, Hargraves' admirers will honor their mentor by unveiling a bust of their beloved teacher at the park she directed for 35 years - Annie Hargraves Park. The sculpture was created by Clifton artist Zachary Cahill.

"When Mrs. Hargraves died, I remember crying," said former Lincoln Grant student Pat Fann. "She was not my mother, not my relative, but she made me feel special."

Fann, 55, joined dozens of Northern Kentuckians in paying tribute to Hargraves at a reception Thursday. The gathering was held at the Northern Kentucky Community Center.

From 1931 through the mid-'60s, the building was known as Lincoln Grant elementary and William Grant High School for Northern Kentucky's black students. After segregation ended, the school became part of the Covington school system. It stopped operating as a school in 1976.

Ken Shields, now Northern Kentucky University's basketball coach, met Hargraves in 1960, while working for the Covington recreation department during his summer break from college. He remembers Hargraves serving as a calming influence during a time of racial conflict. A surrogate mother to many, she showed the young charges who frequented her playground that they were valuable members of society, he said.

"She was caring, she was loving, she was genuine, and she was sincere,'' Shields said. "Everybody just revered her. Of all the people I've come across in my life, she's in the top five.''

In 1959, Hargraves served as a mentor for a young staff member at her school, David Johnson. Now a 67-year-old Paddock Hills resident, Johnson remembers how Hargraves could get the most difficult pupils to behave and managed to persuade the most difficult adults to help with projects benefiting her pupils.

"She made sure all those children got a good foundation in the arts," Johnson said. "She made sure they got to go to Music Hall and the Taft Museum."

Walking through the former Lincoln Grant School this week, Johnson recalled how Hargraves' mere presence "lit up the whole building."

Hargraves, who taught kindergarten and first grade, died at her school desk while grading papers in 1976. The 70-year-old pillar of the community was just two weeks short of retirement.

"After she became a widow (in the mid-1950s), she never remarried," Fann said. "To my knowledge, she never had a boyfriend. She dedicated the rest of her life to the well being of the children in the community."

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