FRANKFORT — There aren’t many teachers who’ve had a more varied education career or affected more lives than Golda Walbert, 89, a Rockcastle County native who taught in one-room and settlement schools in eastern Kentucky before moving to Barren County in 1956.
Her influence was evident Thursday as her step-son, Tom Walbert, pushed her wheel chair into the Kentucky State Capitol Rotunda where Walbert was recognized for her induction into the Louie B. Nunn Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame.
Before they could get inside the oval room dominated by the statue of Republican Abraham Lincoln, Walbert was met by lawmakers, former students, friends and admirers.One was Paris Hopkins of Frankfort who was a student of Walbert’s at Dixietown Elementary in Harlan County in the mid-1950s.
She was Miss Pensol then, and she was the head teacher,” Hopkins said. “We called her Miss Goldie. It was a term of affection, but we didn’t call her that to her face. Let’s just say discipline was never a problem in her classroom, okay?”
Another was Frankfort attorney and Glasgow native Prentice Harvey, whose father Dr. Daryl P. Harvey preceded Walbert as chair of the Barren County Republican Party and who worked closely with Walbert and Louie Nunn on Republican politics.
"My Dad used to say they’d ‘cuss and discuss Barren County politics’ for hours at a time,” Harvey recalled. “She was a long-time friend of his and a staunch political ally.”
Walbert began teaching at Sand School in Rockcastle County in 1943, making $60 a month. She would go on to teach in Harlan County before moving to Barren County in 1956 where she married Earl Walbert and became a force for education and the local Republican Party.
Earl Walbert was a Democrat.
"I told him I’d never ask him to vote Republican and he mustn’t ever ask me to vote Democrat,” she said. “It was never a problem.”
While teaching in eastern Kentucky, Walbert once drove a jeep to a coal camp on top of a mountain looking for a teenage, female student who’d gone missing from school for a few days.
I was wearing a pea coat and I had a revolver in the inside pocket – just in case,” Walbert said, recalling the story. She once coached a boys basketball team which played its games out of doors on a dirt floor.
Walbert made her mark in Barren County too. She was a teacher, principal and Supervisor of Instruction and her first priority was always the students.State Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, was one of her students and Thursday he said despite their different political allegiances, “I have always known here to be a person of high character, a person of strong conviction and integrity. She has always been a lady of the first class.”
Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, represents a district which includes Barren County. He recalled meeting Walbert when he first ran.
"She makes you think you’re the apple of her eye,” Givens said. “But when I got here and was trying to get over there to say hello, she was surrounded by men who also thought they were the apple of her eye.”
Gary Ransdell, President of Western Kentucky University where the Hall of Fame is housed, recalled his first meeting with Walbert. He’d been on the job all of three days, he said, when someone told him, “You’d better get over to Glasgow."
”When I got there, standing at the front of the line was Golda Walbert,” Ransdell said. “The first thing she said was, ‘I know you’re new on the job, but we need a building for a Western campus at Glasgow.”
Walbert said the honor was especially gratifying because the Hall of Fame is the created by a gift from Nunn and named in honor of the Barren County Republican who was governor from 1967 to 1971.
One of those looking on Thursday was her nephew, David Pensol, who appropriately is Superintendent of Rockcastle County Schools, the county where Walbert was born and where her teaching career began.
Walbert received her associate degree from Lees Junior College, bachelor’s degree in Education in 1946 from Eastern Kentucky University and master’s degree in Educational Administration in 1950 from EKU. Her awards include the Outstanding Alumnus Award from Eastern Kentucky University, Glasgow-Barren County Chamber of Commerce Athena Award, Barren County Schools Hall of Distinguished Alumni, and the Kentucky Unbridled Spirit Award in 2007.
Also honored as Hall of Fame inductees Thursday were Debra Burgess of Murray and Cynthia S. Wood of Kenton County.