Bettye Pennington met her friend John Kiker in 1967, the year she began teaching 6th grade at Memorial Park School. Kiker, the school principal, was highly regarded by all the teachers. “We really respected one another, and we were just like a family,” she says.
When Bettye was almost transferred, Kiker, the paterfamilias, stepped in. “When they started the middle school, I was supposed to go there and teach but John said, ‘You can keep your old room if you’ll stay here and teach 5th grade,’” she recalls.
Kiker was fond of his students, but he was no pushover. “What I loved about John was, he really loved the children,” she says. “He was very encouraging, but he expected respect from them. They gave it to him, and they loved him back. He might give them a hug in the morning, or he might give them a ‘You straighten up now.’ It was the same with teachers. He could be strict where he needed to be, but he always backed us up. We all loved and respected him. We were really good friends.”
But families sometimes have disagreements. “I’d get mad at him for something and go talk to him, and then I’d think, ‘Did I say that to him? Will I have a job tomorrow?’” Bettye laughs. “But I never was disrespectful. He’d listen to your suggestions, and some he would do and some he would just flat tell you, ‘No, we’re not going to do that.’”
Then heart problems forced Kiker to undergo surgery. He later retired, spending his time gardening and running. On March 29, 2016, John Kiker passed away. An avid reader, he was still holding a book in his hand. 78