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GENERATIONS: Working in the family business

Hairston’s long tenure in education at Rock Hill schools follows generations

When Mick Hairston retired as principal of Rock Hill Middle School in 2013, it marked the culmination of 32 years of teaching, all but one in the district.

He began at Rock Hill in the 1981-82 school year and he also served as a teacher, principal at Rock Hill Elementary School #3 and assistant principal for the middle school.

And his long tenure there is part of a family tradition, with multiple generations involved in education, mostly at Rock Hill and the schools that formed the district.

His father, Russell Hairston, served as a superintendent at Decatur-Washington schools, while his mother, Delores Hairston taught at Rock Hill for 37 years.

His brother, Wes Hairston, served as Rock Hill superintendent, recently retiring, while another brother, Jeff Hairston, is the principal at Ironton High School.

Other relatives in education include uncles Magellan Hairston, coach of the famed Waterloo Wonders basketball team, Thomas Elbert, who was superintendent for Dawson-Bryant schools and his aunt, Georgia Triplett, who was a teacher for Rock Hill, Decatur and Ironton schools.

“It was a family business,” Hairston says. “We grew up in it.”

He said the earliest in his family to teach was his grandfather, Charles White, who began in a one-room school shortly after returning from World War I.

Hairston said, shortly after White’s return, community schools were built in the area, including one at Lawrence Furnace, which still stands today.

“It had two classrooms,” he said of the former Lawrence Elementary School. “One for first through fourth grades and another for fifth through eighth.”

Upon examining the curriculum from 1918, he said the focus was interesting.

“The main thing they taught was gardening,” he said, noting the many farms in the area.

Hairston said the building previously served as a hospital for wounded soldiers in the Civil War.

“When I was a kid, I went to church right down the road from it,” he said. “It ceased being a school in 1959. There were still hospital beds in it and we found an old Civil War-era saber there.”

White’s father, Dr. John White was a Union soldier in the Civil War and endured time as a POW in Andersonville, the notorious Confederate prison known for its harsh conditions.

He said the region has another connection to the Civil War, as one of the nearby lakes serves as a testing spot for a prototype of an ironclad ship during the war.

Hairston said he heard from his grandfather that it sank to the bottom of a lake in the area, either because of a flaw or done intentionally after the test.

He said several older residents of the area told him about it growing up.

“It was common knowledge around Elizabeth Township he said,” adding that he hopes to generate interest to have research done on it and possibly have a search in the lake.

Hairston laid out the history of the Rock Hill district, which he said was formed in 1949, when Hanging Rock, Kitts Hill and Pedro schools were consolidated.

“It was really a volatile situation,” he said of the time. “They were getting rid of a lot of smaller schools. The teachers at Kitts Hill hung the county superintendent in effigy. It was kind of a hostile takeover.”

In 1965, he said Decatur and Washington schools were consolidated, with Decatur students sent to Rock Hill and Washington students to the north to Oak Hill schools.

“That was more peaceful,” he said of the later merger.

He also wanted to explain the origin of the school’s football team, the Rock Hill Redmen. Hairston said it is based on the initial three schools, with “Rock” coming from Hanging Rock, “Hill” from Kitts Hill and “Redmen” based on the name of the Redmen Lodge, which had supported Pedro schools.

He said the lodge, which closed in the 1980s, was “formed to celebrate the guys who dressed as Indians in the Boston Tea Party.”

Of the current school building in the district, Hairston said the middle school was built in 1969, while the high school was completed in 2002 and took the place of the former location, which is now the home of the Lawrence County Juvenile Center, where he occasionally serves as a substitute teacher.

Hairston recalls being in that building when it opened in 1959, where, as a child, he was the first to dunk to dunk a basketball in its gymnasium after a player hoisted him onto his shoulders.

He said he also remembers seeing a fire alarm for the first time in his life, being curious and pulling it.

“I got my first whipping for that,” he said.

These days, Hairston works in the behavioral unit at the Lawrence County Educational Service Center, which oversees schools across the county.

He said there are younger generations in his family involved in education, with his daughter working as a Japanese teacher and his niece now teaching at Rock Hill.

Hairston, who also served in the U.S. Air Force and the Ohio National Guard, said he looks back fondly on his long time in education.

“I almost knew nothing else,” he said. “I loved working with kids and still do. And I’m still good friends with the children I had in school who’ve grown up.”

The Rock Hill School District was created in 1949 from the consolidation of Hanging Rock, Kitts Hill and Pedro schools. (The Ironton Tribune | Heath Harrison)