Best Teacher EverThe Story of Andrew Jackson Crider
© Copyright 2023 by Thom Webb
Barbara (Vaughn) and Jack Crider. Photo courtesy of the author.
On an early summer day many years ago, the morning began as usual for most of the residents of the little community of German, Kentucky. The entire country was now deeply in the grip of the Great Depression, and anyone lucky enough to have a job during that time went to work thankfully that morning. Most of them went to the coal mines.
But for one family in that community, this day was to be somewhat different, for a special event was about to happen. The little community's postmaster and store keep, Francis Marion Crider (everybody called him F. M.) and his wife Dixie Spears Crider were expecting, and the baby was coming!
Later that day, Thursday, June 29th, 1933, Andrew Jackson Crider was born. He was their last child, and he was born at home, just like many rural children were at that time. If you ever met him, you probably called him Mr. Crider at first, but his friends call him Jack or Jackie.
Jack was a healthy baby and soon he grew to be a very curious child. He loved to explore nature, and one of his favorite pastimes was fishing. In fact, he loved fishing! When times were tough, his fishing helped provide food for the family.
Like all the children in his community, when he was old enough, he attended the little local one-room school. There, all the students, from first grade through the eighth, were in the same room. They had only one teacher, who taught every subject to all eight grades.
Jack was a good student in his early years of schooling. His teacher was very good, and Jack soon developed a voracious appetite for learning. By the time he finished grade school, which is as much education as a lot of people received at that time in eastern Kentucky, he knew he wanted more. He had to have more, and he was determined to get it!
Though it was difficult for both distance and financial reasons, he managed to attend some classes at Prestonsburg High School, located in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, which was the county seat. The trip was a long one, and he made it twice a day. If he was lucky, he would catch a ride with someone, but that didn't happen very often.
He always worked to pay any expenses he incurred.
Then he heard about and took advantage of a great opportunity provided by the Caney Creek Community Center, which was located in the neighboring Knott County. This center had been started by Alice Lloyd, an educator originally from New York, who had moved to the mountains. One of her new neighbors asked her to teach his children, as there were no schools nearby. She agreed to do so, and recruited June Buchanan, a friend of hers from back east, as well as others to assist her.
In a very short time, not only were they teaching grade school subjects, but also high school as well. Then they started Caney Junior College (which today is known as Alice Lloyd College). They offered a free education, only requiring that you do three things: 1) apply yourself to your studies, 2) serve others upon graduation, especially in the Appalachian region, and 3) that you also participate in a work-study program while in school to help operate the campus.
It was here that Jack finished his high school education and earned his Asociate Degree. He then became a teacher, and he did so before his 20th birthday.
That same year, in 1953, he was hired by the Floyd County Board of Education. He was placed as a teacher at Betsy Lane High School. I'm not sure what classes he taught, but I am sure they were in the sciences. I would also guess that they were biology and possibly physiology, if that course was offered at that time. Whatever his subjects, he taught there at Betsy Layne for many years.
Even though Jack was now a teacher, his thirst for knowledge didn't end, and his own education didn't end either! He would take college classes wherever and whenever he could. This was done mostly during the summers, while the school at which he taught was out for summer break.
I've been told that if student loans had been available to him back then, he might well have gone on to medical school. Instead, he took classes as he could afford them, at colleges in the Kentucky cities of Murray, Pikeville, and Morehead. Not only did he obtain his bachelor's degree, but eventually he earned his master's as well.
He loved teaching, but he loved summer vacations too. He aways put those annual breaks from teaching to good use. The only thing that might have rivaled his devotion to advancing his education in the summertime was his love of fishing, because then he had much more time for it!
During the mid 1950s, a big change was coming for Jack and his family. They had known since the late 1930s that such a time would come for the residents of several communities located on the banks of Johns Creek. This was because of the construction of the Dewey Dam and Lake. The lake was being built to both help control flooding downstream, and to provide recreation for the people of Eastern Kentucky.
Johns Creek, almost long enough to be called a river itself, is a nearly 100-mile-long stream. It flows through Kentucky’s Pike, Floyd and Johnson counties before emptying into the Lavisa Fork of the Big Sandy River near the town of Auxier, Kentucky. The dam was to be built in Johnson County. People living closer to the dam had to move earlier than folks living farther away from it.
The community of German was one of the last to have to move. Eventually, however, the federal government informed the residents of German that it was time to move. Everyone was given two or three years to do so, and Jack’s family was one of the last to leave because his dad was the community’s postmaster.
Eventually, the lake was finished, filled and stocked with additional fish. Though he missed his home, Jack consoled himself with the fact that he now had a much bigger place in which he could do a lot more fishing. Today, the German Bridge Recreational Area and memories are essentially all that remain of the German community where he was born.
Jack had been teaching at Betsy Lane High School for three years when another big change happened in his life. He married the woman who became (and still is!) his lifelong companion. I don't know when he first met Barbara Vaughn, or how long they dated, but she impressed him so much that he married her on Dec 21, 1956.
Barbara is the daughter of Sam and Zel Vaughn. They raised her and their other children in the little community known as Dickey Town, or sometimes it’s called Bays Branch. It's a small, somewhat isolated community a few miles north of Prestonsburg, and about one mile south of Auxier. Like both of those towns, it too is located on the banks of the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River.
Up until the 20th century, Dickey Town was on the main thoroughfare for the region: the river. Steamboats plied the river constantly, bringing commerce into the region. Around the turn of the 20th century, however, a railway was constructed into the region. Its course followed the river, and it ran right through Dickey Town.
Over the next 30 years or so, the railroad slowly replaced the use of steamboats. Finally, in the 1930s, the last steamboat left for good.
Eventually, paved highways in turn replaced trains as the main form of local transportation. No main roads went through Dickey Town, and with mountains on one side and the river on the other, the community was unfortunately left isolated. To get there back then, one had to travel a steep dirt road across a mountain. That road did not get paved until the 1980s.
Despite its isolation, Dickey Town was a good community in which to live. So, it was here that the newlywed couple Jack and Barbara Crider made their home. In fact, they have lived ever since.
The decade of the 1970s saw the next big changes for Jack and his wife. Jack transitioned from Betsy Lane High School and began teaching at Prestonsburg High School, where he had attended classes years before. It was also much closer to their home than Betsy Lane was.
September 22, 1972, brought perhaps the biggest change, the birth of their son Byron.
Also in this decade, Jack tried his hand at teaching college. He did this at what was then known as Prestonsburg Community College (now Big Sandy Community and Technical College). He taught night classes there for a semester or two, but soon decided that teaching college was not for him. It was in high school that he could serve his students best.
Jack was also good at business and at growing things. He combined the two talents by growing and selling Christmas trees for many years. He also sold strawberries in season. He and his father-in-law Sam went into business together and raised cattle for quite a few years too.
The next decade of change for Jack and his family came in the 1990s. This decade saw their son Byron become a doctor. Undoubtedly, this ranks as one of Jack's two proudest moments, right alongside that of his marriage to his bride. Also, after 40 years of service to the people of Floyd County, where he taught and inspired literally multitudes of students, Jack decided to retire from teaching.
But Jack wasn't ready to stop there. Now he was free to fish as much as he wanted!
Thirty years later, he and Barbara are still going strong. At 90, he can still recite the alphabet backwards. It's his cool party trick. I understand he's also still cutting their grass, and it seems like he might have picked up a new hobby: terrifying his son with some of his outdoor activities. As Byron told me, his dad is known to “Occasionally chainsaw things and climb out on the roof or crawl around under the floor.”
Throughout his life, Jack has fulfilled the last remaining requirement that Alice Lloyd College asks of those who received their free education: to serve the people of the Appalachian region.
On a personal note, Jack has been one of the most influential people not only in my life, but in that of my wife as well. There were many good teachers in our schools, but in both our experiences, Jack’s classes stood far above all the others. He made learning fun!
His love and enthusiasm for science inspired not only both of us in our careers, but many others as well. Just go into any school, medical facility or doctor's office in any community located in far eastern Kentucky and ask if anyone knows who he is. Quite probably, at least one person there will have had him as a teacher and will have made a career choice that was at least partially inspired by him.
Webb was a student of Mr. Crider’s twice and was greatly
influenced by his teacher’s love of learning. Throughout his
life, Thom had a series of full-time careers such as radio announcer,
librarian, and network analyst, before retiring as a public servant
for the state of Kentucky, where he served in both the Department of
Corrections and the Commonwealth Office of Technology. After eight
months of retirement boredom, he returned to work as a teacher, where
he taught both students (and teachers of students) copper and fiber
optic cabling for telecommunications, leading them to an industry
recognized certification. That career was cut short, however,
when he became disabled. Confined to a power chair, he and his wife
Cindy now live in Louisville Kentucky, where he's working on
re-gaining mobility while trying his hand at writing. Always curious,
he has yet to decide what he wants to do when he grows up.