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Enroll a Student; Enroll a Family

Three Generations of the Hargett Family....Enroll a Family

Learning Center history has taught me that many times the enrollment of a student comes with the added bonus of involved parents willing to go the extra mile for their child's school.

I did not have an in-depth knowledge of Gilbert Forest Hargett the day he overheard a frantic conversation that I was having with our preschool teacher, Karen Brinke. In fact, I was not even sure I had met him in the course of the school year. Let me set the stage: The situation was urgent enough, in my opinion, that I needed to consult with Karen who had willingly, or unwillingly, become my right-hand when it came to leading our then, small private school. I had learned sometime back to never interrupt Karen in the middle of instruction. She had also learned that if I did disturb the almost inexplicable magic of her Montessori learning environment, that was for a very good reason.

The moment she stepped out into the cavernous auditorium at the old Ogden School, I hit her with the reality of what we were facing. "Karen, the two parents who were supposed to help with the 4th and 5th grade camping trip have backed out. It looks like this is on us."

"What exactly is 'this'?" Karen questioned.

"We're setting up camp out at Jack Rabbit Campground. I'm talking close to 20 tents, building a fire that will be ready for cooking by the time parents join us for a cookout later in the evening, and managing to turn this into a learning experience for the students as they are helping us."

Her eye-roll left no need for words. I added something that hoped might at least produce a smile. " I'm seeing a Lucy and Ethel story in the making! You know there is no way I can pull this off without your help."

I failed to notice that a man stood close enough to be in earshot of this revealing conversation between the two "fearless leaders of the school". Karen, also taking in this person, immediately countered. "Gil, you're here early. You need to pick up Callie?"

As he nodded a yes, he added. "Ladies, it sounds like you need my help." I took in his somewhat rag-tag, hippie like appearance. Karen answered without hesitation as she flashed the biggest possible smile. "Yes, Gil, we need your help! Mary Jo, why don't you explain how this kind parent can assist in keeping this camping trip from total disaster."

Before I could get a word out, Gil smiled, chuckled a bit, then confirmed he had heard the whole conversation. "Let me get Callie taken care of. What time are you leaving? I'll be back here with my truck and trailer."

This is what Karen knew about this father that I did not know: Gil Hargett, or g.forest as some called him, moved to western North Carolina in the early 1970s, when he was employed by Daniel Boon Council of the Boy Scouts of America. After leaving the Scouts, he guided on rivers in the southeast. His resume included the following: expert paddler, raft guide, EMT, responder, rock climber, golfer and author of Great Adventures in the Southern Appalachians. A. I would later learn that this seasoned camper and outdoor enthusiast had a vision for a center where local youth and youth organizations could go and have hands-on experiential education opportunities.

Gil and his good friends Tom Trawick and Tim Meader brought the vision into reality as they started Western Carolina Pacesetters, a non-profit serving youth in Graham, Cherokee, Clay, Macon, and Swain counties. The Learning Center has contracted with this organization over many years, making use of this local resource that provides Southern Appalachia's youth with the opportunity to challenge themselves through unique experiential and outdoor activities designed to inspire them to become more resilient, aware, and responsible members of the community.

Needless to say, the camping trip got rave reviews from both students and parents. I marveled at Gil's easy manner with the students as he lead them into the details of setting up a good camp. He had a knack for turning every aspect of "the work" into a learning experience. He commandeered those students who stood out as leaders into helping those not yet so experienced with outdoor adventures. Every plant and sign of wildlife turned into a lesson. All the while Gil remained cool as the glass of ice tea that he drank from a Mason jar. Never once did he show any sign of impatience with the eager campers.

This would not be the last helping hand Gil Hargett gave to our school. A 1971 graduate of the University of Georgia's Henry W. Grady School of Journalism, with experiences included serving as an intern for then Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter and the personal aide to Georgia's Sam Nunn during Nunn's successful campaign for the US Senate in 1972, Gil did not hesitate to take up any cause that needed addressing to further support our school's vision. I learned I could count on Gil Hargett's voice as he wrote letters to the editor and boldly stated his opinion when advice was needed to further our cause in a community still, at the time, growing in their acceptance of a school of choice.

The Learning Center has more Hargett stories to share as we additionally experienced the gift of working with Gil's wife, Joy Sudderth, Exceptional Children Coordinator, as well as two of the Hargett children and also two grandchildren.

Gilbert Forest Hargett



12.04.1949 - 07.25.2013.

May you run the rivers for eternity.


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