Springwood names center after educators

Published 8:00 pm Thursday, April 18, 2019

LANETT — There were few dry eyes inside Springwood School’s Fine Arts Center Wednesday morning. Students, staff, alumni and former teachers dating back to the 1970s came to pay tribute to former teacher Dale Freeman, who had to give up his classroom duties due to health reasons on April 4. He’s been diagnosed with cancer, and his doctors thought it was time for him to rest. Freeman is 82 years old and has been a classroom teacher for 57 years, 37 of which have been at Springwood.

It was a very emotional day for a lot of people, and Freeman held up rather well until an announcement was made toward the end of the program that the Fine Arts Center was being renamed in honor of him and his beloved wife Bianca. As two students held a banner proclaiming “The Dale and Bianca Freeman Fine Arts Center,” he couldn’t hold it in anymore and wept into a handkerchief, not so much that it was being done for him but that it was being done for Bianca.

When Freeman was being inducted into the AISA Hall of Fame two years ago, he said that 75 percent of the award belonged to her. Like Dale, Mrs. Freeman was a long-time, and much beloved, teacher at Springwood. Sadly, she had to give up teaching after having had a brain aneurysm in 1996. Dale has remained the devoted husband since then and reads to her every day. Bianca has been cared for at home since her health setback by Dale and his sister, Betty Grant, a retired nurse.

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The program emcee, long-time Springwood teacher Warren Nolan, said the program had been the most meaningful and beautiful moment of his career.

“It was an honor just to be a part of the program,” said Springwood Headmaster Rick Johnson. “When word got out that we were going to honor Mr. Freeman, former teachers and alumni from throughout the Southeast made plans to be here. It was a very memorable day. Everyone in the program spoke highly of him. Hundreds of people were here. We filled up the building.”

Freeman could be described as a gentleman scholar. He set high standards for his students. At times, those standards were seemingly unreachable for them, but he had a way of motivating them to keep trying. Most of the time they would measure up in the long run.

“Dale is a professional in every sense of the word,” Johnson said. “He is as dedicated and committed a person to excellence you will ever find. He is one of the very rare kind of guys who is tops in his field. This was an amazing day. So many people came back to witness it and to talk afterwards to Mr. Freeman. The program lasted about 30 minutes, but he remained afterward for at least an hour-and-a-half, shaking hands, receiving congratulations and visiting with former students he hadn’t seen in years.”

A native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Freeman is a 1960 graduate of Appalachian State University. He worked at CBS-TV in New York City before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1962. While in the Army, Dale was an instructor in the Southeastern Signal Corps School at Fort Gordon, Georgia. He later worked as a cryptographer with top-secret clearance at the Eighth Army Communications Center in Seoul, South Korea.

After military service, Freeman taught school in North Carolina and Florida before returning to ASU to earn his M.A. in English. He would later earn a doctorate at the University of Tennessee. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Dale and young wife Bianca were managers and buyers for book store chains.

They were doing well but realized that teaching had been their calling. After a job search, they both accepted positions at Springwood School.

In a 37-year career at the school, Dale has taught speech and Honors and Advanced Placement English. A total of 60 of his drama students won individual championships in AISA competition. He’s also coached basketball and tennis. In eight years of coaching tennis, Dale led both girls and boys teams to district titles. At the state level, his girls teams won three AISA state championships. He was twice named the AISA Secondary Teacher of the Year.

While at Springwood, Dale has been the recipient of two National Endowment of the Humanities fellowships, one at Auburn University and the other at the University of North Carolina-Asheville.

Throughout his adult life, Dale has been an avid supporter of community theater. He has portrayed such roles as Tom in “The Glass Menagerie,” Dr. Copelius in “Copelia,” Joey in “Pal Joey,” El Gallo in “The Fantasticks,” Fagan in “Oliver!” and Alex in “The Nerd.”

For many years, Freeman served on the advisory board for Lanier Home Health and for 14 years he and Bianca were adjunct faculty members at Southern Union State Community College.

Dale and Bianca have been married for more than 50 years now. He says that she is his inspiration and the best friend he’s ever had.

One of the more moving portions of Wednesday’s program took place when the 19 students in this year’s Honors Class formed a line with each one shaking his hand and telling the audience what’s they’d learned in his class this year before he had to give up teaching.

Those  students included J.P. Moore, Courtney Easlick, Chandler Dykes, Kannon Key, Meredith Woodham, Amber Franklin, William Andrews, Lucy Spivey, Jack Brown, Andie Martin, Jay Davidson, Charles Cowart, Emily Drake, Olivia Johnson, Sofia Shrewsbury, Meghan Tranqui, Ashton Westbrook and Coleman Hull.

Speaking to the crowd during the program were two members of the Springwood Class of 1985, Tracy Martin and Drew Ferguson, who’s today a U.S. Congressman. Both spoke glowingly of what it was like to be in Freeman’s classroom.