A sunny disposition|[08/24/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 22, 2008

Kalar Fultz always has a laugh on her lips, a twinkle in her eye

She’ll be 95 on Oct. 13, and Kalar Fultz said most of her friends died long ago and have gone on to heaven, “and they probably wonder why I didn’t make it.”

It’s that sense of humor, along with a hearty laugh and a ready smile, that helped guide her through a highly-acclaimed career in education in Warren County.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

In 1943, she went to work in the office of the superintendent of education. Twice she was appointed to the top job, filling unexpired terms. That post has been held by very few women in the state and, in 1967, she was named assistant superintendent in charge of business affairs, a job she held until she retired Jan. 31, 1978.

When Kalar began her job, all she had in the office to work with was a manual typewriter and an adding machine. She eventually acquired an electric posting machine and, because of her foresight and leadership, the office was equipped with a computer bookkeeping system, making Warren County one of the few school districts to have such state-of-the-art technology. The one-person job she handled evolved into a system that dealt in the millions of dollars, rivaling large businesses in its complexity.

Kalar could probably have been elected to the superintendent’s job had she so desired. A lot of people urged her to run, and financial backing was available. But the job was too demanding, she decided, and would interfere with her family life. She believed she could have a public career along with a happy marriage and raise a family – and nothing was more important to her than her husband, Fred, and her son and daughter, Kent and Rebecca.

She got her training early and earned her stripes when still in school in Yazoo County. The youngest of nine children, she grew up on a cattle farm at Phoenix operated by her father, Lewis Coody. When she was in high school, her mother became terminally ill, and Kalar nursed her and managed the household and still graduated head of her senior class. She learned that she could take care of herself.

In 1932, Kalar enrolled at Mississippi State College for Women- now Mississippi University for Women. Her father had already educated six of her siblings (two others were deceased), and she said, “He thought education meant tuition and board plus nothing. I don’t guess it ever occurred to him a girl might want bobby pins or a Saturday movie.”

To ease her financial straits, she got a job at the Goose – the student center at MSCW – making a dime an hour plus meals. She went to the business office, explained that she wouldn’t be eating in the cafeteria, so whenever her father sent a check she took it to the business office where the cost of her meals was refunded.

It was the height of the depression, and money was scarce, but occasionally she would write her father that she needed a book. “One thing he would do was buy books,” she said. He remarked, when she graduated, that she bought more books than any other child he had educated.

At the W, she majored in secretarial science and accounting with enough education courses so that she could teach. A cousin had majored in something – Kalar said she wasn’t sure what it was but it included cutting up frogs and things like that which wasn’t how she planned to make a living. For three years, she taught all subjects for the seventh and eighth grades at Tchula for $96 a month then came to Warren County and taught at Oak Ridge and Culkin.

The school children had a lot of fun with her name, she said – Kalar Coody – “and I was about as bad as they were.” She got her unusual name from a school teacher – it was a surname – who had lived with the family when teachers in rural districts boarded in the community. Her first name was Vera, but she didn’t like it, and in the first grade she arbitrarily changed it to Marian. Many years later, it took some legal efforts to straighten it out when retirement came.

In 1936, “Fred met me. I wasn’t looking for anybody.” Fred Fultz had graduated from Mississippi State University and was working in the family dairy business. His father, in a delivery wagon, took milk to Kalar’s home – but Fred only went on the delivery route if he knew it included Kalar Coody.

“So I married the milkman,” Kalar said. The ceremony took place in Tallulah, La., the day after Christmas in 1936, and the marriage was kept secret for two years because the school system would not hire married teachers. Only when the rule was changed, did she and Fred reveal their secret. Over the years, Fred became her “stabilizer, the best-adjusted man in the world,” her only confidante. He died Aug. 16, 1986, a few months shy of their 50th anniversary. During those years, Kalar and Fred never missed any school event that involved their children. “We didn’t send them,” she said. “We took them.”

Of her work in the central office, she said, “I ran off two and then got one I’d raised like I wanted.” Actually, she had good working relations with both Emmitte Haining and Noel Nutt, but she had worked with Sharp Banks from the time he came to Warren County as a teacher and coach and then a principal before being elected to head the schools. Though she said she was never in on decision-making, Banks said at her retirement that he always, if unofficially, sought her advice and opinions.

“I don’t want to impose my advice,” Kalar said. But, “if someone wants to hear it, I’ll give it. I try to shoot squarely. If I have to disagree, I try to do it tactfully.” One teacher said Kalar could listen for five minutes without interrupting!

Kalar’s duties included taking care of all the 16th Section lands and making out the monthly payroll for both the county and Vicksburg, for the city paid part of her salary “which wasn’t all that much.” She knew every teacher by name and many of them by face.

She said she never put much stock in good luck or breaks, believing that setbacks and problems are a natural part of life, but that “you learn from them and then go on. I always figured hard work and determination could accomplish any goal.”

Her accomplishments have been many. In 1976, the B&PW Club named her Woman of the Year and, two years later, she was named Mississippi’s Woman of Achievement. She was honored by the Mississippi Congress of Parents and Teachers and later as Retired Teacher of the Year.

She was a worker at the polls for 30 years and helped organize the Culkin Water District. She’s been involved in numerous health-related crusades, has worked in Salvation Army fund drives and has held many leadership and service posts at First Presbyterian Church. She’s been active in a garden club, homemakers club and Delta Kappa Gamma International.

Kalar smiles and laughs easily, explaining that, “With all this bunch I had to fool with, I had to have a good disposition, didn’t I?”

Following retirement, she took some extensive trips. But, now, following some hip and knee problems last year, “all my travels are to the beauty shop and the doctor.” Her daughter, Rebecca Brooks, lives nearby, and her son, Kent, who who lives in Brandon, keep close tabs on her. A caregiver, Trudy Smith, stays with her.

How will she celebrate her 95th birthday?

“By sitting in a soft chair – like I do every day,” she said, then added with a typical Kalar Fultz comment and a twinkle in her eye, “God just gave me a lot of time to get forgiveness for all the bad things I had done.”


Gordon Cotton is an author and historian who lives in Vicksburg.