‘Doatsie’ Mendrop never thought of being many things before he was

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 28, 2008


When you hear the name called out, from across a busy street, at a football game, in church or social gatherings, it can mean only one person: Othel W. Mendrop.

The longtime Warren County educator says he doesn’t know where the nickname came from — even his mother didn’t know — but it is what friends called him when he was a child growing up on Porters Chapel Road and it’s how many still know him.

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Mendrop, 81, and his wife, Caroline, live in Timberlane, both retired from the county school system where he was teacher, coach, principal and assistant to the superintendent; and Caroline was a teacher before heading the remedial reading program. They have four children Bill, Chuck, Carolyn and Blake and several grandchildren.

Caroline went to Culkin, Othel went to Jett, and they met on a most unusual blind date when he was a senior in college. She recalls that a friend asked her to go out with someone who was visiting and was described as “the cutest thing that ever was.” Her friend had a date with Othel, so the couples double-dated. After a movie and a bite to eat and the boys were out of earshot, the friend asked her what she thought. Well, he wasn’t very cute to Caroline and basically had little personality.

“Well, do you want to swap?” her friend asked, and Caroline said “Yeah.” The guys were quite surprised when they found out what happened, and it was that night that Caroline and Othel began dating.

Never in his imagination, he said, did he think he would wind up in education and claims he became a teacher “only because I couldn’t pass engineering courses.” After graduating from Hinds, where he played basketball and football and ran track, he enrolled at Memphis State, where he was on the basketball team. He came home to teach at Jett in 1949 when he was 21, and on the faculty were several of his teachers including Miss Marie Bobb, Mrs. Molly Hullum, Miss Mildred Montgomery and Mrs. Gertrude Hullum.

“I don’t think you could find a group of teachers anywhere as dedicated as those who were at Jett School,” he said.

When he was a student at Jett, he said, he was the smartest boy in the senior class “with the help of Susie Mae Hullum Irby and Peggy Dudley,” and also was most handsome. “I got everything” because the only other boy in the class didn’t move here until late in his senior year. He didn’t date many girls at Jett “because I was kin to some of them.”

After one year of teaching, he joined the Air Force and it was during service that he and Caroline married at Woodlawn Baptist Church. He was stationed at Keesler AFB on the Coast and “was kind of tired of eating that food in the mess hall.” From Keesler they moved to Conely AFB in Texas. When his enlistment was up, they came back to Vicksburg where he taught at Culkin until 1959 when he transferred to Jett where he was teacher and coach.

“The first year I coached we won only two games,” he said. “We beat the Mississippi School for the Deaf and Blind and the Columbia Reformed School,” but in his last year as coach at Jett his team won the championship in the Magnolia Conference. When Jett’s principal, Sharp W. Banks, was elected superintendent of education in 1962, Mendrop was promoted to take his place.

“Never in my life had I thought of being a principal,” he said, but Banks had plans for him and suggested that he take more courses, so he went to Mississippi College where he earned a master’s degree. Caroline, who attended the W for one year, received both her B.S. and M.S. degrees there.

When Warren Central opened in 1965, a consolidation of Jett, Redwood and Culkin, Mendrop was named principal. Counting his 12 years in school plus seven years on the faculty, he said, “It took me 19 years to get out of Jett.”

Bringing together three county schools that had been fierce rivals was a challenge, but within a few years the school was considered by many educators to be the finest in the state with students excelling academically, a band that was always rated superior and a powerful athletic program. Mendrop said he was blessed with Sharp Banks as his boss and Dot Baylot, “who was the greatest secretary ever.”

One of the biggest challenges the school faced and one that could have been disastrous occurred in 1970 when the school was integrated and enrollment went from 1,200 to 1,800. Most problems were routine, and Mendrop credits the smooth transition to “exce1lent students.” To accommodate the numbers, the school went to seven periods a day.

Several incidents on the lighter side stand out in Mendrop’s memory. He told of a call on the intercom from a second-grade teacher telling him that “one of her students was in the bathroom and had caught his private part in his zipper. The kid was in there crying. Could I come down and see what I could do? I looked in the desk, got a pair of pliers, a razor blade and a screwdriver. I had in mind to maybe cut the cloth out. When I walked in the door the boy saw what I had in my hand. He took a big jerk and it came loose. I don’t know what he thought I might be up to but the problem was solved.”

He remembers another time when one of the football players asked him to hold his valuables, and placed in Mendrop’s hand a watch, a pack of cigarettes and a lighter — not too smart a move. On another occasion when some ladies were going to plant shrubs at Jett, had dug the holes, and gone to lunch, they returned to find the shrubs, which were quite large, missing. One of the boys had hidden them behind the gym. Their punishment? — plant the shrubs.

When a student at Warren Central skipped school so often that Mendrop gave him the ultimatum to attend classes or drop out, the boy chose the latter, Within an hour the student’s mother called. She wasn’t upset about but one thing: Why had Mendrop called her son a “goat head”? It took him a while to figure it out — he had told the boy, “Go ahead and get your books and turn them in.”

Mendrop’s love of sports began when he was a youngster. There were two basketball goals in the family’s yard, and he loved to pole vault and high jump and enjoyed playing outside. A gym was built at Jett when he was a sophomore, and Ralph Brummit was the coach. When he resigned, there wasn’t a coach, and the boys practiced on their own every day for 30 minutes after lunch. There was no such thing as staying after school. “We had a pretty good team; we did pretty good,” he said, and when game time came, Virgil 0’Neil, the principal, was in charge.

Mendrop is still active in sports and plays golf several times a week. 0n his 80th birthday, as he had been a member of the Clear Creek Golf Course for many years, he was given a free membership. His sons gave him 40 free rides for Christmas, so he doesn’t walk anymore.

Sixteen years ago Mendrop and Clyde Donnell organized a golf tournament to make money for scholarships for students to go to Hinds; it raises from $8,000 to $10,000 each year.

He said his routine now is going to the doctor, to the drug store, to retired teachers’ meetings and to church (he’s a deacon at First Baptist). Things changed drastically April 4 when a huge tree fell on his house, destroying a major portion of it. They moved back in five months later.

At school, he had the reputation of being tough but fair. When he had some heart problems a few years ago, two of his former students quipped that they didn’t know he had a heart. “If I hadn’t had a heart, you wouldn’t have a diploma,” he told them.

“If I have been successful at Jett and Warren Central,” he said, “it was because of the people I was surrounded by — even you! Teachers, counselors, my staff in the office, my assistants — we were just loaded down with good people.”

P.S. Doatsie Mendrop is my cousin.

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