Sally Campbell, who will complete her first century in Sylva on Saturday, has lived all her life in the same place – the house she grew up in stood only yards from her current home – and she’s never wanted to be anywhere else.
“I was perfectly content,” she said. “I’ve always been right happy, right here.”
Born Sally Mae Monteith, she’s the daughter of the late Sam and Ida Catherine Fisher Monteith. Mrs. Campbell is known to many who remember her 34 years of teaching English, first at Sylva High School, once located where Mark Watson Park is now, and then at Sylva-Webster (now Smoky Mountain) High.
She attended what was then Western Carolina Teachers College, graduating in the spring of 1937, and started teaching that fall.
Growing up in town, Mrs. Campbell can remember when Main Street was a dirt road. Her father was a merchant, selling general merchandise from a store located in front of the old A&P (now Family Dollar Store). As a child, she spent as much time there as possible; it had candy.
Mrs. Campbell remembers falling in Scotts Creek when she was about five and that Ted Mull jumped in and pulled her out. She often played marbles with her four brothers.
“I had a string of brown beads, and I broke it so I could use those beads as marbles,” she said.
She was standing on Main Street in 1936 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt came through.
“It was an exciting time,” she said. “Everybody went to Main Street.”
Mrs. Campbell remembers Gertrude McKee, North Carolina’s first woman state senator. McKee, who was on the school board in 1937, played a pivotal role in Mrs. Campbell’s career.
“At that time you had to be a Democrat to get a job, but I was from a Republican family,” Mrs. Campbell said. “I went to the education board and presented my case.”
She taught for two years before marrying Claude Campbell, who owned Campbell Electronics (where Livingston’s Photo is now) on Main Street. Her husband’s technological skill helped out when Mrs. Campbell taught science one year. “Claude taught me at night, and then I taught the children the next day.”
All in all, she taught for 34 years, retiring in 1980, with a 10-year break while her children were small. Daughter Judy Covin was born in 1943 and son Jim in 1948.
“When we go out to eat, an amazing number of former students come up to say hello,” Jim Campbell said.
“Claude used to say I’d taught more people than he could count,” Mrs. Campbell said. Her former students include retired educators Arlin Middleton and Frank Burrell; county Commissioner Boyce Deitz; and former Sylva town board member Danny Allen.
Fern Parris Hensley, who was in Mrs. Campbell’s class around 1954, said she liked her both as a teacher and a person. Some 20 years later, Mrs. Campbell taught Fern’s daughter, Glenda. “Mrs. Campbell is one of those special kind of people you always remember,” Fern said.
A member of First Baptist Church all her life, Mrs. Campbell taught Sunday school and often served as pianist or organist, receiving an award for being involved in the church’s music program for 60 years. She has provided music for many funerals, serving as organist at Melton’s Funeral Home, and playing for funerals at Moody’s and Appalachian Funeral Services.
During Jackson County’s week-long 1951 Centennial celebration, Mrs. Campbell closed the entertainment every night, singing “When the Moon Comes over the Mountain” in the style of singer Kate Smith, who made the song famous. Mrs. Campbell held various offices in the Halcyon Club, a federated women’s club, which sponsored Rural Health Day every year during the 1950s.
After she retired from teaching, Mrs. Campbell stayed active, playing music and walking two or three miles each day around town. She attributes her long life to exercise and “good, clean living.”
Her family will host a reception in Mrs. Campbell’s honor this Saturday, Nov. 11. Friends, former students and coworkers are invited to drop by First Baptist Church’s Mission and Fellowship Center to extend birthday wishes from 1 until 3 p.m. Cards and notes are welcome, but no gifts please.
Lynn Hotaling was editor of The Sylva Herald for 18 years, retiring in January 2016. She is the author of two books on local history.