2019-02-08 / Education

Family gifts $20,000 to Lexington Two school in memory of teacher’s love for reading and her “kiddos”

Contributed by Dawn Kujawa

Eleanor Mann Photo courtesy of the Mann family Eleanor Mann Photo courtesy of the Mann family Eleanor Hightower Mann spent nearly 40 years doing what she loved, teaching children to read.

So after the retired Lexington Two teacher’s death in 2017, it wasn’t hard for her family to figure out how best to honor her memory.

SETF Inc.—the company started by Steve Mann, Eleanor’s husband of 38 years, and their two adult children, Frances Medley and Thomas Mann—is gifting $20,000 to Riverbank Elementary for reading initiatives for students, the ones Eleanor always called her “kiddos” and “friends.” The school will use the donation to purchase books for several of the school’s reading programs, and to create a reading room with soft furniture for young minds to learn.

“She worked hard to connect with kids who were having trouble reading,” said her daughter Frances. “If she were still here, she would give back to this district to give kids the opportunity to be successful.”

A Bamberg native, Eleanor graduated from Clemson University and took her first job in 1978 at Lexington Two’s Saluda River Elementary, first working in special education and later teaching second and third grades. She was a certified reading recovery teacher and an instructional facilitator, still working in reading but also math and other areas. She mentored younger teachers and did professional development to help educators hone their classroom skills.

Teaching “was her ministry,” Frances said.

Both Frances and her brother Thomas attended Saluda River, recalling the time they spent with their mother in her classroom before and after school. “I loved being at school with her,” Frances said. “I feel like we got to spend a lot of extra time together.”

Thomas also got extra time with his mother even as a student in one of her third-grade classes.

“Mom taught South Carolina history to all third-graders. It took some time for both of us to adjust. She was so worried about showing favoritism that she literally would never call on me the first few weeks, and I had to adjust to her being my teacher in this role and not my mom. After a couple of weeks, I think we both figured it out, and everything was good.”

Thomas said his mother cared deeply for her students.

Eleanor retired after the 2010-11 school year, but her time away was short-lived.

“Patti Sims called her about a SMART room opening at Springdale (Elementary),” her husband Steve said. “She missed working with the kids, and this was an opportunity to do what she loved, which was reading. She was excited to work with Patti and (principal) Shane Thackston.”

Eleanor always was focused on good health, so when she started to get shortness of breath and lower energy levels, she went to the doctor, where they discovered a heart condition in fall 2016 that stemmed from similar issues as a child.

Her health challenges forced her to step away from her Lexington Two classroom for good after just two weeks in 2017.

Shortly after her death at age 61, Eleanor’s family opened her prayer book, which she wrote in throughout her life. They found prayers for her two children and her husband, as well as many of her students.

The gift from SETF Inc. will ensure her impact continues.

“Not only did Eleanor Mann devote nearly 40 years to teaching the children here in Lexington Two,” said Superintendent Dr. William James Jr., “but this special gift ensures that she will continue to instill that love of reading in our students at Riverbank for years to come.”

The family still hears from former students, some of whom say they became teachers because of Eleanor.

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