COLUMBIA — In the corner of Beulah Ralph Elementary School’s gym stood 54-year-old Glenn Cobbins Sr., waving to the crowd as he was recognized for having been one of “Beulah’s Drifters.”
While a student at Douglass High School, he was one of many young men from the school for whom community educator Beulah Ralph created a classroom in her office because they couldn’t find success anywhere else.
This group, “Beulah’s Drifters,” was composed of young men who had trouble in school, and Ralph cared about them as if they were her own children. Cobbins said Ralph would get in her car at night and go around the neighborhood making sure her “drifters” stayed out of trouble.
“She had a voice that was so soft, it cut like razors,” Cobbins said. “She was a pillar — never changed. As far as I’m concerned, her spirit never dies.”
Cobbins and about 200 other people, including Ralph’s family and friends from out of state, gathered at 2 p.m. Friday for the dedication ceremony for the elementary school named in Ralph’s honor. Ralph was born on Jan. 31, 1927, and died at the age of 83 on Nov. 17, 2010,according to previous Missourian reporting.
The new school, set to open next Tuesday, was buzzing with warmth as hugs, laughter and memories were exchanged during the event. Looking into the gym, it was evident that Ralph’s legacy had influenced all in attendence and continues to resonate with her values instilled in the elementary school.
During his remarks, Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said Ralph had been “a living legend, one of the most valuable players” in the school district’s history.
Ralph graduated from Douglass High School and worked as a secretary at the school for 20 years. Ralph dedicated her 58-year career to ensuring all students had educational equality, no matter their background or race. She created and directed the Home-School Communicator program, which aided students transitioning to different schools after the district’s schools were desegregated, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Monica Naylor, Ralph’s only daughter, spoke at the dedication ceremony and emphasized how progressive-thinking Ralph was, how Ralph’s program addressed race issues and how Ralph made sure students of every color knew they had someone in the building who understood them.
Standing in the school named after her mother, Naylor said it was a joyous occasion but one filled with mixed feelings for herself.
“We are here today, and that means she is not,” Naylor said.
Naylor said Ralph was an inspiration and the biggest cheerleader in her life. The school being named after Ralph showed Naylor what her mother meant to the community and the respect she had earned from those around her.
Naylor, a retired teacher, said her mother understood how important it was to show the students that someone who looked like them could be in a role of success. She also said that Ralph was not only a mother to her but to the Home-School Communicators she cared for.
When Naylor asked the Home-School Communicators in the gym to stand, more than a dozen men and women stood to be recognized. Cathy Cox, from Benton STEM Elementary School, and Tambra Redden, from Russell Boulevard Elementary School and Fairview Elementary School, both knew Ralph for many years before being hired by her.
“She was everybody’s mama and grandma,” Redden said. Ralph has+ been a Home-School Communicator for 18 years.
Cox said that everyone who grew up in Columbia’s black community knew Ralph as someone who genuinely worked to pull the best out of every person she met.
To help carry on Ralph’s legacy, Cox and Redden strive to make sure the students and families they care for have chances to succeed.
Although the Home-School Communicator program will not be implemented at Beulah Ralph Elementary, Principal Tim Majerus said the service-learning school will embody Ralph’s philosophy of giving back to the community. Throughout each year, all grade levels will participate in their choice of a service project, Majerus said.
The school, which cost $20 million to build, is expected to have about 540 students enrolled for its first year. Naylor hopes all children can come, learn and thrive at the school.
As one of “Beulah’s Drifters,” Cobbins said Ralph taught the community many values, including love and treating others as equals.
“She always said education is the passport for the future,” Cobbins said. “She was the supreme. She was queen — she still is.”
Supervising editor is Jared Kaufman.
Source: Columbia Missourian