Let’s name a school after educator Bonaparte

Just a simple idea. What a wonderful time to do a series of stories on past educators who have served Darlington County.

I attended Darlington County schools, taught briefly in Darlington County schools. I remember recently Darlington lost a very beloved principal who grew up with me and I knew as the sister of some girls my age. I really didn’t know her as an educator but somebody did, and from all accounts and letters in your paper she was dearly loved.

Let’s talk about those people who were so important to the young boys and girls who grew up in Darlington County.

I’m putting a name in but it probably will not get any consideration. But what a wonderful time to remind everyone who this person was by writing what I knew of him.

My candidate for the name of a new school: E.J. Bonaparte. Former principal of Brockington Elementary in the 1950s-1970s.

The son of a sharecropper who was smart, Christian and an educator who met the needs of his school over and over again. A World War II veteran who had a master’s degree when he entered service after serving as a principal in the Darlington County schools before the war and was assigned to a recovery and burial unit in the Army.

He was not bitter about his job because he was glad he could serve his country. He did see combat in 1944 at the Battle of the Bulge.

As he told it to me, “All the white boys started running to the rear as the Germans advanced on our position. My buddy said let’s go kill some Germans since we had never seen combat. We grabbed our weapons and moved forward until we saw the Germans and tanks.

“We decided since they were overwhelming us with firepower that we weren’t going to kill many Germans. We started running … until we caught up with the white boys and made our stand against the Germans.”

He would tell stories about the early days of running a school. The things former bosses asked him to do. He told me who the really good educators were and those he could depend on to help him get what he needed to run the school in his neighborhood.

He shared the inner workings of the people in his school district or neighborhood and what was needed to make it a good educating climate.

He knew almost every family in our school and a good bit of their history.

I taught 4th grade science and history. I had a girl who would come in late every day. She would not tell me why she was late and after a week or so, I asked Mr. Bonaparte if he had any information on her. He told me he would look into it.

Several days later he came back and said that her mother had left the family, which was four children and Dad. Dad had to go to work early in the morning and she, a 10-year-old girl, was responsible for getting her brother and sisters up, feeding them and getting them to the babysitter or school. I never said another word to her about being late again.

E.J. Bonaparte was a man for his time. He knew who to talk to and how to get the job done. He was good with adults and children. He was kind but firm in his direction and he was willing to let the new ones learn through trial and error.

Never did he come down hard on me as a teacher even though I gave him opportunities as a new, inexperienced teacher. “Always a teaching point,” he would remark.

I lost track of him after leaving teaching and traveling the world but I can say without a doubt that he was one of my most interesting encounters: A sharecropper’s son who managed to attend high school by sharing the barn with a horse, who went to four colleges in four years and still graduated after four years.

He got his master’s soon after, and was a principal before World War II. He joined the Army as a private even though he had a master’s. After the war he came back to Darlington to serve as an educator until his retirement in the 1970s.

There are lots of older adults in Darlington who crossed paths with Mr. Bonaparte and can testify to the wonderful man and educator who was among us.

Chuck DeLorme,
Lebanon, Ill.

Author: Rachel Howell

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