At Christmastime Carolyn Arnold Brazier and her husband traveled from Longview to visit the graves of her parents at Green Acres Memorial Park in Cleburne.
As they walked with flowers in hand toward the gravesite of E. Rex and Evia Arnold, both retired teachers, they were surprised to find that someone had been there before them.
“I have no family here, I have no brothers or sisters,” Carolyn said. “I can’t imagine who would leave beautiful red silk roses with baby’s breath in memory of them. That was such a lovely thing to do. I wish I could thank them.”
Perhaps she can.
E. Rex Arnold was a legendary math teacher at Cleburne High School from 1945 until his retirement in 1971. He had taught in several other schools, however, before arriving here.
Emmitt Rex Arnold was born July 29, 1906, in Whitney, the first of the three boys of Henry Emmitt Arnold and Frances Griffin Arnold. He graduated from high school there.
Details of Rex Arnold’s early life are sketchy. Carolyn said her grandfather was a teacher, too, and an assumption can be safely made that young Rex enjoyed the outdoors and was active in sports As an adult he loved to fish and hunt and coached sports in smaller schools as he began his teaching career.
At Rock Creek in Hill County, his first teaching job, he was barely older than some of his students. He taught next at Irene, and then Tehuacana. A photo shows him wearing a coach’s letter sweater while there.
The Gilmer-Aiken Bill of 1949 required teachers to have a college degree for the first time. Those who had taught with less semester hours had to return to college.
Arnold didn’t graduate from North Texas Teacher’s College until 1931, but he began teaching in 1926 with an associate’s degree. At these smaller schools he taught history as well as math and coached basketball.
He and Evia, whom he had met at North Texas Teacher’s College, married May 11, 1930. He received his bachelor’s degree there in 1931.
After teaching a year at Tioga, they moved to Blum in 1933, where they both taught. He didn’t coach but was supervisor of the playground. Blum became their home, as they stayed there until 1942.
He taught at Iredell and Alvarado before coming to Cleburne in 1945.
A 1959 Times-Review news release saved among his photographs announces a monetary award he was granted for his achievements as a sponsor of Interscholastic League number sense groups.
It read, “Arnold has sponsored number sense groups in CHS every year since he started teaching here. His teachings have qualified participants for state competition each year since 1950.”
Brooks Taylor, 1959 CHS graduate, placed first in the state that year at UIL competition in Austin. Form CHS students who qualified for state meets since 1950 were John Stansbury, Kenneth McDonald, Patricia Coke, Martha Taylor, Elizabeth Jones and Donald Bennett.
Imagine how the list grew until Arnold’s retirement 12 years later.
His record is interesting, in that not only did he love to teach, he loved to keep learning.
Arnold worked diligently several summers as a mathematician in the engineering department of Convair in Fort Worth, and in Dallas, as a test inspector for diesel engines. He was awarded a National Science Foundation scholarship to study mathematics at TCU.
Lonnie Holliday, a 1955 CHS graduate, remembers Mr. Arnold’s classroom very well.
“When I was in the eighth grade, we were in the basement of Cleburne High [now the Guinn Justice Center]. I had Mr. Arnold from the eighth grade through my junior year. I wish I had stayed with him through my senior year.
“I liked the way he taught everything — but especially, number sense. He would give us stated problems with theorems and postulants with facts and irrelevant information. We learned how to throw out what was not needed and work with the rest. It taught reasoning.
“Today as a property appraiser, I use what he taught me. I don’t think my college hours in math taught me anything significant above that — he gave me my foundation.”
Holliday said he remembered how hard he worked to prepare for Arnold’s classes.
“I remember lying awake at night thinking about some problem, having dreams about it. I’ve often wished I had stayed in mathematics through my senior year. Maybe I could have gone on to West Point like others he helped.”
He added, “I wrote Mr. Arnold a letter after Mrs. Arnold passed away in 1994, and told him how much I appreciated him. He died the next year.”
Debbie Scott Chambless, CHS 1971, remembers the last years Mr. Arnold taught.
“I had Mr. Arnold for two years, for Algebra II and Geometry. College algebra was a snap after his classes. When someone asks me if Mr. Arnold demanded a lot from his students, I always say he ‘expected’ a lot. He let us know he considered us capable.
“But he rewarded us, too. It is funny — it doesn’t sound like much — but if you accomplished something above and above what he expected, he gave you a penny. Arnold’s pennies were prized.
“I was so excited when I earned my first penny that I had my dad put it on my charm bracelet.”
Lt. Gen. Freddy McFarren (ret.), former commander general of the U.S. Fifth Army, received a silver dollar from his math teacher.
“When I became brigadier general I received a note from Mr. Arnold with a silver dollar inside. Tradition says that the first person to salute a new general gives him a silver dollar.
“I always liked math and followed in the steps of my sister, Betty, at CHS, I guess. I would never have gone to West Point without Mr. Arnold’s encouragement. He was the reason I went.
“He helped so many Cleburne students get in military academies. Billy Frasier of Cleburne and I went to West Point together. I’ll always be grateful for his teaching and his help.”
Arnold was a Mason, and a deacon and men’s Bible study teacher at Field Street Baptist Church. He was a planner, which included his funeral.
He asked me and my husband, E.J., if we would sing two songs at his funeral. We were honored, and agreed.
Although we both taught with Mr. Arnold at CHS, E.J. knew him better than I did. They fished together often.
One Saturday they were wade fishing in the Brazos River for sand bass when Arnold stepped into a deep hole. His waders quickly filled, and E.J. scrambled to pull him over to the bank.
Arnold told many people how his life was saved.
In September 1995, we made a trip to England. When we came home I listened to the recorded messages on our answering machine.
Officials from a funeral home had called to tell us that Arnold had died, and that they had his requests for our songs at his funeral.
A few messages later they called again.
A final message said they had heard we were out of town and had asked someone else to sing.
The next day we drove to the cemetery and found the freshly dug grave that was his. We turned our backs to the traffic, held up the music in the wind, and sang the two songs.
It seemed like the right thing to do.
Larue Barnes may be reached at email@example.com.