Rena Holt was a physical education major who graduated from Piedmont College. She taught physical education in the 1960s at Marianna High School at a time when girls and boys PE classes were separated.
At that time, physical education was required in every year of high school through tenth grade. At the time, Marianna High School was grades 7-12. The girls dressed in white shirts, shoes, and socks daily. Mrs. Holt was very determined that physical education was as important to the body as learning was to the mind. The girls were charged with learning the why’s and how’s of such games as basketball, volleyball and softball. Supervised activities kept the students’ bodies in fine physical condition.
Julie Davis had Mrs. Holt in the eighth grade and although she admits she wasn’t athletic in any way, Mrs. Holt had a way of making you think you were, “She would come up with these exercises, and it was almost like she was teaching dance classes. She made sure the boys were kept away because we couldn’t mix with them during PE at all back then. She had a nice smile but she didn’t have any trouble putting you in your place if she thought you were slacking off.”
Nell Grantham had a different encounter with Holt when she was in the ninth grade, “I had a skin pigment problem and was always very self-conscious about it, felt like everyone was staring at me my first two years in PE. The very first day we dressed out in our all whites, I just knew everyone was looking at me like I was weird or something. Mrs. Holt called me in her office as we were leaving the gym that day and asked me how long my skin had been like it was and I told her since I was around nine years old. She asked me if I had been to a doctor and I of course told her no, that my family didn’t have money to waste on cosmetic issues. She had the kindest look in her eyes when she looked at me and said, “I totally understand where they are coming from but I have a friend who is a very good nurse. Would you mind if she looked at it.” And of course, I told her no I didn’t mind but my family didn’t have money for that either. She assured me there would not be a need for my family to pay for anything, the nurse would gladly look at it for no charge. The very next day in PE she told me to see her after class and I did. She had arranged for me to see the nurse that afternoon if it was okay with my parents. I told her I had told them and they said yes, but they didn’t want to bother anyone, that I’d probably outgrow it. I went that afternoon and saw Mrs. Hebb who was a nurse at the hospital. Mrs. Holt took me to her house. She took one look at my leg and immediately said this was something a $2 prescription would take care of. I asked my parents that night and they agreed although $2 then isn’t what it is today, it was more than an hour’s wages. Within two weeks of taking the meds, the spots began to fade and they never returned. I can’t imagine going through four more years of high school thinking I was a freak. It may be really sad that she didn’t stay longer but my life was certainly better for having known her.”
Janice Simmons had yet another story of Mrs. Holt, “That lady meant you were going to be in shape. She didn’t want to hear any excuses. Every day, we were going to do jumping jacks, situps, walk, run, if it was physical, we were going to do it. But, I will say this, whatever she had us do, she did, not like the PE teachers my children had years later. So I guess that made it fair but at the time, I certainly didn’t think so.”