Etta Turner has been a fixture at the Clarksdale Municipal School District since 1998, but not in the traditional role as an educator.
Turner, who began her career in the local school district as a secretary at George H. Oliver Elementary in 1999, is retiring June 28, the same day her boss, CMSD School Superintendent Dennis J. Dupree, retires after 12 years as the leader of the local school system.
“I wanted to leave with him,” she said of Dupree. “It’s been a good run. We didn’t have too many disagreements and those we had were minor.”
“We got along like two peas in a pod. She is always up on things.”
Serving as Dupree’s secretary has been a high point in the life of Turner, who began her professional career as a secretary at Coahoma Junior College in Clarksdale in 1978 before moving to Alcorn College in 1979.
Although she enjoyed Alcorn, she wanted a future for her children so, after four years in Port Gibson, she picked up and moved to Atlanta, where there were more opportunities for her offspring.
“They were young and there was nothing to do in Port Gibson,” Turner said. “I got a job at Clark-Atlanta University and continued my career.”
She returned to Clarksdale in 1999 and began working as a secretary at George H. Oliver Elementary School, where Dupree found her and hired her as his executive secretary when he was appointed district superintendent in 2007.
“She was already there and I saw no reason to change,” Dupree said. “She is a very sharp lady. She can do it all and I have no regrets.”
Her retirement will end her 41-year career as an educational secretary.
Two highlights of her career that stand out were “helping with the bond issue on the new executive district headquarters and the stadium and a recent field trip to Jackson that allowed students to tour the new civil rights museum there.”
Turner said she was surprised to learn that some kids in the Clarksdale school system had never been outside of Coahoma County.
“I am proud to have been a part of that field trip,” she said. “That meant a lot to those students.”
The passage of the $8.2 million bond issue “was vital to the school system,” she said.
“We worked hard to get that passed,” Turner said of the measure that was approved in 2017.
Etta and her husband, Larry, have raised four children: daughters, Angela, 43, Arriane, 40, and Lucretia, 38, all of whom live in Atlanta, and one son, Hansel, 36, who calls Idaho home. Until recently, her husband cooked hot tamales and rib tips at his restaurant on Sunflower Avenue in Clarksdale.
“He’s a good cook and cooks more than hot tamales, too,” she says proudly.
One of the innovative things Dupree introduced to the Clarksdale school system is the Superintendent’s Round Table.
According to Turner, this group of citizens served as both a sounding board and a suggestion box for ideas designed to help the system forge ahead in the business of educating students.
“Any citizen of Clarksdale can volunteer to serve on the Round Table,” Turner said. “(Former Clarksdale Press Register photographer) Troy Catchings and Josephine Rhymes are two who volunteered to serve and they have really been productive.”
Turner calls herself “a people person” who is “a good listener” who likes to help “the best I can.”
Another highlight of her career was the move to the new administration building on Choctaw Avenue.
“Hopefully, the administration won’t have to move again for quite a while,” she said with a laugh. “The flood of 2011 forced us out of our previous location on Friars Point Road and we had to move to a school and take space away from the school. That was an inconvenience.”
Wildcat Plaza, located on Choctaw Avenue, became available and the system purchased and renovated the building for less money than building a new structure and it’s working just fine, according to Turner.
Looking forward to retirement, Turner says she realized it was time to start spending time with her grandchildren when one of them participated in a peewee football game recently. She spotted the youngster looking up into the stands from the field and counting.
After the game, she asked the child what that was all about.
“I was just counting my family members who were in the stands,” he replied, adding: “Everybody was here!”
“It means a lot to them when family is present in their lives,” Turner said.
Starting June 29, she will be there for her 10 grandchildren.
“My work has always been my passion,” Turner said. “But it’s time for me to step aside.”