Bela Herlong Dies

DR. BELA HERLONG received many honors in her lifetime. One came in 2016 when she and fellow educator Gloria Caldwell served as Grand Marshall of the Saluda Christmas Parade. (Standard-Sentinel photo)


Legendary Educator Bela Herlong Dies


  Legendary Saluda educator Dr. Bela Herlong died Mon., Feb. 15, at the age of 89.
  The 1967 South Carolina Teacher of the Year was one of five finalist for National Teacher of the Year that same year.
  She was the English teacher to thousands during her five decades at Saluda High School.
  Following is her obituary:
Ruby “Bela” Herlong
July 29, 1931 -
February 15, 2021
  Some people get their own, completely unique name. Bela Herlong was one of those people. Nobody else in the whole world, it seems, was called Bela; and that is exactly as it should be because nobody else in the whole world was like her.
  Ruby Euela Padgette Herlong, lovingly known as Bela, Miss Bela, Mrs. Herlong or Mama, depending on one’s relationship with her, was born on July 29, 1931, and passed away at home on February 15, 2021. She was surrounded by family and by the love of an entire community and a world of students.
  She taught English at Saluda High School for over forty years and is respected, remembered, and deeply loved by her over 5000 students, as the hundreds of Facebook messages show: “How many of us over [her] four decades of teaching benefitted from [her] love of the English language and literature? Country kids from Saluda learned of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dickens, themes, poetry and term papers.” “What we did in her class was hard. She believed we could, so we did.” “My love of reading, I got from Bela Herlong. She was one of the best and toughest teachers I ever had.” “She was a true teacher because she taught you to think, not just this is the correct answer, but why and how. It takes a ‘gift’ to be able to do that.”
  She did not restrict that gift to only those students in her classroom. For over twenty-four years, she was also the advisor for the Prism, Saluda High School’s award-winning literary magazine. In that role, she encouraged the writer in every student and with Mrs. Gloria Caldwell as director, co-wrote and put on an annual dramatic performance based on the students’ work.
  Her great gift was recognized nationally. To recite her teaching awards would require pages. One of the earliest was being named one of five finalists in Look magazine’s National Teacher of the Year contest in 1967. One of the more recent was the 2009 Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Humanities. Through the years the awards ranged from recognition as an “Ageless Hero for Love of Learning” (2000) given by South Caroline Blue Cross/Blue Shield, to a “Distinguished Service Award” (1985) from the Southern Interscholastic Press Association.
  When she retired, she turned her formidable talents to history and was among the original group who worked to save the Saluda Theater and establish the Saluda County Historical Society. Turned historian, she also turned researcher and author and co-wrote books on local history—books that will be invaluable to future students and which include Mount Willing: Gone But Not Forgotten (2004) and Breaking New Ground: A Pictorial History of Saluda County (1995). Moreover, she and Gloria Caldwell co-wrote and produced numerous historical dramas depicting significant moments in Saluda County history, such as Ties that Bind: A Gathering in Daly Woods (2000), With Valor They Stood: A Drama of Saluda County Veterans(1991), and Thomas Green Clemson: A Man Before his Time (1990). Her most successful historical publication, however, was also her most personal. Every Sunday for ten years, she listened to and recorded her own father, Douglas Davenport Padgett, as he shared the tale of his life. She edited it, gathered the thoughts of others about him, and in 2008 published Padgett’s My Name: One Man’s Story of Growing Up and Growing Old Among Family and Friends in Rural South Carolina. Again, for these community efforts, she received many awards, including recognition by the Greenwood Index-Journal as one of the 100 Most Influential Citizens of the Century in the seven-county area and the “Citizen of the Year” award from the Saluda Civitan Club.
  All this illustrates her giving, public life as Miss Bela and Mrs. Herlong, but one of her most treasured names was “Mama.” In 1951, she married Jimmie Herlong, who died in 2006. She and Jimmie had four children. The eldest was Jim (Jim Ed), who died in 2014 and was married to Wendie Smith, whom Mama especially treasured after the loss of Jim. Jim had one daughter, Charity Chappelear (Mitch), who gave Bela three great-grandchildren (Jesse, Olivia, and Jake), and one son, Kirk Herlong, who lived with Bela for several of his teenage years and gave her two great-grandchildren (Jonathon and Zachary). The second child was Madaline, who married Don Haycraft, lives in New Orleans, and gave Mama four grandsons—James (Christine), Daniel, Jesse, and Travis. William, the third child, married Joan Egan and lives in Greenville, SC. William gave Mama one grandson, Jack (Caitlin), and three granddaughters—Darcy Slizewski (Adam), Grace Loveless (Ryan), and Blanche Reese (Hunter), who have given her four great-grandchildren (Laney and Birdie Slizewski and Carson and Scott Loveless). The “baby” was Alice, who married Heyward Powe, lives in Charlotte, NC, and gave Mama two grandsons, Padgett and Harrison. Mama’s house is filled with photographs of all this immediate family as well as all the extended family and friends who enriched her life.
  There was also a very private “Bela” that she revealed only in her poetry. One of the blessings of her later years was that she had time to collect those poems into a volume titled A Certain View, which is available for purchase at the Saluda County Museum.
  Mama sometimes said that she wished she could have been a mother-at-home for all of us—but we always knew she didn’t mean it. She may have loved us “so much her heart hurt” but her heart was made stronger, wider, and happier by her teaching. As she wrote upon her retirement:
  “I will be lonely. I will miss ‘life all around me’- noisy, young, exuberant life. I will miss the ‘country of the young’ where I have lived for forty-three years. I will miss the magic of the classroom where dreams are the fabric of the very day. I look back over the corridor of the years and thank God for letting me be a teacher.”
  We, her children, thank God for giving her to us to be our “Mama,” and we know that thousands of students and the Saluda community thank God for letting her be their “Mrs. Herlong” and “Miss Bela.” We know that many people will want to show their love of her, and we know that in lieu of flowers, what she would most appreciate is contributions to the scholarship established in her name at Winthrop University for the benefit of South Carolina students studying to become teachers. She treasured the ability to help others in this way and would be so thankful if others joined her in this effort, because all amounts, no matter how small, combine to make a difference to a worthy, aspiring teacher. Checks can be made out to “The Ruby P. ‘Bela’ Herlong Annual Restricted Scholarship” and mailed to Winthrop University Foundation, Winthrop University, 302 Tillman Hall, Rock Hill, SC 29733.
  A simple graveside service was held at Emory United Methodist Church at 2 p.m. on Friday, February 19. It was streamed live on SALUDANow on Facebook, and is still available for viewing.