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District dedicates new early childhood center

Mark and Marsha Canup unveil the portrait of their mother.

Princeton ISD dedicated its newest campus Sunday during a special ceremony honoring its namesake, Nellie Canup.

The Nellie Canup Early Childhood Center opened its doors in August to all of the district’s Pre-K students at the site of the former Huddleston Intermediate School. The project to renovate and transform the campus has been underway since 2019, when Southard opened as the second middle school and the last of the 6th-graders vacated the campus.

Canup Principal Vickey Dillard welcomed the crowd to the dedication.

Mrs. Canup's great-granddaughters, Camryn and Kyndal Cowan, lead the pledge.

“We are excited and honored to see you here for the dedication of this renovated building named for a truly inspiring educator,” Mrs. Dillard said. “Today’s celebration is a culmination of many events that led to opening the district’s first early childhood center for all Pre-K students.”

Mrs. Dillard credited the PISD Board of Trustees and the Long-Range Planning Committee for their foresight in transforming the existing campus into a new space for the youngest students in the district to learn and grown.

“It is fitting that the Nellie Canup family is here as our guests of honor, because this school is dedicated to her 16-year career,” Mrs. Dillard said. “In 1973, she set up the first program like this in the district when the state legislature made it mandatory to offer kindergarten.”

Thresa Owen spoke during Sunday's ceremony.

When Mrs. Dillard was hired as the school’s first principal, Mrs. Canup, who passed away earlier this year, wanted to meet her. Although she knew she was ill, she still had some wisdom and inspiration she wanted to share.

“When I met her in February, she shared stories with me about her first year and how she had 42 kindergarten students all by herself,” Mrs. Dillard said. “You could tell she loved educating every student and wanted them to reach their full potential. She wanted the absolute best for them.”

According to Mrs. Dillard, Mrs. Canup also made her promise to take care of the teachers, because she felt the teachers do not always get the credit they deserve.

“I know she was kind and caring to all her students, and she wanted the teachers in this school to do the same, which she knew we would,” Mrs. Dillard said. “We will follow her inspiration as we are ‘Building Bright Futures,’ which is our theme for the year.”

Mary Mayfield taught with Nellie Canup many years.

The lineup of speakers for Sunday’s ceremony featured longtime friends and fellow educators of Mrs. Canup.

“When Mrs. Canup asked me if I’d speak, I said, I’m a talker, not a speaker,” said Thresa Owen. “So they just told me to talk about the good old days, which is easy to do about Nellie Canup. She was so nurturing and made you feel like you were the only one that mattered.”

Mrs. Owen recalled her relief knowing she was sending her children off to a school where Mrs. Canup taught.

“Everyone here probably knows how hard it is to send your kids off to school for the first time,” she said. “But I felt OK because I knew I was sending them to Nellie Canup.”

According to Mrs. Owen, one of the duties of the Long-Range Planning Committee is choosing names for future schools.

Guests at the dedication ceremony say the pledge of allegiance.

“When (Superintendent Philip) Anthony said there would be an early childhood center, (fellow committee member) Larry Abbott and I looked at each other and said, it has to be named for Nellie Canup,” Mrs. Own said. “This place is exactly what Nellie Canup was all about.”

Former longtime co-worker Mary Mayfield also spoke about all the valuable lessons Mrs. Canup passed along to her students.

“Mrs. Canup taught children the important things,” Mrs. Mayfield said. “She taught them how to get in line, how to share, how to play fair, how to keep their hands to themselves, how to put things back where you got them. But the most important thing she taught them was how to love each other and be kind.”

According to Mrs. Mayfield, Mrs. Canup also was a positive person who knew how to turn anything into a positive situation.

The cake at the reception featured the theme of the Canup campus this year.

“The roof over her room leaked,” Mrs. Mayfield said. “She bought a plastic swimming pool and put it in her room. When Easter came around and it was still not fixed, she decided she would teach a unit about ducks. She covered their migration habits, what they ate, everything. And she got real baby ducks and put them in the pool. That’s how you make something positive.”

As Sunday’s dedication neared, the family of Nellie Canup asked Mrs. Dillard what the school needed. As a gift to the early childhood center, friends and family donated plasma cars to the children. That’s something they learned from Mrs. Canup.

“For her funeral, as a memorial, she requested school supplies be donated instead of flowers,” said Mrs. Owen. “Who does something like that? Nellie Canup does.”

Guests at the dedication toured the school, including, from left, Jana Heradon Bouse, Susan Combest Pruett and Trina Perkins,