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Stalcup writes her life story from Old Butler until now

For a very rural area of East Tennessee, Johnson County is home to a surprising number of remarkable individuals, especially in the field of education, yet few have lived quite as colorful a life as Edna Stalcup. Now approaching her 84th birthday, Stalcup is a life long resident of the county who dedicated the majority of her working career to the education and betterment of thousands of students lives over the course of more than four decades of service.
In the years since she retired from her last position as guidance counselor at Johnson County High School, a spot she held from 1970 until 1992, Stalcup has been busy telling her story in the hopes of preserving a unique piece of Johnson County’s history as well as to inspire future generations to pursue their dreams. At the insistence of friends and family, Edna finally put pen to paper in 2009, writing “My Secret Hideaway, Beneath Watauga Lake.” A memoir of her experiences, most of Stalcup’s initial copies have already sold out, but she continues to receive requests for more.
“Life is too short to do something you don’t want to do,” Stalcup said, highlighting her guiding philosophy in life. A Butler native, Edna was the oldest of four siblings and the only daughter of Tine and Fern Honeycutt. Growing up on the streets of Old Butler, the soon to be doomed city held many precious memories for Edna, as well as tragic ones. When she was only 16, disaster struck as a drunk driver claimed the life of her eleven-year old brother, Charles.
At the time Stalcup was a junior at Watauga Academy, and although the details of that day would stay with her and her family the rest of her life, she was able to move on. In 1948, as part of the last graduating class before the coming of Watauga Lake, Stalcup achieved honors as the class valedictorian. From there she moved on to attend East Tennessee State College, now a university. Remarkably, that first day of higher education marked another milestone, the moving of Stalcup’s long time home from Old Butler to its new location on Main Street in New Butler.
Stalcup remembers fondly eating breakfast that morning and then returning home that evening to find the house at its new spot. Like many residences of the old town, the house was lifted from its foundation and repositioned at its new site that same day. “The ice never melted in the refrigerator,” she reminisced. “My piano was the only piece of furniture that moved on the journey.”
Stalcup’s childhood in Old Butler would become some of her fondest memories, yet once again she found the drive and motivation to move on and accomplish great things. A year into her bachelor’s degree, she took a job back in Johnson County teaching at Pine Orchard School, a small two room building that closed the following year. Moving to the newly built Watauga Elementary School in Butler, Edna taught until 1965.
In the meantime, Stalcup finished her bachelors, finally receiving her B.S. in Elementary Education in 1953 after graduating with honors. Edna also found time to marry high school sweetheart Paul Courtner and had eight happy years until tragedy struck once again. Falling ill in December 10th of 1961, Courtner succumbed to pancreatitis just six days later. Finding herself a widow at age 30, Edna found strength in her family and managed to struggle on. For six years she continued teaching while living on her own, until in 1966 when she met Lowell Stalcup, the man that would eventually become her second husband in 1968.
A fellow educator who taught a variety of subjects including History and German, Lowell eventually went on to make a name for himself as well, ultimately serving as principal of Doe Elementary followed by being elected Superintendent of Schools in Johnson County. Yet for Stalcup, her career in education took a two-year pit stop when she was surprised to find that she had received a coveted Presidential Appointment from Lyndon Johnson to become Butler’s new postmaster in 1968.
Having passed the required exams, the competition was fierce and Stalcup didn’t know what her chances were of actually getting the position, but when news broke of the appointment, she fondly remembers how proud it made her father. The Postal Service was far different from teaching, and although she performed her duties very thoroughly, she soon began missing her work with the youth of Johnson County.
Having completed her Masters in Guidance & Counseling at ETSU in 1966, Stalcup finally got the opportunity she was looking for in 1970 when the sole guidance position at Johnson County High School came open. Retiring from her service as Post Master after only two years, she resumed her true passion and remained in her position as counselor for the next 24 years.
Stalcup made countless friends during her time at the school and saw many fruits of her labor, as the students grew into adults with children of their own. A lifelong learner, she found time to pursue her Education Specialist degree from Appalachian State along the way and found her duties as counselor falling more and more toward helping students get into college and finding financial aid. As all good things must come to an end, and after 42 years of working in Johnson County’s education system, Stalcup was finally forced to retire after her health began to decline. Facing serious issues with her heart and multiple surgeries, she finally made the decision to leave in 1992. Her health recovered somewhat and she was finally able to fulfill her dream of traveling when she and Lowell eventually made a trip to the Caribbean. Tragically, as with most things in life, the good times didn’t last forever and only a few short years later, Lowell passed away with an unforeseen heart condition. Although another devastating blow, she was able to weather this latest storm relying heavily on her faith.
Having spent the past few years reflecting back on her experiences and adding an authorship to her long list of accomplishments, Stalcup is hopeful that her story will be a source of inspiration. From her days as a teenager growing up in Old Butler to her time working with the children of Johnson County, she has certainly persevered and been met with much success. Through the many ups and downs, she has always pursued her dreams and that more than anything is the lasting testament of her accomplishments. “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do something,” Stalcup said. “If you stick with it and believe in yourself, you’ll make it.”