For many current and former Crossett residents, Hattie Mae Castleberry’s Kindergaten was where it all started.
Castleberry died Nov. 21 at Ashley County Medical Center, but her little school house still stands at its original location on Pine Street — playground equipment and all —and those who knew her said her legacy lives on.
“She positively impacted generations of Crossett students,” said Debbie Johnson, a former student of Castleberry’s 1958 preschool class.
Castleberry opened her own school, Castleberry Kindergarten, in 1950 after teaching at Murphy School for two years. The school was located in her back yard.
Castleberry’s great niece, Kassi Nason, said her aunt had plenty of stories to tell about her many years as a preschool and kindergarten teacher.
“She had a morning and evening class with 30 kids in each, so that was 60 kids a year from 1950 to 2000,” Nason said.
Nason said Castleberry’s class numbers were cut in 1999. The Arkansas Department of Health, which regulates pre-Kindergaten schools, made the call.
“They cut her to 50 kids a day until she closed six years later in 2005,” Nason said.
Her former students said that, no matter how many students she had, she remembered all of them.
“I went in 1960,” former student Karen Moyers said. “I loved the little school building, and Mrs. Castleberry was my all time favorite teacher through all of my school years. If you went to her kindergarten, she never forgot you.”