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Truett-McConnell program to be named for Dora Spiva


J. Gerald Harris/Index

Dora Spiva has been a mainstay of her North Georgia community since birth. Recently Truett-McConnell College named an education program in her honor.

CHOESTOE — She is a North Georgia treasure. Her pastor, Kenneth Zollinger, says, “Everybody in the county knows her; and she has such a sweet spirit. She has been actively involved in this church for decades, taught Sunday School for years, and is still the president of the Women’s Missionary Union.”

The Choestoe Baptist Church pastor was making reference to Dora Hunter Allison Spiva who will be 103 years old on Feb. 10. Dora is an active, even feisty, but stately, gracious Christian lady with a great sense of humor and an indomitable spirit.

For the last few years the Georgia House of Representatives has adopted resolutions congratulating her for accomplishments and longevity. When asked if she had special birthday plans for Feb.10th, she simply replied, “I don’t have any. I just want to be present for whatever plans are being made.”

Spiva has outlived two husbands. She was married to Frank Allison from 1929 until his death in 1969. In 1974 she married her childhood sweetheart, Daniel Spiva. They were married until his death in 1985. Spiva never had children of her own but regarded the students she taught in School as her “children.”

When asked about the secret to her long life she advised, “Love the Lord, live a good life, develop good friendships, and eat a good breakfast.”

The Mayo Clinic agrees that a healthy breakfast is a vital ingredient to a long and healthy life; and suggests that a good breakfast consists of a fruit or vegetable, a whole grain muffin or Melba toast, cottage cheese or low-fat yogurt and a hard-boiled egg.

Spiva has a different opinion. She insists that a good breakfast includes bacon, sausage, eggs, grits, biscuits, and gravy. One look at her and you will be convinced that her breakfast menu will not only provide a delectable delight for the palate, but a definite vim and vigor to the physique.

“Keeping your mind sharp is also a priority with me,” Dora proclaimed. “I get the newspaper every day. I read the headlines and then turn to the page with all the comic strips. That is where the word jumble can be found. If I can do the jumble I know my mind is working and I get on with the day.”

When asked about the changes that she had seen in her lifetime Spiva beamed as she talked about the coming of electricity to her county, declaring, “When electricity came we no longer had to read by the light of a lamp or the fireplace and we no longer had to take the butter to the spring house. We could put it in the refrigerator. That was a big change and a vast improvement. I also remember when automobiles first came into the county. That was a long time ago, but I remember it well.”

J. Gerald Harris/Index

Dora Spiva chats with DeWitt Cox, left, and Mike Simoneaux, right. Cox serves as consultant for Advancement for TMC while Simoneaux is interim president of the Cleveland school.

Spiva has always lived in what is known as “the Choestoe Valley” between the Chattachoochee National Forest and Blairsville. Her reputation, however, has extended far beyond her geographic boundaries.

Spiva was saved as a teenager during a revival meeting conducted by Jim and Jarrett Hood. She recalled, “The school turned the students out during the day to go to the revival. That was when we had services during the daytime as well as at night and the revival was an epoch in the life of the community.”

The centenarian continued, “The preacher made his message plain in that revival. He said, ‘You either belong to Jesus or you are going to that other place.’ When I heard that I got saved and got baptized the next Sunday. Now for all these years I belong to Jesus.

“I was baptized in Morris Ford, a well known landmark in the Nottely River near Georgia State Highway 180,” she added. “The women didn’t wear pants then and so we had to pin our skirts together when we got baptized to keep them from floating up.

“Preachers who baptized in running water also had to remember to baptize their converts against the flow of the water, because if they baptized them the wrong way the candidates would get water up their noses. One of our pastors, Harry Smith, baptized Hazel Collins the wrong way and was teased about it as long as she lived.”

Spiva finished high school and went to Young Harris College where she prepared herself to teach mathematics and Latin in High School. She taught in Union County High School for 30 years, then served as a guidance counselor and an elementary school principal, investing 40 years of her life in education. Today hundreds of her students occupy strategic positions and play significant roles in North Georgia and beyond.

Spiva’s love for students even extended into the athletic programs of the high school where she coached both the boys and girls basketball teams. She explained, “I played basketball in high school and knew just enough about the sport to qualify as a coach.” As she feigned a set shot, she added, “I continue to love basketball and wish I could still play.”

There is no lack of passion in Spiva’s spirit as she speaks of the importance of everyone getting an education. She stated, “I wanted my students to get prepared for life – to reach their full potential. I insisted on my students learning Latin and math. I challenged them, pushed and prodded them. Some of them thought I was preaching to them, but I told them what they needed to hear.”

Dora Spiva maintains a youthful perspective at 103, as evidenced by reading material on her living room coffee table.

One of the students Spiva taught was James Butts, who served as a physician in Gainesville for many years. He retired from his medical practice at the end of last year and now serves as the volunteer Medical Director of the Good News Clinic, which is the largest volunteer medical/dental clinic in Georgia.

Dr. Butts graduated from Union High School, went to Emory University, and then on to medical school on a Ty Cobb Scholarship. He remarked, “Dora Allison [Spiva] was a very good teacher, probably better than most. She taught me geometry and I felt that I was as well prepared for my studies in math at Emory as anyone else; and most of the other students had gone to a college preparatory school. She was a good person and helped a lot of people.”

In reflecting over her life, Spiva expressed her delight in the Lord, “Oh, He has kept me going. I trust Him. If I didn’t have Him what would I do? He has blessed me so. I am just as grateful as the Psalmist in the 100th Psalm. That Psalm expresses just how I feel. I think most of my dreams have come true. I am so blessed.”

Truett-McConnell College has developed such a love and respect for this remarkable lady from the Choestoe community that they have officially launched the Dora Spiva Education Program. Susan Gannaway, education department head, recently stated, “Truett-McConnell will train teachers that the area schools will be proud to employ. We trust that Dora Spiva will be proud that they are trained in an education program that bears her name.”

Dewitt Cox, consultant for Advancement for TMC, added, “Dora is quite a lady. I have known her for over twenty years and know that her heart beats for education. She has a deep desire for young people to be prepared for life through education in a Christian context.”

Mike Simoneaux, interim president of TMC, declared, “Truett-McConnell is honored to be able to initiate this campaign to name this Education Program after Dora Spiva. A great educator changes people’s lives and that is what Mrs. Spiva has done.”

Truett-McConnell College hopes to raise $1 million to endow this education program. Interested contributors may contact: Mike Simoneaux, Truett-McConnell College, Office of Advancement, 100 Alumni Drive, Cleveland, GA 30528.