The vision that brothers B.B. and D.D. Dougherty had when they created what now is Appalachian State University has been fulfilled by people like Etta Lee Triplett Idol, who died Dec. 7 at age 98.
The Dougherty brothers, born and raised in Boone, dreamed of improving educational opportunities for children of their region by establishing an institution of higher learning to produce teachers for the public schools.
It’s clear in a 2015 recorded interview with Appalachian representatives that Etta understood at the time the great opportunity her uncle provided when he paid the school’s $64 quarterly tuition for her in the early 1940s. She was a diligent student.
Etta believed in the transformational power of education and was a lifelong learner. She was often called on for helping with various needs in her community, from directing weddings to writing obituaries.
Born and raised at the foot of the Blue Ridge escarpment in western Wilkes County, Etta was the only member of her senior class of 27 students at Mount Pleasant High School to attend a four-year college or university.
Her husband of 62 years, the late John V. Idol of Deep Gap, thought college was beyond his reach financially until B.B. Dougherty arranged for him to work off his tuition at Appalachian. John and Etta Idol both received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in education at what then was Appalachian State Teacher’s College.
The Idols were educators in Wilkes for over 70 years combined, often working as a team. Sharon Idol Oxford, their daughter, said John Idol promoted his wife’s independence and equal rights in thought and deed.
They both taught at Mount Pleasant High School before Ella continued teaching at Millers Creek and West Wilkes high schools. John was principal and then district principal at Millers Creek High. When Mount Pleasant and Millers Creek high schools were merged to form West Wilkes High, he became West Wilkes district principal. Wilkes no longer has district principals.
John became assistant superintendent of the Wilkes schools and later vice president of student services at Wilkes Community College. He did much of the research for securing a charter for WCC in the early 1960s.
Etta switched from teaching home economics to science, biology and chemistry early in her career and inspired an interest in scientific fields for many.
She urged students to be involved in academic clubs like Future Teachers of America.
While raising two children of their own, John and Ella Idol’s home was always open to students for advice, a temporary place to stay or other help.
Etta provided school supplies when needed and made sure students had lunch and that graduation fees were paid.
The Idols provided transportation for students for athletics and other extra-curricular activities. They drove students to scholarship interviews, SAT preparation tests and to dorms when it was time to move in for college.
Marsh Lyall, former Wilkes school superintendent, and Gerald Lankford, retired businessman and former Wilkes school board member and county commissioner, were in Etta’s classes at Millers Creek and West Wilkes high schools.
Lyall said she influenced him to minor in biology in college, but he dropped her chemistry class after the first day because he thought it would be too hard. “We all loved her but she expected you to do the work.”
He said Etta was an outstanding teacher and appropriately was named Wilkes County’s first teacher of the year. Lyall is lined up to speak about the Idols when they’re inducted as part of the newest class in the Wilkes Hall of Fame.
Lankford said Etta “was everything you would hope to see in a teacher — and everything you would hope to see in a person. To this day, I still think of things she said to me in class.”
He said that in addition to class subjects, she taught students about the importance of education, honesty “and that you value what you are in this world.”
Lankford added, “I’m sure she is one of the reasons I went to college.”