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A Tribute to Iola Malvern, Namesake of Malvern Elementary

Press Release|
Shane Mauldin|
Friday, December 13, 2019
Iola Malvern, who with her husband Albert A. Malvern, was the namesake of Malvern Elementary School, impacted the lives of hundreds of McKinney students over the course of a career that spanned more than three decades.

Iola Malvern, who with her husband Albert A. Malvern, was the namesake of Malvern Elementary School, impacted the lives of hundreds of McKinney students over the course of a career that spanned more than three decades.

McKinney, Texas – Perhaps the greatest measure of our lives is found not merely in what we accomplish, but in what we inspire and equip others to accomplish.

If that’s the case, Iola Lee Davis Malvern’s life was spilling over with purpose and significance as she invested in multitudes of McKinney students over the course of a career that spanned more than 30 years.

She passed away on Dec. 5, 2019, and with that McKinney experienced the loss of someone truly great.

“Those who knew Iola Malvern knew that her love for teaching really defined the person that she was,” says McKinney ISD Superintendent Dr. Rick McDaniel. “The years she spent teaching at Doty and West Ward before it became Burks Elementary allowed her to touch many lives.”

“She was a beautiful lady,” says Jesse McGowen, namesake of McGowen Elementary School. “In fact she was my elementary teacher. I consider her to be one of the people who made a very great impact on my life.”

That’s a highly significant impact to be sure, for McGowen, a few years later as a school counselor, would play a pivotal role during the integration of McKinney High School in the mid 1960’s as he helped to ease tensions between white students and black students at that campus.

“She was kind of like a second mother, I guess, to her students at the time that we came through,” continues McGowen with a smile, reflecting on his formative years, “because if anything happened at school, probably before we got home, the word had gotten back. She not only imparted knowledge to our heads but she imparted knowledge to where we sat down,” he adds with a chuckle. “She was very strict, but she was very loving, and she was very kind.”

Malvern was born in McKinney, Texas on January 28, 1927 during an era when the city—like so many others across the south—was marked by segregation. And, that fact would remain unchanged for more than 30 years of Malvern’s life.

Growing up, she attended McKinney’s E.S. Doty School, a stalwart, brick building on the east side of town that housed grades 1-12 for the district’s African-American students. She graduated as valedictorian in 1944.

Malvern continued her education at Bishop College in Marshall, Texas where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1948. She would later go on to earn a master’s degree from Texas Woman’s University in early childhood development and counseling. In 1950, she married Albert A. Malvern.

When she began her career as a sixth grade teacher at Doty in 1948, MISD was still separated along racial lines. But, when McKinney ISD fully integrated in 1965, Malvern was one of the first black teachers to transfer to what had previously been an all-white school, West Ward—now known as Nell Burks Elementary—and taught fourth grade until her retirement in 1983.

Iola Malvern (left, in red) attended the 2014 MHS Mane Event when the school unveiled its recently renovated campus. Here Mrs. Malvern looks at the Doty School historical display in the MHS main entry corridor. (Courtesy of MHS)

Throughout those years, her influence extended beyond the walls of the school. “She belonged to First Baptist, and I belonged to St. James CME Church,” says McGowen, “and coming up, those two churches were affiliated in almost all their functions. If something was going on in one church, the other church took part in it and vice versa. Her influence in the church had an impact on me—how she cared for the church, how she worked in the church and the life she lived as a Christian lady.”

There is respect in his voice, and fondness, as McGowen speaks of his longtime friend, reaching back through the memories to revisit those times—times that he admits were often hard. “But there were good times, too,” he adds.

McGowen settles back in his chair and confides that, with the passing of Malvern, he fears some of McKinney ISD’s history may fade from memory. He mentions the passing of Coach Leonard Evans, namesake of Evans Middle School and the first black man to teach and coach on a previously all-white MISD campus at the time when segregation began to crumble—a man who was a colleague of Malvern and had taught and coached McGowen at Doty. He talks of Evelyn Johnson, who passed recently. She was a fellow educator and the wife of Reuben Johnson, namesake of Johnson Elementary.

“Mrs. Malvern, Coach Evans and Mrs. Evelyn Johnson…doing the Black History month and celebration of Martin Luther King…we would often go around and speak at different organizations, the different schools and things like that.

“With them passing—Coach Evans, Mrs. Johnson and now Mrs. Malvern,” McGowen continues, “a lot of our history will disappear because they were a little bit older than I am and they remembered a lot of things that I didn’t remember because I came up as a child under them, and at that particular time, there were things … that children did not take part in or would know anything about. So yes, a lot will be lost. A lot is lost in their passing.”

As we strive to preserve that history, one thing is true: the lifelong work of Iola Malvern lives on with those who knew her and learned from her, those who were steered by her strict but loving influence, who have gone on to accomplish great things because of their time with her—because she prepared them for it. Her strength of character and commitment to her students and her community were truly worthy of emulation.

In 2002, McKinney ISD expressed its gratitude to Albert A. and Iola Lee Davis Malvern by naming a school after them.

“The reputation of McKinney ISD was built and continues to be built by individuals like Mrs. Malvern,” says McDaniel. “Our hearts go out to her family during this time, and we know that her name will live on at Malvern Elementary School and in the legacy she created through her dedication to the students of McKinney ISD.”

“She was a very lovely lady, and she is going to be missed,” says McGowen. “I am going to miss her tremendously.”

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