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Cook retires after nearly four decades of teaching

A classroom is far different than the runways of the fashion world or inside a courtroom, but teaching became a career that was a perfect fit for Diaon Cook at LBW Community College. Now, after 37 years teaching English and reading, she is closing the classroom door.

Long considered a guiding force for students at LBWCC, her early dreams were in fashion design before turning to a desire for a law degree. When it came time to go to college, though, she followed her mother’s advice.

“At the time, I wanted to be a lawyer. My mother was of the opinion I should get a teaching degree so I would always have something to fall back on,” said Cook.

“My daddy told me I wouldn’t get rich being in education, but I would never want for anything. I can’t tell you how true that is. There is so much joy in seeing someone learning and seeing their lives change through the opportunity of an education.”

Diaon Cook is retiring after 37 years of teaching at LBW Community College. (Courtesy Photo)

Diaon Cook is retiring after 37 years of teaching at LBW Community College. (Courtesy Photo)

Cook said her parents had the greatest influence in her life. Her mother taught 31 years in the public schools of Butler County, and her father, a preacher at the same Methodist church in Greenville for 41 years, also taught at a church-sponsored school.

Right out of high school, she left her home in Greenville and went to Tuscaloosa. She earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education English and a master’s degree in secondary education reading, both at the University of Alabama.

“I got my undergraduate degree in three years. Since my parents promised me four years of college, I was able to also get a graduate degree,” she said.

She took that training into a reading classroom at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa for her first teaching experience in Upward Bound, a federal program designed to prepare high school students for college.

“That summer job in 1978 led me to an opening with the Upward Bound program at LBW,” she said. “Lloyd Henderson hired me that fall to teach reading in Andalusia. I worked the summer component of Upward Bound for 30 years while also teaching English at the college level. I’ve taught students who were 14 to 70 all in the same year.”

In May 1984, six years into the job at LBW, Cook contracted Guillain-Barré Syndrome and suffered paralysis as a result. From an intensive care unit at a Birmingham hospital to a rehabilitation center at the age of 27, Cook overcame huge obstacles and returned to the classroom in a wheelchair a few months later.

“I came back that September and spent fall semester in a wheelchair,” she said. “Then I went through a stage with a walker, then a cane. I am very grateful to my LBW family for helping me through that difficult time.”

Persistence and perseverance helped her recover most of her mobility and are qualities she tries to teach students.

“Teaching just comes naturally to me,” Cook said. “This has never felt like a job. That’s why it surprises me that so many years have gone by so fast.”

Over the course of time, Cook became involved in state education committees, task forces, and organizations. She served on boards of directors for the Andalusia Ballet and Covington Arts Council, joined the Delta Kappa Gamma professional education society, and served as president with state associations.

“I’ve been able to grow with the job and work with students,” she said. “Once I got here, it was never my intention to do anything else but work with students.”

As her role at LBW expanded, she became involved in student activities and in 1981 started organizing both the Upward Bound and Ms. LBW beauty pageants. In 1993, she created the Ambassador program.  She also served for several years as choreographer with the ensemble.

“Besides technology, the biggest change through the years is the growth of the college itself and its reputation,” she said. “When I came, there was only one campus and relatively few employees. Now, the college is a community college with four campuses and has grown into a well-respected and widely accepted institution.”

LBW’s growth came from leadership under the seven presidents and interim presidents she’s worked with since those early years, she said.

“When Dr. Riedel became president at LBW, he asked that I serve as director of student activities and cultural diversity,” Cook said. “I’ve enjoyed bringing in programs to expose students to a wide range of cultural activities to enrich their lives.”

Although the classroom portion of her career is ending, Cook said student success is the whole reason for her career, and she hopes to continue making an impact in their lives through student activities and working with the Christian education department at her church.

“Working with students, being able to guide and share my experiences, is a joy. Watching them go on and become successful in life is my biggest thrill,” said Cook.