HARLINGEN — She was a woman of quiet dignity with a core of goodness as strong as steel.
That’s how Harlingen school board member Gerry Fleuriet remembered her former algebra teacher and fellow school board member Verna Young, who died last Saturday at her home. She was 88.
“She was our children’s high school principal, and she was our close friend,” Fleuriet said. “These things stand out in my mind: Her commitment to fairness and consistency under all circumstances.”
Young and her husband Jerry, who died in 2010, were the parents of two daughters and a son, plus several grandchildren and great grandchildren. Her daughter Denise Young Almon spoke of her exemplary work ethic and dedication to excellence.
“She was my best friend,” Almon said. “She had high expectations for all of us. We needed to work hard, and she lived that every day of her life. She always worked.”
She recalled a rather humorous situation in which she and her younger brother both had her as their geometry teacher in ninth grade.
“It was different,” she said with a laugh. “You don’t normally have your mother as a teacher.”
Almon said Young had told her that teaching her younger brother Randy was one of the most challenging classes she ever had.
“It was the last period of the day,” Almon said. “It was predominantly a bunch of boys in the class.”
She and her brother talked about this colorful situation over the weekend.
“He said he would answer and say ‘Mrs. Young’ but all the other boys in the class, they were also his friends, they would say ‘Yes, Mom,’” she said.
Her influence and legacy span generations. Adrian Garcia, a senior at Harlingen School for Health Professions, immigrated from Mexico in 2010. Garcia, 18, is involved in numerous student leadership organizations and remembers the example of the late school board member.
“Mrs. Young was a true advocate and mentor for students from throughout the district,” he said. “Her service and leadership does not go unnoticed.”
She had the respect and admiration of her colleagues.
“Verna Young was a great role model and friend throughout her exemplary career,” said Dr. Nolan Perez, Harlingen school board president.
“She’s a true icon in public education, leadership, and service, and her knowledge and wisdom will be missed by the entire Harlingen CISD Board of Trustees,” Perez said. “Harlingen CISD was lucky to have Verna serve on the board as she brought classroom experience and an educator’s perspective to the decision-making.”
Veronica Kortan, HCISD administrator for organizational development, spoke in depth about Young’s impact on so many.
“The measure of a person’s legacy can be calculated by understanding the impact they have on others,” Kortan said. “Mrs. Young impacted generations upon generations of students and teachers who came through her schools’ doors.”
And Kortan’s experience with Young goes back much further than their years as colleagues.
“I have such fond memories of her as my elementary principal, later as my high school principal and most recently, as a member of the board of trustees,” Kortan said. “All along the way, she shaped me by instilling a sense of confidence in me.”
Some of her memories were even more intimate. She recalled the little Snoopy pencil Young gave her with a “Bonham’s Best” character award when she was in elementary school. She also remembers more recently the numerous leadership conversations she had with Young as a fellow professional.
“I have such fond memories of a woman who was one of the first female leaders I encountered,” Kortan said. “When she walked into the room, we all stood a little taller and rose to a higher level of expectation. Her ability to influence so many generations of families in Harlingen will forever be remembered.”
Almon recalled a picture of Snoopy outside her mother’s office, with a quote by Michael Carr: “All children are gifted. Some just open their gifts a little later than others.”
Graduated from Harlingen High School in 1948
Graduated cum laude from Baylor University in 1951, majoring in mathematics and education
Graduated from Texas A&I University (Now Texas A&M University in Kingsville) in 1970 with a master of arts in math and education
Earned her mid-management certification in 1976
Earned her superintendency certification in 1982
Math teacher at Harlingen High School — 1953 to 1955
Math teacher at Gay Junior High — 1956 to 1957
Math teacher and department chair at Vernon Junior High — 1957 to 1969
Math teacher and department chair at Harlingen High School — 1969 to 1975
Principal at Bonham Elementary School — 1975 to 1984.
Principal at Harlingen High School — 1984 until her retirement in 2000
Harlingen school district Board of Trustees — 2001 to 2016
Named Outstanding Principal of the Year in District One by Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisory Association in 1981
Named Outstanding Principal of the Year by the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals in 1988 and 1999
Selected as one of the top five finalists in the state for outstanding high school principal in 1999
Married to Jerry Lawton Young, who died in 2010
They had two daughters and one son, six grandchildren and, to date, four great grandchildren
A memorial service to celebrate her life will be held Jan. 18, 2020, at 2 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, 321 E. Harrison Ave, Harlingen.