By Tony Gutierrez: CNJ staff writer
By the time Sylvia Burgett retired as a teacher, she’d taught students in kindergarten through high school for more than 40 years around the world, including more than 18 years in Texico. Burgett died July 12 at 89.
Born and raised in Grady, she graduated in a class of five at 16. She got her first taste of teaching while still in high school, said her daughter, Cindy McDaniel.
“They would come get mother to help teach some of the younger students,” McDaniel said. “That’s probably what made her want to teach. Her classes were kindergarten and first grade. There was nothing more satisfying to see kids’ faces at that age when they learned something. Their eyes would brighten up.”
Burgett attended Eastern New Mexico University when it was still a junior college. She was the first female in her family to go to college, McDaniel said, waiting tables to pay her way. She moved to Greeley, Colo., to finish her teaching degree.
In 1945, she married Quentin Burgett and had four children. After they separated in 1965, she took her three youngest children back to New Mexico, where she worked as a secretary for Texico schools and began teaching after she was accredited.
“Mother taught me in fifth grade and it was different,” McDaniel said. “I only had one class with her. I got in trouble for calling her Mom one day instead of Mrs. Burgett. It wasn’t easy teaching her own kids.”
Burgett later moved up to the high school level where she served as the librarian and taught art. There was no art program at the time, said Kendale Burch, a home economics teacher she helped mentor.
“We did a lot of things because we were both single mothers,” Burch said. “From doing things we had to do for the school, it evolved to doing things for the weekend. We were really bad about going to Clovis after ball games to get Baskin-Robbins.”
Burch said her daughter called Burgett “Grandma.” Burch and Burgett ate lunch every day until the day she retired.
“She did teach my daughter in art,” Burch said. “She still continued to call her ‘Grandma.’ It confused a lot of kids in school because they couldn’t figure out how my daughter was kin to Mrs. Burgett and of course she wasn’t.”
Burch remembered not liking thunderstorms and whenever one occured, she and her daughter would go to “Grandma Burgett’s” home for hot tea.
“If I needed somebody to talk to, or needed some guidance, I went to Sylvia,” Burch said.
Burgett was also a master painter, starting when she was 13. As a teacher, even though she was 5-foot-2, she was stern and not intimidated, McDaniel said.
“The kids you never thought could color inside the lines would produce beautiful paintings and she had a way of drawing the best out in the kids,” Burch said. “If you respect the kids and they respect you, discipline won’t be a problem and that’s the way she was. There wasn’t going to be any slagging off in her class. That’s not something she was going to allow.”