The Rev. James Peters, 59, of Kingsport, Mabel Arrington, 69, of Church Hill are seeking their GEDs. (Photo by David Grace)
KINGSPORT — If three Tri-Cities residents are successful, they will accomplish in later life the equivalent of a high school diploma they didn’t get in their youth.
The Rev. James Peters, 59, of Kingsport, Mabel Arrington, 69, of Church Hill and James Rutledge, 82, of Bluff City, are seeking their GEDs — or general educational development — through the Kingsport-Sullivan County GED program.
Debi Tabor, supervisor of the program, said about 22,000 people in Sullivan County do not have a high school diploma or GED, a number GED programs here and nationwide are trying to reduce.
Their journeys to this point, which include hardships and in one case being hard of hearing, vary, but they share the goal of getting a GED.
Here are their stories:
• Peters graduated from the Upper Room Bible College in Chuckey, Tenn., and is pastor of Power for New Life Church in Kingsport.
“I am a minister at this time. I just want to better myself,” said Peters, who plans to get a college degree after getting a GED.
He is just getting under way with studying but hopes to earn his GED in 2014.
“I wasn’t able to finish school,” Peters recalled of his growing up in his native Louisiana. He has lived in Kingsport for 21 years.
“My dad was killed in a car wreck. Mom was blind, so I had to go to work,” Peters said of dropping out in the ninth grade.
“I just want to be a light to my grandkids,” he said, “let them know if I can do it, they can do it.”
One of his three sons and his daughter graduated high school, another son earned a GED and the other son passed a w a y.
• Arrington will take the GED Jan. 17-18. A resident of Church Hill for more than 40 years, she was raised in Mabe, Va., in the Clinchport area that now has a Duffield mailing address.
The next to oldest of nine children, she completed the sixth grade and then went to work to help support the family.
“I quit school and started working,” Arrington said.
She worked at Holston Valley Medical Center for 27 years, retiring as a nursing assistant and secretary, and in January 2013 she retired from a second career of private duty sitting.
“It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do. I wanted my diploma,” Arrington said.
When she passes the GED, she plans to seek certification in cosmetology if she can. She’s already checking into the Legacy School of Hair in Weber City.
“You need to keep busy. You need to keep your mind busy,” Arrington said.
She has two children, a late daughter and a grown son who recently graduated with a two-year degree from Northeast State Community College. She has three granddaughters and two great-granddaughters.
Her husband, the Rev. Hash Arrington, was a barber and died 17 years ago.
“I prayed a lot about it,” said Arrington, who began studying for the GED Sept. 30, 2012.
“I have really enjoyed this” GED preparation, Arrington said. “The staff has been wonderful here.”
• Rutledge stays busy gardening, farming and doing carpentry work for his own projects. He took one of his tests the week of Dec. 9.
“Maybe I can go somewhere with my credentials,” Rutledge said.
He worked most of his life as a carpenter and farmer, although he also did stints in the Merchant Marines and as a truck driver. In the Merchant Marines, he was in the Suez Canal a few weeks before a bombing June 5, 1967.
He tried to get a GED in 1966 but was 18 points away. By 1970, he had started a career as a carpenter.
Rutledge was a 15-year-old student in the fifth grade at Weaver Elementary School in 1946 when he gave up school. He still remembers his principal’s name then and spent two years each in the first, second, third, fourth and fifth grades.
His niece, Bristol, Va., school teacher Jinx Rasmussen, encouraged him to seek his GED now.
“He got new hearing aids. He made the statement if he had hearing aids when he was in school, he wouldn’t have dropped out,” Rasmussen said.
Rutledge said his hearing condition was inherited from his mother. But he and his siblings also may have inherited longevity from their parents. He has eight brothers and sisters, all still living from ages of 70 to 87. He was the fourth.
He was married for a time but has no children, although he has nieces, nephews and cousins.
He is an avid gardener and tomato grower. He also is building a 100-foot greenhouse, but he said seeking a GED is something to keep his mind occupied.
“It’s better than sitting at a computer, gaining weight and getting crippled,” Rutledge said.
Rasmussen said that when her uncle raised tobacco and used young hired hands, he would always make sure they attended their school classes when they were in session, even if it meant missing work in the tobacco patch.
Even if Rutledge doesn’t pass the GED this time, Rasmussen said he’ll keep trying.
“He’s going to come back,” Rasmussen said. “We’re not going to let him quit.”