When school bells ring this fall, it will be the first time in 56 years that Burlon Wilkerson has not been in a classroom somewhere.
Just because he has retired from Angelina College, doesn’t mean he will be idle.
Wilkerson started working as a free lance feature writer for the Diboll Free Press in May. He also plans to operate “Wilkerson Piddlin’ Service,” doing odd jobs around town.
“I am very fortunate, as are the Free Press readers, to have someone as capable as Burlon Wilkerson writing for the paper,” said Richard Nelson, Free Press publisher. “I enjoy reading his stories; he has a way of writing that keeps you interested.
“I also love the challenge of finding at least one thing to correct in each article. I’m not often successful,” Nelson said with a laugh.
Wilkerson started school in Houston in January 1957, but his family moved back to their hometown of Diboll six weeks later. Since Diboll did not have a split-year program, he had to wait until the fall to begin first grade.
For the next 12 years Wilkerson was involved with FFA, UIL and all sorts of academic endeavors in the Diboll schools. In 1969 he graduated as valedictorian of his class. That fall he started school at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches with a major in Public Speaking.
Wilkerson never intended to become a teacher. He thought being a forest ranger would be the ideal job. Family members encouraged him to at least get his teaching degree while in college “just in case.”
While doing his student teaching under Frank Latimer at Lufkin High School, he learned of a job opening in Diboll for a speech teacher.
“Frank Latimer pretty much made me apply for the job, and since he determined whether I passed my student teaching or not, I decided I had better listen to him,” Wilkerson said.
In May 1973, he was hired by Diboll ISD to begin his career in the fall.
Over the next 26 years Wilkerson taught speech, English, journalism and drama. He was UIL coach for all the speaking events, including debate and extemporaneous speaking, as well as one-act play and journalism. Coaching UIL was one of the highlights of his teaching career, he said. Many of his students placed not only in district but at region and state over the years. During the heyday of academic UIL at Diboll High School, Wilkerson served as the UIL coordinator for the district.
In 1990 Wilkerson was approached by high school Principal Bobby Baker about starting an Academic Decathlon team This was new to both Wilkerson and the school. That first year was interesting as the team members went to their first regional meet. They won very few medals, but suddenly the students had the “fever” to compete and do well. In 1995 the team placed second in the state. The following year they were third in the state. Individual team members regularly brought home first-place medals in the 10 events.
Following vacation in 1994, Wilkerson returned home to a telephone message from Superintendent Gary Campbell that said, “What do you think about our hosting the state Academic Decathlon meet here in Diboll next year?” With Wilkerson shaking his head and saying “No,” the next message was, “I didn’t hear back from you, so I went ahead and told them we would do it.”
For the next six months Wilkerson not only taught classes, coached UIL, coordinated UIL, and coached the local Academic Decathlon team, but he also organized more than 200 volunteers to host the state competition. For weeks, Wilkerson’s wife, Jan, would prepare dinner and bring the food and their kids to the school at night in order to eat with him. All the hard work paid off. The community responded overwhelmingly, and that is the year his team placed second. In addition, he had state winners in UIL that year.
While at Diboll, Wilkerson and his wife became very involved with the Renaissance program and the Academic Banquet that is still held each year. He also served as an officer of Diboll PTSA for many years.
Following graduation of his youngest daughter in 1999 and the election of his son to the board of trustees for Diboll ISD, Wilkerson resigned from Diboll and took a job with Hudson ISD for two years.
In 1997 Wilkerson started working as an adjunct in speech for Angelina College. He taught nights and summers both in Lufkin and off campus in Trinity, Livingston and Woodville. In the spring of 2001 he found a notice in his college mailbox about a full-time opening for an instructor of speech at AC. He applied and was hired to begin the fall semester.
For the past 12 years Wilkerson has taught on the college level.
“It is totally different than high school,” he said. “For the most part our students are here because they want to be and can see the benefits of education. I’ve really enjoyed interacting with this age and maturity level.”
Wilkerson finished his teaching career at the end of the summer session. He plans to spend time with his grandchildren, read all the books he can, and hopefully do some traveling without being tied to a school schedule. The Wilkersons’ daughter will be moving to Germany next spring, and a trip to visit her is already being planned.
After 40 years teaching in the local community, Wilkerson constantly comes in contact with former students. In fact, he has taught the children of some of those students.
“No matter what they become after school, they’ve told me my classes helped prepare them for real life,” he said. “Even if they didn’t like the class, I think they conclude I’m doing what I can for their benefit.”