"I do all sorts of things. I do work with staff and chair the program committee now, and get involved in a lot of volunteer ways — fundraising is a big part of what the board does at Fannie Battle. So it’s been kind of a lifelong thing with me. And it is amazing that this program has survived and continued to fulfill the mission of Miss Fannie Battle for over 125 years now. That’s a pretty exciting thing. I feel like it’s given a lot more to me than I could ever give back.” — Evelyn Hale
Yes, it’s been just over 125 years since Fannie Battle opened up the day school and childcare center that still bears her name, and carries on the traditions and goals that have always been the center of their work: to provide affordable high-quality childcare for at-risk children in a nurturing environment while empowering families to reach their potential. And Evelyn Hale has had a hand in things almost all her life.
Seventy years ago as a young girl, Hale begged and cajoled her parents to let her join her older sibs in the annual Fannie Battle Christmas Caroling (an event that began in 1916 to raise funds for the center and continues to this day). Since then, she has lived a life as intertwined with the center as anyone in the rest of the family, which was a considerable amount.
“My parents were involved.” she says, making herself heard over the din in Bongo East. “My dad always had a big garden and he loved sharing, because he always planted way more than we could eat, and he felt like that was part of his giving back — that he was gifted to grow a productive garden, so he always took fresh produce over to Fannie Battle for the kids in the summer. My mother baked cookies at Christmas and other times and took them over there. I was very fortunate to grow up in a family that believed in sharing the wealth, and the wealth was a good garden!”
Born and raised in a very different Inglewood than the one we have now, in a time when some neighbors had dirt floors and many, like Hale’s father, grew gardens to put food on the table, service to others became a hallmark of Hale’s life. Retired from teacher education positions at several institutions, including MTSU, she serves on more boards than most people could manage to have the energy for. At the age of 77 (and looking nothing like it), she is program committee chair and early childhood consultant at Fannie Battle, and volunteers at a slew of other service organizations that retirement has afforded the time for her to undertake.
“I’d always wanted to be a teacher,” Hale says, “but as I worked on my master’s degree, instead of wanting to be a first grade teacher all my life, I got involved in the teacher education program at MTSU, and I worked there for 17 years. Then I had several jobs in teacher education, doing adjunct work at community colleges as there weren’t very many people who had the credentials to teach early childhood coursework, and then I became program director of the early childhood program at Tennessee State University, with the Tennessee Early Childhood Training Alliance. I got more entrenched in what’s going on in Nashville, and in later years, I was asked to be on the Fannie Battle board. I couldn’t be a voting board member because I was over a program that served the whole state. So, I served as an adviser for years until I retired, then I was asked to be a full board member.”
Making good use of herself has been Hale’s life. “My dad said whatever you do in life, do something that’s useful to other people,” she says. “So I felt like I picked a path where I could bring him happiness as well. And the important thing is that people tell you how grateful they are for what you have done for them. They have no idea what it does for me. It just brings great joy.”