Judith Brock’s name, and the spaces for kids she helped create, will always be the kind of fondly-remembered early memory that unites the many kids-turned grown-ups who spent their childhood years in Hanceville.
For more than three decades, Brock, who passed away on Dec. 26 at age 77, saw hundreds of children (more than 700 by her own estimate) pass through her life as a day care founder and teacher at Hanceville. Back before the days of Head Start programs, Brock saw that Hanceville had a need for a place where kids could come together under a loving umbrella to learn to socialize, to learn the basics of going to school, and to learn to feel like they belong.
“I had a lot of good teachers, but I will always remember Mrs. Brock,” recalls Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry — just one of hundreds who got their start at one of her Hanceville daycares. “She always took time with each of us, and she was vey loving with all of her kids. She prepared us to go to school, and even as I grew up and grew older, she always remembered my name and having me in class.”
Specializing in Early Childhood Education at Samford University, Brock would eventually recognize the need for a full-scale daycare in her Hanceville community. In the 1970s, she proposed the idea of a daycare to the late Pastor Archer Thorpe at Hanceville First Baptist Church, and so began a career that would take her to multiple teaching stops through 35 years — but all of them focused on helping Hanceville’s preschool-age kids get ready for their first steps in life.
“Oh, it got to be a family tradition for us, to have your kids and grandkids go to Mrs. Brock,” recalls Hanceville resident Brenda Carter. “Both of my children, as well as my grandchildren, had Mrs. Brock as a teacher.
“She was always such a caring, loving person. My son is 48 now, and I will never forget the day he met her. She was ‘recruiting’ at the time, because she was trying to open a new class, and Hanceville really didn’t have anything like that. My son had said there was no way he wanted to go to school, but she walked up with her coloring book and come crayons — she may have even had some candy — and he fell in love right there. From that point on, he could not wait to go to school. He and I both remember that so well, even though it was 40-something years ago.”
Gentry’s recollection of learning how to appreciate school under Brock’s guidance isn’t an isolated memory. Getting kids to embrace the basics of education, all with a gentle touch, was her specialty, remembers Carter.
“She got them ready, and she knew the best way to do it,” said Carter. She taught them how to tote their lunch trays, how to open their milk cartons, how to tie their shoes. If they couldn’t write their names yet, then they learned to write their names. She just had a way about her. I never heard her get excited or agitated with the kids. She was always so calm, and her demeanor made the children calm.
“She was just a wonderful person, and to this day, my children — and then their children — all remember her in the warmest way.”
Though the First Baptist day care that Brock founded is long gone, she carried her passion for teaching wherever she went. In more recent years, Brock operated an employee-exclusive day care at the Hanceville Nursing Home, giving staff members’ pre-K children the same guidance and early life lessons that already had made her such a beloved and welcome part of the tight-knit Hanceville community. According to her daughter, Leasa, Mrs. Brock was also a gifted artist, and had a way of folding all her gifts and talents into family and community traditions — in other words, letting her light shine for the benefit of others.
“She always had that same sweet demeanor, and she kept that with me, even when I was well into adulthood,” remembers Gentry. “I always appreciated that and often thought about that.
“Even after I became sheriff, I remember one day going to see her, and joking and talking about being a kid — which of course she remembered. I imagine she remembered every kid she ever taught. She was always there to tell you how prod she was of you, and your age didn’t matter. She had such a tremendously positive impact on generations of children’s lives, and that’s more than an accomplishment…it’s gift to anyone who was fortunate enough to have her as a teacher.”
Brock died peacefully at home, surrounded by her family. The daughter of the late Fred and Eunice Cagle. she is survived by her husband Douglas Franklin “Joe” Brock, daughters Suzanne (Jim) Turner, Leasa (Patrick) Brock, Angela (Pete) Brock, and Dana (Scotty) Loyd; as well as grandchildren Wesley, Wil, Hillary, Noah, and Andrea, and one great grandchild, Ella.