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Retired educator, part-time farmer remains dedicated to schools.

This article is reprinted, slightly adapted and abridged, from Tennessee Cooperator, the member publication of Tennessee Farmers Cooperative. The "Coops & Community" page spotlights co-op efforts that fulfill the mission of "commitment to community." If you know of a coop, a co-op member or co-op employee whose efforts deserve to be recognized on this page, please contact:

On a recent trek to the grocery store, David Coppock was at one end of an aisle when he Raw a middle-aged man smiling and waving at him from the opposite end. Coppock waved back, even though he couldn't place the face. More than likely, it was someone he had in class during his 41-year educational career in Union County.

"It happens all the time," says Coppock, a lifelong Maynardville, Tenn., resident and a farmer who belongs to Union Farmers Cooperative there. "It makes you feel good that people remember you, but a lot of the kids I had in school have grown into adulthood and changed so much that I just don't recognize folks sometimes. It can get kind of embarrassing."

To say that he's influenced the lives of a few boys and girls would be a supreme understatement. Those who attended school in his native county from 1963-2004 might best remember Coppock as their math teacher. Or basketball coach. Or principal. Or as superintendent of Union County Schools for 17 years (1984-2001). Or even as their bus driver.

"I was at Big Ridge Elementary my first 20 years," says Coppock, who upon retiring nine years ago was immediately elected to the Union County School Board and is now in his third term as chairman. "Then, I went to Maynardville Elementary for one year before becoming superintendent. My last three years were at Maynardville again for one year and Sharps Chapel Elementary for two."

Still steering for education

Not only is he still helping to guide the direction of the schools through his seat on the school board, but he is also literally steering kids home from school each day as a school bus driver.

"When I retired, I went back to running a bus route so I could earn a little extra spending money," he says. "The bus and the school board keep me involved and up-to-date with what's going on in the county. A lot of the kids who ride my bus are children or grandchildren of people I taught."

There were also years during his career when Coppock filled two roles at once, such as teaching math and coaching both the boys' and girls' basketball teams at Big Ridge Elementary. At one time, he even had three roles: teacher, coach and principal.

"That was a bad situation," he says. "There were always phone calls for the principal and people coming in wanting to see the principal. Class got interrupted a lot."

About the only hats he didn't wear at one time or another were janitor and cafeteria worker, though the watermelons and cantaloupes the part-time farmer grew were always welcome treats in school lunches around the county.

"I tried my best to help the children in any way I could," he says. "When you had good students who wanted to learn, it was wonderful. I miss teaching from time to time, but it passes pretty quick."

Committed to farming and co-op

One thing that's remained consistent throughout Coppock's life, regardless of what capacity he's served, is his commitment to farming with endeavors that have included tobacco, beef cattle, fruits and vegetables.

"I farmed the whole time I was in teaching and education," he says. "Early in my career, I honestly don't know how I did it. I was teaching, coaching, raising tobacco and some cattle, and going to the University of Tennessee at night to complete my degree. It was a juggling act, I'll tell you."

He still grows some tobacco, albeit on a much smaller scale due to the tobacco buyout program, which the federal government introduced to help farmers transition to other types of farming. His primary focus these days is hay production and his 50-head cow/calf operation that he runs with help from his wife of 36 years, Kay, and grandson, Tyson, a junior at Union County High School. He also grows peppers, watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers and okra, on a small scale.

"I just loved going around and looking at those fields growing. Now, I really enjoy checking on the cattle every day and seeing how they're doing. There's nothing like a field of nice cattle. And now that there's the Tennessee Ag Enhancement Program, I've been able to get the facilities to handle the cattle better and not get kicked or mashed."

Coppock's herd consists primarily of Angus and Charolais cattle, kept on three different lots around the 285-acre farm. He purchases his feed, diesel fuel and other farm supplies from Union Farmers Cooperative.

"At one time, all I had was purebred Charolais," he explains, "but I started to get toward black [cattle] because it seemed like anywhere you went to eat they served Angus beef."

The farm, bus route and school board aren't all that keep Coppock busy these days. He's also active with the Union County Optimist Club and Union County Business Professional Association and is on the boards of both the Union County Soil Conservation District and the Clinch-Powell Educational Cooperative. He also teaches Sunday School and leads singing at the church he and Kay attend.

"I've heard of a lot of people who retire and just go to the house and sit all the time," Coppock says. "They don't seem to last too long, either. I don't want that to happen to me."
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Title Annotation:Co-ops & Community
Author:Villines, Chris
Publication:Rural Cooperatives
Date:Mar 1, 2013
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