Not a hair out of place in her trademark bun, slim frame, meticulous make-up, and a lady amongst ladies is how those who know Ineria E. Hudnell best describe the former educator and historian.
Born in Jacksonville almost a century ago, Hudnell is also a self-taught artist and musician who likes history and loves to read.
Former students credit her with helping them to achieve success as educators, athletes, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers and scientists. One of them, Dr. S. Allen Counter, graduated in 1972 from the now defunct Roosevelt High School, a segregated school in West Palm Beach.
“Mrs. Ineria Hudnell was one of the finest teachers a student could have. She was an inspiration to thousands of students at Roosevelt High School and other schools throughout Palm Beach County,” Counter said. “She was a ‘no nonsense’ teacher who exuded dignity, pride and enlightenment.”
Counter completed his post-graduate studies in neurobiology at Harvard and is currently the director of the university’s Harvard Foundation. As a professional explorer, he made a significant discovery in 1986 concerning early American explorers Matthew Henson, a black man, and Robert Peary during an expedition to the North Pole.
“He discovered black Eskimos. These explorers, a white fellow and a black fellow, they both had children,” Hudnell said. “They both intermingled with the Eskimos.”
Devoting much of her life to enriching the lives of students in Palm Beach County, Hudnell accumulated over 30 years of experience as a teacher and dean and more than 60 years as an artist and historian.
Community leader Dan Calloway said Hudnell never stopped teaching her former students, which inspired him to make a difference in people’s lives.
“Every award I’ve gotten, she was there. She was there when the Riviera honored me with the naming of The Dan Calloway Tate Recreation Center,” he said. “She’s like that with all her former students. She taught me to give back and be sensitive to the needs of others, [to] put other people before yourself.”
Hudnell received a Bachelor of Arts from Florida A & M University in 1943, with a major in English and French and became a teacher.
“Education was about the only thing you could go into at that time, education or nursing. You didn’t have many careers you could go into for blacks,” she said.
Hudnell’s salary was $100 a month at her first teaching job in Gifford, near Vero Beach. She sent half of it to her mother Earle, who, she recalled, told her, “Ineria, what are you doing?”
But Hudnell’s living expenses were low because, she said, she stayed with a family rent-free, food was plentiful, with fresh vegetables always available, and the school was in walking distance.
In her spare time, she volunteered to teach insurance and businessmen who could not write their names. “This was one of my most rewarding experiences because the men were so appreciative,” she said. “I felt it was my duty to help,”
The Rev. Herman McCray, owner of McCray’s Backyard Bar-B-Que, whose sons supplied food for two recent Super Bowls, said encouragement and knowing not all people have the same ability was an important lesson.
“Mrs. Hudnell never criticized a student. She always was an encourager. Always gave students the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “We reaped the benefits of those teachers like Mrs. Hudnell who had good, intellectual and innovative minds.”
In 1982, Hudnell put together an exhibition of documents, articles, photographs and artifacts on the history of African Americans in Palm Beach County which she had been collecting for decades. She was asked to display the items at schools, businesses and various functions throughout the county.
Former Riviera Beach City Commissioner Donald Wilson said the traveling black history exhibition helped not only to educate but also to enlighten.
“When I became a teacher, we were doing a unit on African-American history. Mrs. Hudnell brought her exhibit to my school,” he said. “The exhibit presented positive images of black people. One student asked me, ‘Where are the criminals?’”
Wilson said he told Hudnell about the incident and she remarked, “That’s OK. At least now he knows every black person isn’t a criminal.”
Hudnell said she continues to keep in touch with many of her former students, often meeting them at events or public places, and they all seem to remember her well.
Counter, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School since 1981, Counter said Hudnell never limited her students.
“Mrs. Hudnell contributed tremendously to the development of good character in her students and encouraged them to reach their maximum potential,” he said.
The Norton Museum of Art and the Palm Beach County School District collaborated on a project featuring artworks and writings by students inspired by Hudnell’s collection, which was shown from Nov.14, 2009 until Jan. 3, 2010.
A self-taught artist, Hudnell said she herself did original artwork for West Palm Beach’s historic Sunset Lounge and Auditorium built in 1925. During that time, blacks were not allowed to patronize white clubs but the Sunset Lounge drew people of all races and featured music legends, including two of her favorites, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, she recalled.
Hudnell and her late husband Arthur had one son, Earl, and four grandchildren. Her granddaughter, Allyson, recently died of breast cancer at age 40.
On Nov. 29 of last year, Hudnell celebrated her 90th birthday and she says she plans to continue displaying her black history exhibition whenever anyone asks.
“She is a legacy. It takes a village to raise a child. Mrs. Hudnell was a part of that village,” Calloway said.
Kyoto Walker may be contacted at KYWalk10@Aol.com