Thomas Wooten says he’s not supposed to be alive today.
The Yadkin County native spent the better part of a year in a hospital and then a rehabilitation center of a nursing home recovering from a near fatal accident.
“I was run over by my own tractor and bush hog,” Wooten said. “They didn’t expect me to live, but I’m a tough old bird.”
After seven months at Baptist Hospital and more than 50 days in a rehabilitation program, Wooten learned to walk again and made a full recovery that the doctors had previously said was highly unlikely.
Wooten was born and raised in East Bend as the fifth of eight children. His family had a farm that produced tobacco, wheat, oats and corn.
He graduated from East Bend High School and went on to Appalachian State University on a half scholarship for basketball. Wooten was a member of the college’s basketball team for all four years.
Wooten also acted as the school mascot, Yosef, when it wasn’t basketball season.
“That was back in the days when you had to glue the beard on to your face and put on the overalls and the hat,” Wooten said. “I had a buckshot squirrel gun, and once I overloaded trying to be funny. But it backfired, and I had to be taken to the hospital to have buckshot removed from my face.”
He graduated from Appalachian State with a degree in math and physical education in 1957 and went on to North Hampton County to teach and coach basketball at Conway High School where he would meet his wife of 53 years.
Wooten went on to complete a master’s degree in math and school administration through Appalachian State and moved on to a principal’s position in Cleveland County.
“I kept getting calls from East Bend High School asking me to come and be principal. I thought it was a little early, but I finally accepted the job and served four years,” Wooten said.
Wooten left the education field after East Bend High School started to consolidate and found a job working as a supervisor and manufacturer at RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company for six and a half years.
The teacher in Wooten couldn’t be ignored long, however, and he applied at Fall Creek after the principal there passed away. He was awarded the job in 1973 and was acting principal until 1979 when he was asked to move on to Forbush High School as principal until 1985.
“While I was at Forbush High School I was able to work with Appalachian State University to get what they call the APP program, which students could get dual credit for high school and college,” Wooten said. “We were able to offer calculus, biology and college English, and a lot of students graduated with those already there and saved their parents a lot of money when they went on to school.”
Wooten finally moved on to Courtney Elementary School, where he served as principal until retirement in 1995.
“I set up the first computer lab in an elementary school in the county at Courtney Elementary School,” Wooten said. “We always aimed for the top but it seemed that Forbush Elementary School always beat us out but our goal was to top them and we finally did.”
Wooten said that he believes his experience working at RJ Reynolds allowed him to be a better principal because he could relate to the parents better. He says that he always had the support of the parents because he took the time to listen to their concerns.
“They would want to call and bless somebody out so they would call and I would listen to them and before it was over with they were thanking me for what I do,” Wooten said.
Wooten says that the support of his staff and the ability to discipline and encourage students was also an important part of his success as a principal.
“I was able to work with a congenial staff and teachers that really cared for the kids,” Wooten said. “At the time if the students did good you could hug them and if they did wrong you could discipline them. I used to say if their brains fell down into the seat of their pants we would try to get it back up between their ears so they could think again.”
Wooten also played an important part in the community as a member of about 15 volunteer organizations, a county commissioner for 12 years and as a member of several boards and committees in Yadkin County.
He’s has his hand in the e-911 call system and getting the roads named for that system, he helped get a sanitary landfill into the county and continues to work to try to get a countywide water system.
Wooten has also been an active participant in the Meals on Wheels program with his wife.
“We delivered meals at least two days a week for 10 years,” Wooten said.
Wooten says that after all his years in the county he is happy to see how it’s progressing.
“There are some good things going on in Yadkin County,” Wooten said. “I’m very proud what the present county commissioners are doing to promote growth. I know it’s a struggle. I worry about the nation and where it’s headed but if we all put our faith in the right place and work together I think we’ll be all right.”
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at email@example.com.