Gold, Frankincense, and...Furr
by Carey Meitzler --from June 2021 in Southern Senior Magazine
Katherine Moak grew up in Neshoba County, MS, near Philadelphia, but she considers Picayune her hometown after living here for over seventy years.
One might wonder how Katherine ended up in Picayune?
“I had been teaching at Ackerman for four years, and I was wanting to change from an 8 month school to a 9 month school. I was taking summer classes at USM, and there was a vacancy in Picayune that was posted on the bulletin board in
the education department at Southern Mississippi. So, I called the number on the posting and it was Dr. John Napier, the Superintendent of the school system.”
Katherine accepted the job in a town she had never heard of. She saw Picayune for the first time when she came to start work at the high school in the fall of 1949.
“I fell in love with Picayune right away, and Picayune accepted me right away. When I got here, I got involved with the ‘Y’, and I just fit right in.”
The ‘Y’ she referred to was the old YMCA which was on the property that is now home to The Cornerstone Family Fitness Center at 101 Kirkwood Street.
“Mr. J.J. Holcomb was the director at the Y, and he was so nice to me. Because I had played basketball in high school, it gave me something to jump into that I was familiar with at the Y. Next thing you know, they asked me to join the bowling team despite my telling them I had never held a bowling ball in my life. But I learned quickly,” she shared with a smile.
Learning quickly came naturally to Katherine Moak of Neshoba County.
At age 4, she began her formal education and graduated high school at age 16. She then went to East Central Community College in Decatur that summer and graduated there in just two semesters. From there, she began her teaching career at Ackerman High School, and with her desire to continue to learn, Katherine took 40 hours of correspondence courses at the University of Alabama.
“At that time, the end of World War II, it was hard to find teachers. When I was about to finish up at East Central, a man from Ackerman, who was on the board at East Central, heard I wanted to be a teacher. He came by and offered me a job at Ackerman,” Katherine stated.
Why was education the direction she wanted to go?
“At that time, as a woman, you could work in a bank, be a nurse, or teach school.”
Katherine remembers the first faculty meeting at her new job in Picayune.
“Dr. Napier reminded all the women teachers that Mrs. Howell had invited us to tea, and we should wear hats and gloves. Then, the next night, Argie Stewart invited the entire faculty to a shrimp boil at his camp. I got there, and being a
country girl from Neshoba County, I had never seen a shrimp, and when I saw those boiled shrimp eyes, I had a feeling like they were looking at me and I couldn’t eat anything like that. Instead, I ate crackers that night. But later in life, that changed,” she said with a laugh.
“Many folks don’t know this: I came to Picayune as a math teacher and my first year I taught both 9th and 10th graders,” Katherine shared.
But Katherine the math teacher did not last long.
“A lady in the Business Department died, and they discovered I had more business knowledge than anything else, and it was like, ‘well, here I go!’”
The official name of the coursework she taught was Commerce which included classes aimed at introducing students to typing, accounting, personal
finance, business math, and shorthand.
While teaching at Picayune, Katherine continued to work toward her bachelor’s degree taking classes for 11 straight summer semesters. In her first year at Picayune, she was selected to Pi Omega Pi, the undergraduate business education honorary fraternity. Her business activities included being a member of the National Business Education Association, the Southern Business Education
Association, and the Mississippi Business and Office Education Association.
In 1952, Katherine was invited to join the Delta Kappa Gamma Society International (DKG) which promotes professional and personal growth of women educators and excellence in education.
She later became one of the founding members of the local Sigma Chapter in Pearl River County, which continues to be active sixty-one years later.
At the 2019 DKG state convention, Katherine was recognized for fifty plus years of leadership, making her a ‘Star’ member.
In 1955, she married Arthur Carl Furr, a Picayune native, and in 1958 their first daughter, Awana, was born. Two years later, her second daughter, Melora, was born. Katherine Furr decided she would ask for maternity leave, but the Superintendent told her that had never been done before. After the school board and Superintendent discussed her request, the board granted her request and a new precedent was set.
A few years later, Furr made a request to the board to change the teacher payroll procedure from a 9-month plan to a 12-month plan. Her reasoning was the hardship it put on teachers to receive a paycheck in May at the end of the school year and then not have another payroll check until September. This request was also granted and became policy for the school district.
In 1958, she was selected as Mississippi’s Senior High Teacher of the Year. Just a few years later, Katherine would take on another opportunity to educate
others when the Mississippi Test Facility (MTF), now known as Stennis Space Center, was built in nearby Hancock County. With the arrival of many families to the area, Katherine partnered with IBM and AT&T to teach the binary system (basis for electronic computing). During this time, she taught at MTF for Mississippi State University and USM, and she continued to teach and inspire
her students at Picayune Memorial High School to use the unique opportunities
presented as a way to expand and refine their knowledge.
During her time teaching at Picayune Memorial High School, Katherine said she was blessed to work with students who exhibited the highest qualities of integrity, determination, and leadership.
“Each of the thirty-five classes had great leaders, and each class took on a personality of their own. It is wonderful to remember the students from each
year and that so many of the students still remember me.”
She said classes have been so nice by inviting her to their reunions where she has so much fun reminiscing and reconnecting with students to share stories and memories.
“It’s always such a great time to see them time and again.”
During her tenure, Katherine said she felt privileged to be at Picayune during a time when the band program was so good.
“Charlie Newman, Johnny Baker, and Jerry Cumberland were news makers with their great bands. They always seemed to score all ones (top ranking) at state competition. I remember when Mr. and Mrs. L.O. Crosby arranged for the marching band to go to the Rose Bowl Parade,” she recalled.
“That’s what makes Picayune special; people making sure the students are able to experience things like that.”
Katherine remembered another person who was always there to help.
“Mr. Leonard Carp and his Carp’s Boston Store would make sure students, particularly boys, had a shirt and tie to attend school events when that dress attire was needed. Again, Picayune has always been a giving community. There are many people who over the years always did things, big and small, to make the Picayune students the best possible.”
In 1978, the family of L.O. Crosby, Jr, shortly after the time of his death, announced plans to set aside land fronting Interstate 59 as a living memorial to
his memory. Soon after Stewart and Lynn Crosby Gammill requested Katherine join the Arboretum Board as secretary.
“Being a part of the beginning of the Crosby Arboretum was a wonderful experience, particularly being able to hear what consultants from around the country had to say,” she remarked.
In 1980, Katherine was selected as the Citizen of the Year by the Greater Picayune Chamber of Commerce.
“I remember Mr. Henley (Superintendent) kept making sure I was going to be at the banquet that night. I finally figured out why that evening,” she
said with a big smile.
In 1982, Katherine was so excited when the school’s Vo-Tech program received computers from the Mississippi State Department of Education through a program that awarded schools with an exceptional adult education program and had instructors with a professional background like Katherine’s.
Katherine recognized the opportunity this was for students in the school and she also knew what was happening across the business world. Her insight then, resonates today, in a quote from her in The Picayune Item announcing the arrival of the computer.
“The technology of the future will require that every student have some knowledge of computers.”
She was spot on with her assessment back then.
In 1987, Katherine was inducted into the first class of University of Southern Mississippi’s Hall of Fame. She is a member of the Aubrey K. Lucas Foundation Society and received a medallion recognizing her sixty plus years in the Pearl River County Alumni Chapter. She, along with John Wilson, George Pollitz, and USM representative Powell Ogletree, organized the Chapter while sitting at
a table in Wilson Pharmacy. Katherine stated that the Chapter was very successful because of Percy and Rosalyn Folks’ leadership. Katherine was the backbone of the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) at Picayune.
Serving as an advisor, her students placed and won numerous awards at both the state and national level.
All along her way, church came first. Katherine was deeply involved at First United Methodist and served in every capacity but preaching. She worked on every level in the United Methodist Women. In 2018, Katherine was honored for her years of service on local, district, and state levels. Mission work has always been foremost on her agenda and she continues to support Christian Care, Crossroads Food Pantry, Bac-Pac Ministry, and Dell Moffat Circle Mission for school uniforms and school supplies.
“I treasure the time I have been able to serve with young people in preparation for church membership,” she added.
Throughout her life, Katherine has given the gift of educating others, whether it was in the classroom, in a club or organization, in church, or in everyday
life. She was the bearer of the finest gifts like wisdom, knowledge, encouragement, love, friendship, and most importantly, a legacy of service to God.
Her circle of influence is enormous and continues to spread in her community, a community she has blessed in so many ways. July 25 is her birthday and Katherine will turn 95 this year (2021). Katherine has always been prepared
and now is no different.
“Picayune has been great to and for me. I pray that I have been good for
Over the years, she has been known by many names including Miss Moak, Mrs. Furr, Ms. Katherine, K, and by her young friends as ‘Kaf-rin’.
Katherine states that Rev. R.T. Buckley has agreed to send her off; Earl Smith will sing; she’s not anxious, but ready. Happy 95th Birthday, Katherine Moak Furr.