Back to the Classroom: Award-Winning Retired Educator Now Focused on Culinary Arts

Beverly Pugh (right) helps prepare a meal for a visiting group with fellow culinary student Amy Watkins.

Beverly Pugh (right) helps prepare a meal for a visiting group with fellow culinary student Amy Watkins.

Beverly Pugh is a student again. These days you can find her dressed in a starched white tunic and hat, cooking and stirring and cutting and serving in the Culinary Arts kitchen at Alamance Community College. This, she will tell you, is her focus now.

  Forget that she spent 40 years in public school education, including stints as a teacher—including Alamance County’s Graham Middle School—and a principal. Forget that she has a doctoral degree, and thousands of hours volunteering to causes important to her. Forget also that she is the recipient of the prestigious Order of the Longleaf Pine from the N.C. Governor’s Office and, more recently, honored as Woman of the Year by the Burlington Civitan’s Club.

Beverly Pugh–or Ms. Bev as some of her younger chefs-in-the-making call her–is all about learning new things. After all, it’s been the story of her entire life.

Raised on a farm in Davidson County, Beverly received a bachelor’s degree from UNC-Greensboro, a master’s degree at N.C. A&T State University and a doctorate in Educational Leadership at UNC-G. Although her career brought her to Alamance County in the late 1990s, the nine years she spent teaching teachers with the NC Teacher Academy is one of her proudest achievements.

“The Academy was all about teachers training teachers,” she says. “Teachers participated for a specific curriculum they needed help with.”

When she became a principal at Corriher –Lipe Middle School in Rowan County, she kept her home in Mebane in Alamance County.

“So I got a little apartment near my school, working 10-14 hours a day, then came home to Mebane on the weekends,” she says.

Throughout her working life, she has always made time to volunteer, including many stints as an organizer of charitable causes. As a member of the Jaycees, she coordinated the March of Dimes walks, MDA telethons, and an Angel Tree program for children at Christmas.

While serving as a principal, she organized teams for Relay for Life and Odyssey of the Mind, and started a Reading Buddy program with students and church members near her school. She also started a student human relations council at her school that was recognized with a Martin Luther King Award in Rowan County.

Earlier this year, Beverly coordinated a “hometown mission” program at her church. Volunteers spent hours doing yard work, cleaning and making home repairs for Meals on Wheels clients.

What drives her to do so much?

“My mother is 84 and still works part-time, so my family structure has always been about giving back,” she explains. “It’s been my model for my life. It’s just what you do. I don’t do all this simply to say ‘I did this.’ I really am a visionary, seeing a need in my community and organizing it to get it done.”

It was at the time of her 2015 retirement after a 40-year career that she received North Carolina’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Longleaf Pine, approved by the Governor’s Office. The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is presented to individuals who have a proven record of extraordinary service to the state. Contributions to their communities, extra effort in their careers, and many years of service to their organizations are some of the guidelines by which recipients are selected for this award.

“It was a complete surprise to me,” she says.

So was the more recent award in December 2017 for Woman of the Year by the Burlington Civitans for her lifelong passion of educating youth, and for her volunteer work. “I was invited to attend and was surprised to see my family there. I had no idea about the award. I’m not even a member of the Civitans,” she says with a laugh.

But when her retirement came two years ago, Beverly knew she would not be resting on her laurels, relaxing in a rocking chair. Instead, her initial idea was to open a bed and breakfast in the Alamance County area. In fact, that’s how she came to take her first ACC culinary class about food sanitation: “I thought it would be perfect to learn that and get sanitation certification that I could hang in the window of the B&B,” she says.

Then reality set in. She couldn’t afford properties to open a B&B, but she did have a half-acre behind her house in Mebane. That’s when she decided to build a small bake shop to sell baked goods.

“For years when I was a principal, I utilized baking skills I honed when I was in 4-H from age nine to twenty,” she explained. “I gave bread loaves as holiday gifts to my school staff and they encouraged me to sell these when I retired. Since last April, I’ve been a full-time vendor selling my baked goods at Steve’s Garden Market and Butchery in Graham.”

Beverly began taking culinary classes at the College with the idea to learn more about the business side of food sales in the purchasing class, as well as simply learning more about the culinary arts. But some class assignment tasks remind her of her past.

“When we stuffed sausage in the Garde Manger class, I was taken back to my days on the family farm when we killed our own hogs and made sausage,” she says.

With the second phase of her life well under way as a student, what advice does she have for those just entering college?

“Find your passion,” she says. “Discover what you believe and find the career that allows you to follow that. For me, I cannot not lead. I’ve always been one to say, let’s go this way, and get things done.”