When Rebecca Dearden roamed the halls of Center Hill Elementary School in Olive Branch as its principal, you could easily tell that her students were her passion. Dearden was all about the education and growth of her youngsters.
Dearden led Center Hill Elementary as its first principal to become the county’s first National Blue Ribbon School in 2009, the highest award an American school can receive from the U.S. Department of Education. Dearden was also named District Administrator of the Year in 2007.
Through her active membership in the Rotary Club of Olive Branch, Dearden was also able to solicit the Rotary’s support to what became known as Rotary Park, the school playground for students and staff of all ages. Thanks to the school Parent Teachers Organization (PTO), an outdoor classroom and a walking track were also added. Benches could be turned into tables for outside studies.
Dearden was named a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow recipient during her time with the service organization.
The playground at Center Hill Elementary has now welcomed a new addition with the construction of an outdoor basketball court named in the late principal’s honor. Dearden passed away from complications of brain cancer she had battled in May 2014 after retiring from a 40-year education career.
It was appropriate that a basketball court be named for Dearden. As much as she loved her children, she also loved basketball and the Memphis Grizzlies in particular. It was also appropriate that the Rotary Club of Olive Branch assist in the establishing the basketball court on the school grounds, said current principal Sissy Heyman.
“The Olive Branch Rotary approached me about wanting to do something special in her memory,” Heyman explained. “I got my teachers and staff together and there was no question that there should be a basketball court. It was something that she (Dearden) just loved. It was: God, family, CHES, and the Memphis Grizzlies.”
Members of the Rotary Club came out for the court dedication recently and aided in the ribbon cutting, done by Dearden’s daughter Krista Rickman and her family.
“It was all about the students with her,” said DeSoto County Schools Supt. Cory Uselton. “If you write the book about Center Hill Elementary School, to start out, it would be about Miss Dearden, but she would be the first one to say, ‘that’s wrong, it needs to be about the students.’ She started the excellence that is here at this school.”
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.