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Still teaching, mentoring and sharing his story at 75
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At 75 years old, retired educator Dr. Alexander Gardner Jr. continues to express his love for teaching by sharing his words of wisdom with students.
On Saturday, Aug. 9, Dr. Alexander Gardner was the honored speaker at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Temple in Walthourville, where he serves as chairman of the board of deacons under the leadership of his pastor, Dr. Eddie C. Campbell Sr.
This annual back-to-school event was designed to honor and encourage positive community role models to share their experiences and help students to put forth their best efforts as a new academic year begins.
Gardner stressed to the students the importance of education and pointed out they have an opportunity to succeed against all odds. He shared his life story and struggles with the group, which consisted of students from elementary school through college. After Gardner spoke, the church youth department presented school supplies to the students.
Born in Brunswick in 1932, Gardner was raised by his grandparents on Sapelo Island. When Gardner was seven, his father returned, took him to Miami, Fla., and enrolled him in St. Francis Catholic School. Gardner took an interest in religious studies and developed quickly, jumping straight from third grade to fifth grade.
His parents relocated to Riceboro and enrolled Gardner at Riceboro Training School from sixth to eleventh grade, when he graduated as valedictorian of the class of 1950.
During his speech at Shiloh Missionary Baptist, Gardner proudly displayed, in chronological order, his aged and worn report cards from each grade level as well reports, projects, yearbooks, military travel photos and his neatly hand-written valedictorian speech to the class of
1950. Many of the students were amazed as they located pictures of their grandparents and great-grandparents among Gardner's mementos.
Gardner said his military career began when he joined the U.S. Air Force to train in radio and security operations three days after graduating from high school.
After his honorable discharge from the Air Force, Gardner took advantage of the Montgomery G.I. Bill and used his savings to enroll at Savannah State College on Jan. 4, 1954. Though he fell on hard times, struggled and even occasionally went hungry, Gardner was able to remain on the dean's list and also joined the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
As a senior at Savannah State, he was one of 40 students chosen to take part in a summer work program at the Green Giant Canning Co in Le Suer, Minn. With the money earned, he was able to purchase his first car, a 1953 Plymouth for $195.
After graduation in 1957, Gardner did his student teaching in chemistry and physics at Thompson High School in Savannah and landed his first job as a math teacher at Ralph Bunch High School in Woodbine. He paid $50 per month for room and board, which included two meals a day. Gas cost 35 cents a gallon, so Gardner could only afford to travel home to Riceboro on the weekends.
In 1958, he was hired at Liberty County High School to teach Spanish, math and science. Gardner continued his career at both LCHS and Bradwell Institute until he retired in 1985.
Gardner and his wife of 48 years, Gertrude H. Gardner, reside in Riceboro. Gertrude Gardner also is a retired teacher, and they have two sons, Dennis and Tyrone, and three grandchildren.
As a special treat, Gardner showed the students who attended the Shiloh Missionary Baptist event how to work his mother's 1938 antique hand-cranked phonograph and an antique gas-operated iron, which was considered the "Cadillac" of irons at that time.
Gardner credits God for all of his accomplishments. He reminded students to always put God first in life, obey parents, stay focused on a goal and never give in to peer pressure. The students, parents and church members in attendance were attentive and grateful to Gardner for sharing his life story.

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