STRASBURG — Adora Payne, who was Priscilla Terry's elementary school teacher at Sunset Hill Elementary School, an African-American school that operated in Strasburg until integration in 1964, left a strong impression on her — so strong that the two kept in contact until Payne's death.
Last year, that close connection led to an unexpected discovery for Terry and the rest of her family: Lois Payne, one of Adora Payne’s two daughters and a professional artist, had painted a portrait of a member of Terry's family.
As the teacher of students in grades one through seven in the one-room school, Payne was an organized and committed teacher, Terry recalled.
“She enhanced the minds of so many African-American students in the Strasburg area at the time she was teaching at Sunset Hill,” Terry said. “I volunteer in a classroom today, and I know that teachers work hard, but no one can measure up to what [Adora Payne] did for us.”
So as a young adult, Terry connected with her teacher, and they stayed in touch until Adora Payne’s death in 1997.
And even then, Terry kept in contact with Payne’s living daughter, Antoinette Payne Hewlett. Hewlett told Terry about Payne’s death at the age of 96, and since then they have stayed in touch with each other. That led to the discovery of the painting.
One day, Hewlett told Terry about an exhibit at the Jefferson County Museum in Charles Town, West Virginia, featuring Lois Payne’s artwork. One of those pieces was a pastel portrait of a woman from the Allsberry family in Strasburg — Terry’s family. But Hewlett didn’t know which one.
So until two members of Terry’s family made their way to the exhibit, “there was a little bit of suspense there,” Terry said.
When the family members made it to the event, though, they realized the portrait was of Terry’s aunt, Nellie Allsberry.
For Terry’s sister, Kathy Temple, the discovery was a welcome but surprising sign of how much their aunt had meant to Lois Payne.
Lois Payne lived in West Virginia, a distance from Allsberry’s Strasburg home, but Temple said Lois Payne would have visited Allsberry on occasion.
“It was quite surprising that she knew Aunt Nellie enough or valued her enough to want to sketch her,” Temple said.
Temple takes the existence of the drawing as a testament to who Allsberry was as a person.
A prolific baker, Temple said, Allsberry was always in the kitchen. She catered food, preparing cakes “for as many weddings as I can remember,” Temple said.
And for Strasburg’s black community, Allsberry’s house was a popular place. It always had baked goods, Temple said, and so she “became almost like a second mom.”
“We weren’t allowed to go to the local restaurants, we weren’t allowed to go to the hotels, so Aunt Nellie's seemed like the place to go,” Temple said.
And Allsberry would house visiting families. Temple said that she thought Adora Payne visited Allsberry’s house, as did her two daughters.
With that background, Temple said, it was fitting that years later, her portrait, which neither she nor Terry had known existed, would show up in a West Virginia museum, drawn by one of the many people she had briefly encountered.
“It was quite revealing that Aunt Nellie left such an impression on” Lois Payne, Temple said.