A roomful of hands flew into the air as John Alexander asked the crowd, “So, how many of you were taught by Billy Guinn?”
After teaching biology at Jacksonville High School for 38 years, the long-time teacher needed no introduction at the third-annual Evening With Our Stars fundraiser for the Jacksonville Education Foundation.
Guinn and country music star and 1984 Jacksonville graduate Lee Ann Womack were honored as this year’s stars with a meet-and-greet at Castle on the Lake in Jacksonville. They join a list of distinguished alumni to be honored including actress Margo Martindale, former NFL star Pete Lammons, Sissy Austin and coach John Alexander.
Guinn was many students favorite teacher to almost four generations of students, and he estimates he taught more than 5,000 students before retiring in 1986.
“He was the most talked about teacher that has ever come out of Jacksonville — without a doubt,” said Grace Traylor, education foundation board member and organizer of the event.
Guinn joked that Ms. Traylor “offered to make him a star.”
“I already heard she had been running, looking for one in all the counties nearby and finally she came back to me,” he joked.
Lee Ann Womack’s high school choir director Larry Cigainero said the young Ms. Womack was pretty with a good singing voice, but her main interests were her friends and having a good time, but she had a strong support system and determination to make her herself known in the country music industry.
The Country Music Association awarded Ms. Womack album of the year in 2005. All in all, she has been nominated for 20 CMA awards and took home six. Her honors include female vocalist of the year, single of the year and vocal event of the year. She also has been awarded a Grammy for her hit “I Hope You Dance.”
“She had to be willing to work hard,” he said. “That’s what a lot of people don’t understand, you have to get up when you’re knocked down, and Lee Ann was able to do all of that.”
Ms. Womack said both of her parents and her grandmother were educators at Jacksonville ISD.
“It was such a huge part of what enabled me to go on and do what I did,” she said. “It’s funny Mr. Cigainero I said I seemed to interested in my friends and having a good time. I was able to take that and make a living at it.”
The foundation also awarded Susan Phillips the Influential Educator award and added five to its list of Influential Indians, including Barbara Murray, Barry Hughes, Julie Duren, Ms. Womack and Guinn.
The foundation also unveiled a new program that will take shape at Jacksonville High School in the fall. The Vision 20/20 program will focus encourage incentivize and promote college and career readiness for the school’s high achievers, board member Matt Montgomery said.
At the end of the night, about $33,000 was raised. The funds will go back into the classroom in the form of classroom grants and provide scholarships to Jacksonville students.