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franklin county times

Distinguished Through the Decades: 1969, Dianne (Wages) Pace

Progress 2022: Distinguished Through the Decades

In a scrapbook Dianne Wages Pace’s mother made for her, she preserves the memories of her youth – among them, of her time as Franklin County’s Junior Miss. Newspaper clippings tell the story, details documented on aging yellow newsprint.

“I never was one to be interested in pageants,” said Pace, a retired Russellville schoolteacher. “I just kind of did it on a whim. I knew there was scholarship money attached to it, so I thought that would be a good thing, too.”

Back then the Franklin County program was coordinated by the Russellville Jaycees, and the winner might be referred to as Franklin County Junior Miss or a variation on that title including the Jaycee designation. Pace was crowned – because yes, a crowning was part of the honor at that time – at the Jaycees’ Franklin County Fair.

During her high school years at Russellville, Pace said she was an active student, particularly in the arts.

“I loved anything theatrical and the arts,” Pace said. “I was really involved in any of our drama production or chorus things.” She was president of the Glee Club, and much of her time was dedicated to playing oboe and clarinet and being a majorette in the Marching Hundred Band.

“I took art in the summer from Lela Ray,” Pace said. “She taught us different techniques – water color, oils, and the best thing she did was ordered a potter’s wheel, and she taught us how to work with clay.” Oil painting became a love Pace continues to this day.

Home ec was another passion; Pace was also president of the Future Homemakers of America. She said this passion was one she discovered under high school home economics teacher Dot Murphy. “She was a fantastic, phenomenal teacher, as was Mrs. Ray. They both had strong influences on me.”

After high school Pace attended Florence State. She first majored in music, with designs on a career path as a school music teacher, but she later shifted her focus to elementary education. Pace and her husband Barry – they married during her freshman year of college, 1969 – moved to Georgia in 1971 for his teaching job. She finished her bachelor’s degree at Tift College of Education, Mercer University, graduating in 1972, and immediately got a job as a first-grade teacher.

In the first nine years of her career, Pace did wind up teaching music, as well as half-day kindergarten, sixth grade and second grade, in addition to her first role in first grade.

The Paces moved back to Alabama in 1982 to care for Barry’s ailing parents. Pace taught kindergarten in Russellville from 1983-1994 before moving back into first grade from 1994-2000.

“I loved teaching young children because I love interacting with them, and I love what they teach me – as much as what I teach them,” she said. “Young children are so inquisitive, and they are so ready to learn. They are just like big ol’ sponges – they just can’t get enough. It’s just so much fun to see their lights come on and all those ‘aha’ experiences they have. It just makes teaching so rewarding.”

From there she worked in the child development program at Northwest-Shoals Community College. She wrote grants, provided teacher training, wrote a newsletter and hosted a television program called Today’s Child. During that time she was also on the advisory board for the state Pre-K program when it first came to be, and she helped write the standards for that program.

“When I retired from the college in 2011, the state hired me to work as an education specialist for the Department of Early Childhood Education,” Pace said. She kept that role from 2011-2018.

When it comes to Junior Miss, Pace said it was a wonderful experience that “expanded my horizons.”

As with many of the Junior Misses/Distinguished Young Women from throughout the years, she particularly enjoyed her week at the state competition. “We were hosted by a host family in a beautiful home in Birmingham – me and two other girls,” she said. “It was just lovely … Every day they would send a car and take us to Julia Tutwiler Hotel, and we would learn our dance for the physical part, and one day we went down and worked on our talent and got ready for our interviews and everything.”

For her talent, Ray helped Pace put together a song/piano piece from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” in which Schroeder plays “Moonlight Sonata” and Lucy accompanies him on vocals – off-key, with adoring lyrics of her own making.

Pace said the state competition “was a wonderful experience, start to finish.”

“When you come from a little town like Russellville – and it especially was back then – it really gave me an opportunity to meet other people,” she said. “I’ve already encouraged my granddaughter to do it. It’s a wonderful opportunity for girls.”

Among her many accomplishments Pace has also written three books, with more in the works.

She and Barry have two children, Brian and Brent, both of whom are married – to Jennifer and Bridget, respectively – and have given the Paces nine grandchildren, ranging from first grade to graduate school.

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