Faces of Freedom: Ernie and Alma Page

Ernie and Alma Page embody the struggle of all non-union professional educator groups.

West Virginia Professional Educators grew out of disillusionment over the NEA union activity in the late 1970’s. At the time, all of WVPE’s founders, Ernie, Alma, Elizabeth Mow, Jean Hinkle, Florena Colvin, were members of the West Virginia Education Association.

The turning point came when Ernie had recently been removed from his job as Executive Secretary of WVEA because of his resistance to its drift toward forced unionism. Union agents from Washington DC had been sent in to turn West Virginia Education Association employees into a group of union organizers.

Ernie struggled with the political maneuvering of those who came for the takeover and sacrificed health and family, spending hours and hours traveling the state talking to teachers about this turn toward union monopoly power and militant unionism.

To protect his professional integrity, Ernie sued WVEA and won, although it was a long and costly struggle.

Shortly thereafter a small group decided to break away from WVEA and form their own organization. The turmoil brought by these union organizers led to a decision to establish a PROFESSIONAL organization, because “A Child’s Mind is Too Precious to Bargain For.”

With Ernie as leader, about 30 teachers donated many hours and much effort to that cause. They were all unaware at the time that similar organizations were being formed in other states, but eventually learned about CEAFU and have been affiliated ever since.

WVPE’s membership now numbers over 1,000 (2008), growing steadily as WVEA has lost membership.

It has not been an easy road to follow, but with their deep abiding Christian faith, Ernie and Alma overcame adversity as the Executive Directors of WVPE, and are thriving.

In 1994 their home burned to the ground, including 2 cars. It was probably caused by a copy machine Ernie used for WVPE business. Not long after Ernie was in a serious car accident which injured him and totaled his van. Their daughter, Leigh Anne, who had lost all of her possessions in the fire, herself had a car wreck.

Shortly after this setback, Ernie went in to the hospital for what was to be a triple by-pass operation, which turned into a quintuple bypass and aortic valve replacement. The doctors weren’t sure Ernie would make it through the night, but Alma sat with friend Jean in a prayerful vigil throughout the night.

Even an ailing heart and accident couldn’t silence Ernie because Alma was by his side with her loving care and concern. While Ernie was recuperating, Alma picked up the torch and coordinated the business of the West Virginia Professional Educators.

Each summer Ernie and Alma work tirelessly on membership promotion mailings, attend State Department of Education meetings and legislative interim meetings, handling ALL the “nuts and bolts” so vital to making an organization run smoothly.

It has been a true honor to work with these two inspired individual in the struggle against compulsory unionism. That’s why we honor them today with CEAFU’s “Friend of Freedom” award.

Tributes from Colleagues

Ernie and Alma, independent educators in West Virginia have you to thank for your steadfastness and your dedication and courage. If not for you there would not be an alternative teacher organization in your state. Many times you’ve had the opportunity to step back from the West Virginia Professional Educators, but you’ve persevered with resilience.

I remember when it would have been easy for you to say “let someone else take the reins of West Virginia Professional Educators,” but you stayed the course: Against a fire that destroyed your family’s home, an accident that wrecked your van and a life-threatening congestive heart failure all within six months. I distinctly remember thinking that Alma and Ernie can’t endure all these hardships and still continue their leadership role with West Virginia Professional Educators, but you were back. You always returned with smiles, determination, and a “can-do” attitude.

At this time in your journey, I have no doubt those same strong characteristics that have served you this far will carry you the distance. I salute you and wish all the best for a happy and joyous future.

Polly Broussard, Past Executive Director, Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, June, 2009

Dear Ernie and Alma: (Excerpts from some letters written to Ernie and Alma for this occasion.)

I was so happy to have a choice so I could proudly feel and say that I belong to a group of teachers who put our children first. Also I always felt secure in WVPE backing my teaching career.

Nancy Davidson, retired teacher, Upshur County

In the midst of our friendship there have been moments of anxieties. As Ernie lay in a Charleston Hospital uncertain of the outcome of his serious illness, Alma and I sat in a prayerful vigil throughout the night. Alma exemplified the strength and faith of a Christian wife as she led her family through the crisis. Even an ailing heart and accident couldn’t silence Ernie because Alma was by his side with her loving care and concern. While Ernie was recuperating, Alma picked up the torch and coordinated the business of the West Virginia Professional Educators.

Not to be missed, I watched Ernie’s leadership during the formation of the WVPE and his commitment to “save” the WVEA from union takeover. In spite of all the effort, Washington insurgents were too much and the West Virginia Education Association became a group of union organizers. Our dear Ernie struggled with the political maneuvering of those who came for the takeover and sacrificed health and family. He spent hours informing and convincing others of the turmoil within the association while probing for solutions.

We honor you, Ernie and Alma, for your faithful leadership and vision. Thus, a choice for educators in West VA exists. May West Virginia Professional Educators forever search for goals that honor children in your memory.

(just signed) Jean

A CHILD’S MIND IS TOO PRECIOUS TO BE BARGAINED FOR

West Virignia Professional Educators

 

The Page’s were insturmrntal in founding the West Virignia Professional Educators and creating this list of reasosn it opposes unions in education:

  1. Educators want to be treated as professionals for which they have spent years in training and they feel capable of deciding their own fate.
  2. Educators are in the position to determine what best benefits the students with whom they work daily and see no need to call upon arbitrators to make the decision.
  3. Educators resent compulsory arbitration which leaves no opportunity for appeal and not even a voice in decision-making – a practice long taken for granted.
  4. Educators reject forced unionization through the inclusion of an agency-shop clause, leaving no choice of allegiance to what you believe.
  5. Educators foresee labor unrest, private and public, infiltrating the educational system and creating adversities.
  6. Educators view turmoil resulting from labor unrest as creating low morale among employees.
  7. Educators believe that a collective bargaining law would nullify past actions of the legislature leaving many uncertainties and insecurities.
  8. Educators fear that the students would become “pawns” for the power-driven unions to force demands upon the public and the legislature.