Chasten, Clark made impact


March is Women’s History Month.

It’s a chance to highlight those who have made a difference within their community and respective lives.

Although I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting the two women I’m about to talk about in this space, the dedication they gave to their profession — teaching — speaks volumes.

Selected as this year’s Grand Marshal for the 13th annual Black History Parade in Mount Olive, Mrs. Mary B. Chasten served as an educator for four decades in Sampson, Duplin and Wayne counties.

The Elizabethtown native gained a passion for music from her mother, who gave piano lessons to her and children in the neighborhood. She graduated high school two years early, and obtained degrees from Barber Scotia College and UNC Charlotte.

As a 19-year-old, Chasten started her teaching career at Chinquapin High School in the quaint community of Rose Hill. After marriage and the birth of four children, she eventually moved to Mount Olive and taught at G.W. Carver High School.

Chasten shared her love, nurtured and made an impact in hundreds of students’ lives. She relished the opportunity to help them read, play and sing all types of music.

You could say the Mount Olive Male Chorus was Chasten’s masterpiece. Comprised of local gentlemen, the group toured area churches and regaled audiences with up-lifting gospel songs.

From my understanding, Chasten ­— now in her 90s — remains active at First Presbyterian Church and feels blessed to share her love of music with her seven grandchildren.

The second of five children, Ms. Letha Clark began her educational journey inside a two-room schoolhouse while growing up in Sampson County. She eventually moved to Wayne County and graduated from G.W. Carver High School in 1954.

Clark attended Shaw University and returned home to teach English at Carver.

She worked there for nine years and was transferred to Southern Wayne High School where she retired in the early 1990s.

She and her late husband, Dr. Benjamin F. Clark Sr., are the parents of two children.

Like Chasten, Clark is revered for her exceptional work as a teacher and remembered by her students for her compassion.

Rudy Coggins is assistant editor of the Mount Olive Tribune. He can be reached at


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