Longtime Tyler resident Eva McKnight credits her passion for teaching, love for children and diligent work ethic to her upbringing, growing up in a family of 11 children.
Born second oldest, Mrs. McKnight helped her parents care for her younger siblings which included a set of triplets.
"I was associated with babies all those years, so I just loved children," Mrs. McKnight said, adding that she enjoyed growing up in a large household. "We had the nicest parents; they were so good to us."
Mrs. McKnight will celebrate her 104th birthday on November 29. The local assisted living facility she currently resides in has offered to throw her a birthday celebration, but a date and time have not been set due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Mrs. McKnight will spend her birthday with her two sons and their families.
Mrs. McKnight's parents were both educators. After graduating from Henderson High School in 1930, Mrs. McKnight enrolled at Sam Houston State Teachers College during the fall of that same year. Mrs. McKnight worked as a housekeeper while attending classes at Sam Houston and lived in a two-bedroom apartment with her younger sister and their cousin.
"My father was a teacher and I saw how much he enjoyed teaching," Mrs. McKnight said. "I taught school for 42 years."
After achieving a bachelor's degree from Sam Houston, Mrs. McKnight worked for Henderson ISD for 7 years. School being her first priority, Mrs. McKnight married after getting her bachelor's degree and working for a few years. She soon gave birth to her first son, and then two years later had another boy. Mrs. McKnight became a widow after only nine years of marriage when her husband, Robert McKnight, was killed in a gasoline plant explosion. Her sons were 6 and 8. Shortly after, her house and car burned down after being struck by lightning late one Sunday evening.
"I said to the boys, ‘We've lost everything we own- I have- except for you two little boys. I'm so glad the Lord gave me you two little boys and I'm going to find some place for us to live,'" Mrs. McKnight said.
Mrs. McKnight moved to Tyler in 1956. She began teaching at Mattie Jones Elementary, where she would spend the majority of her 42-year teaching career. She never remarried.
"My life has been full of trouble but I don't count it trouble because the Lord knew what he was doing," Mrs. McKnight said, adding the Lord took care of her and her two young boys during all the difficult times.
Despite the struggles, Mrs. McKnight found comfort in her job as an elementary school teacher. Mrs. McKnight made an impact on several of her students, and was visited by many former students volunteering at the information desk at ETMC for 30 years after retirement from teaching in 1977.
"I enjoyed being mother to those little children. They were so sweet. In fact, one of my pupils wrote an article about me in the Dallas news," Mrs. McKnight said. "I couldn't believe after all this time he would've remembered me."
Mrs. McKnight prides herself for never referring to any of her former pupils as "kids." She says they are not kids; they are children.
"In the article that he wrote about me, he called me sweet and motherly- they all would look on me as their mother," Mrs. McKnight said. "I treated them like I would want to be treated myself, and I would think that these little children are under my care all day long and that's more than they were home with their own parents. I helped to shape their lives, I guess."
Mrs. McKnight boasted that she loved her little children and she still does.