A Tribute to Mrs. Traci Mayes
When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said “a teacher.”
“Oh, because of your mom!” people would reply.
The assumption, though not entirely accurate, was at least understandable—everyone who knew me knew my mom, Mrs. Traci Mayes, as Maranatha’s most formidable English Comp II teacher. If you were a student at Maranatha after 1990, chances are you had at least one English class with her, and you probably didn’t get an A. In 24 years of service to Maranatha, my mother has taught over 40 sections of Comp II, graded thousands of pages worth of essays, and influenced hundreds of students.
My newly married parents came to Maranatha in August of 1990. After working as a teaching assistant while completing her Master of Education at Bob Jones University, Mom began teaching full time that fall. Only a few years older than her students, she was mistaken for an incoming freshman at least once in her first semester on campus.
My parents spent two years at the college until my father decided to continue his education, so they moved from Watertown to Pennsylvania in order for him to attend seminary. As graduation approached, their pastor notified them that Maranatha was in the market for both an English teacher and a Bible teacher and encouraged them to apply. In the fall of 1998, they returned to Watertown.
Those six years had brought change to the university and the Mayes family as well. Now with two young children, Mom opted to teach part-time in order to spend as much time as possible with her growing family. Often, that time together took place at Maranatha. Some of my earliest memories are of playing with my Beanie Babies in the teacher workroom, the air thick with the smell of toner and printer paper as my mom ran off copies for the next day’s class.
At times we accompanied her to class as well; I remember sitting in the back of Old Main 204 as a first or second grader on a day off school and watching her teach. Once I reached college myself, I would again find myself in her classes, as did two of my three brothers, my older brother’s wife, and my husband, whose own mother had been in one of Mom’s first classes in 1990.
Rather than being a detriment to her career, motherhood only enhanced her effectiveness as a teacher. “Being a mother gave me a greater sense of authority in the classroom,” she shares. “As my children got older, I was able to recognize behavior and other issues more accurately, and as they got into college, I had a much greater understanding of what students were going through.”
She maintains a maternal concern in the lives of her “kids,” even after they leave her classroom. “Even when I didn’t have a class with Mrs. Mayes, she would ask how I was doing and how my classes were going,” says alumna Miriam Backhaus (’19). “She even asked how my brother, whom she had had in class years before, was doing. That care was always so touching.”
Though teaching has always been her passion, in 2006 she transitioned from a faculty role into a staff position as the library’s Circulation Supervisor. This job, she recalls, gave her a greater sense of connection to the Maranatha family. “That position allowed me to appreciate the school’s inter-departmental workings,” she says. “It gave me a new set of coworkers who became friends. I still keep in touch with some of the young people who worked for the library while I was there.”
Jen Dunlop, one of her former student workers, attests to Mom’s investment in her life from her library days on. They’ve stayed in contact for over a decade now through Jen’s many adventures, which have taken her around the world, back to Maranatha for a time, and now to a new ministry. “She’s just a steady, reliable person that you can count on to help in any way if needed,” Jen says.
This interlude in Mom’s teaching career ended in 2009 when she returned to the classroom full-time. Since then, she has witnessed the transition from college to university and the development of the updated humanities program. She considers her fellow humanities faculty “some of the finest men and women” she knows. “Every day they gave their best and demonstrated the love of God to students and to me. I learned a lot about life, teaching, and human nature from working alongside my colleagues.”
They feel the same way about her. Dr. Jeff Miller, chair of the Humanities Department, says, “Traci has been a pillar of faithfulness and stability within the department, holding a high standard of compositional excellence and grammatical exactness. She is thoughtful, caring, and speaks with transparency among those with whom she works.”
Mrs. Angela Morris, who has worked alongside my mom for the majority of her career at MBU, can attest to this thoughtfulness as well. “Traci is known for her encouraging, hand-made notes which were often accompanied by chocolate treats or homemade goodies. Her office door was always open for peers to come and chat, discuss concepts, or simply share a prayer request or burden.”
During a time when Mrs. Morris’s family members were facing several difficult health issues, my mom stood by her—literally and figuratively—to offer support. Mrs. Morris recalls that singing during chapel often brought her to tears as she meditated on the lyrics. When that happened, “Traci would quietly reach into her book bag, pull out Kleenex, and hand them to me. She didn’t question or pry, she was just there to offer support and prayer. Her gracious heart was always so encouraging.”
For my mom, it’s ultimately the people that have made her time at Maranatha so special. “Working with our fine students has given my life purpose,” she says. “I love looking back through my files of information cards and seeing names of students who are now serving the Lord all around the nation and the world. I’m thankful I got to have a tiny part in their preparation to go out and serve. Any influence I might have had on anybody was strictly a matter of the grace of God.”
After spending the majority of their adult lives at Maranatha, my parents have been called to a new ministry. My father has accepted a job offer from Central Baptist Seminary in Minneapolis, where he will become the chair of the Old Testament department. My mom, however, isn’t sure what’s next for her. She liked working as a librarian, and years of reading student papers have given her the sharp eye of a copyeditor. But I suspect she’ll end up teaching once again—she’s too good at it to stay out of the classroom for long.
My mom has been an effective teacher because of her deep love for the people she serves. That love motivated her to talk through the questions you had on your research paper. It motivated her to communicate information through as many channels as she could think of so you would understand. It motivated her to sit down with the course catalog and an academic worksheet to help you figure out your path to graduation. It motivated her to advocate for you if you were struggling. Because she loved you, she encouraged you, prayed for you, and taught you the best way she knew to do. That is her living legacy, both in her own family and in the Maranatha family. We will miss her.