Interview with Janet Huffstetler

Janet Huffstetler was interviewed by Jordan Steinhauser on April 12, 2012.

Janet Huffstetler, 65 when interviewed, was born in Charlotte, North Carolina and lived in nearby Belmont until the age of ten. After her father was transferred for work, her family moved to Shelby, North Carolina, where she lived until she graduated from high school. Shelby was a very politically active town so Ms. Huffstetler became involved in politics at a young age. She dated her high school sweetheart and they married while attending college at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Together they had three children. They later divorced and eventually she remarried and divorced her second husband. Ms. Huffstetler left college and worked as a dental assistant to three professors at the UNC School of Dentistry. She has also worked as an office manager at Corley Redfoot architectural firm for the past 24 years. Her passion, however, was working as an academic tutor for the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team, which she did for 15 years. In 2005, her oldest son was killed in an automobile accident, which sent her into a deep depression. Today, she is healthy and enjoying spending time with her two grandchildren and catching up on television shows she was deprived of while working two full time jobs.

On Politics in Shelby, NC

They got young people involved very early in politics in Shelby. It was kind of interesting because it was a stronghold for the Democratic Party and my family was Republican [laughs]. So my dad said, “Don’t ever tell anybody,” and we didn’t. And I stayed pretty true to my dad until John Kennedy came along, and he sort of changed everything for young people because he was so young and so vibrant and wanted young people, wanted to get them involved, so I switched over at that time, and during high school, worked in his campaign. [JS: Wow.] Well, locally. But that was something you did as a teenager in Shelby. You worked in campaigns. You were just getting ready for your future because in Shelby it would be political.

Listen to the audio of Janet’s response about politics.

On the integration of her high school

During her senior year, Janet’s high school integrated with only one black student. This excerpt elaborates on that time:

I felt very sorry for the young man because we only had one that was willing to come. He happened to be the son of a man I had known almost my whole life because he was the sexton of our church and was very active with our youth groups and everything. Everybody loved Ray. We all knew that he was an activist in Civil Rights, but then his son was the first one that would come to the high school. And I was told not to be too nice to him. That really disturbed me, but things were so uneasy and actually it was his father who told me that… He told all of us as a group to be nice to his son, but that we didn’t have to go out of our way and put ourselves in jeopardy. It was a very uneasy time.

Listen to the audio of Janet’s response about integration.

On her mother

My mother influenced me because she did not want me to have a career because she had thought that that had not been the best route for her because in my group of friends, she worked and she couldn’t do the bridge clubs and the social things. She said she didn’t want to but I don’t know, sometimes I think later on she felt like that she had missed something. In fact, she got very upset when I joined the…what is the school club, the Future Teachers of America or something? [laughs] Yeah. And she said, “Oh no, no, no, no! You can’t be! You can’t be a teacher!”

Listen to the audio excerpt about the influence Janet’s mother had on her.

On going back to and finishing college

I look back on that now, it was mainly just to say that I did rather than going for something. You know what I mean? [JS: Mm-hmm.] That part I regret. They just kept saying, “You’ve got to go back. You’ve got to finish. You can’t not do this.” Yet I didn’t have anything in mind. It was just knock out the courses. But that was kind of the way so many of my friends were. It was like we’ve just got to do this and get it over with. That was just not something that we had to worry about. It was mainly just saying that you went to college, finish college, whatever, and that’s sad that we weren’t given that. It wasn’t a good time because it was hard especially with a child and you still had to do everything at home. It was hard. It’s almost like you don’t remember because my heart wasn’t in it. I think I got more of an education when I was tutoring those kids because I was able to really get into the subjects and learn them and do it. I really think my real college education came with 15 years with tutoring.

Listen to the audio excerpt about Janet’s feelings on college.

On the impact of the men of the Basketball Team

For 15 years, Huffstetler worked as an academic tutor for the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team, and here she reflects on the impact they have had in her life:

One of the members on that team hooked up with me on Facebook, or requested to be my friend… [JS: Mm-hmm.] I wrote back, and I said, “I cannot believe you are befriending me on Facebook [laughs]. You remember me!” or something like that. He wrote back and he said, “Miss Janet, not in five lifetimes would I ever forget you, but especially in this one.” I was so touched because I didn’t think he would forget me, but he just wrote back the most poetic thing! I was just taken aback. They have just meant so much. They could come to us and talk to us when they didn’t feel comfortable with coaches, especially with girlfriend problems or things that I never wanted to know about. [JS: laughs] It was nice that they felt that way. I’ve been told more than once that I was the best white-black mother they’ve ever had [laughs].

Listen to the audio of Janet’s response about the UNC Men’s Basketball team.

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