By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
From an early age, Lou Paschall knew she was going to grow up to help people.
She never imagined it would be as a social worker.
“There’s just a time to accept your destiny,” said Paschall, who has been a school social worker with Rutherford County Schools for the past 15 years. “It was my destiny, so I changed my major. I didn’t even know school social work was a thing at the time.”
During that time, Paschall has also been responsible for organizing the Area 16 Special Olympics and the growing relationship it has with Rutherford County Schools.
Paschall will continue in her role with the school district.
However, after 15 years, she is stepping away from helming the Special Olympics.
It was a tough decision for Paschall, who first volunteered with the Special Olympics as a teacher’s aide, while in high school in Coffee County, and got involved in Rutherford County as a student-volunteer at Middle Tennessee State University. But she and her husband Caleb have “a lot of caregiving” taking place with aging family members.
“That’s been part of what brought this decision about,” Paschall said. “We’ve got to be sure that these people that we feel a responsibility towards have what they need.”
Family is everything for Paschall and a large part in who she is as a person.
“Her personality is that of serving others and that’s where it starts,” said longtime friend Chip Walters, who has been the longtime emcee for the opening ceremonies at the Area 16 Special Olympics. “She’s just a gentle person.”
Her great-grandmother, grandmother and her mother all did work in social services.
Ruby Armistead, her great-grandmother, was a teacher and, according to Paschall, “she actually worked in some of the New Deal programs that President (Franklin D.) Roosevelt put in place, doing social work.”
Her grandmother — Ann Eastes, who lost a visually impaired daughter, Marthanne, when she was 10-years-old — had a deeply personal career working with Special Olympics. Eastes, who passed away three years ago, was proud to see her oldest grandchild and only granddaughter dedicate her life — personally and professionally — to helping others.
Walters said the family embodies a small town spirit in which it’s common to reach out and help your neighbor.
Her mother, Margaret Scott, introduced Paschall to John Harris back in Fall 1997.
Harris had been the first and only director of Disabled Student Services at MTSU until his retirement in 2013. Along with his role at MTSU, Harris was also with the Special Olympics.
Paschall, the first of four generations to major in social work, was a student-worker for Harris and took over organizing the Special Olympics once she graduated from college.
Harris, much like Paschall plans for future years, has maintained a presence at the annual event.
“When I came to the Rutherford County Board of Education, we had not ever had somebody who actually worked for the schools to help with it,” said Paschall, a self-described organizer, who always finds herself bringing order to chaos. “It helped us a tremendous amount for me to be working here because then I could coordinate the in-service and get teachers all the information and just have really good communication with everybody. That’s kind of how it evolved.”
She added, “Whoever the next person is could take it to places that I was never able to take it and could do something so different that would be amazing.”
This year’s event, which took place Wednesday morning at the Dean Hayes track and field on the campus of MTSU, had 506 athletes including students from 32 Rutherford County schools.
“People with disabilities have a lot to contribute to our society,” Paschall said, “and this is a day to highlight that and for what they can contribute to really be showcased.
“And that’s what I really like.”
She’ll miss the relationships and the smiles.
Most of all, she’ll miss being part of their accomplishments at the track and field competition.
Several years ago, one young man “with the greatest smile ever” came to visit her at the Central Office. It was in the fall, when “out of nowhere” he pulled a blue ribbon out of his front pocket.
He was so proud of himself, he carried it with him every single day.
“I will always remember that,” said Paschall, her eyelids welling up with tears.
Whenever something is not going as planned or the way she would like, or if she is feeling burdened and overworked, she thinks back to the afternoon he pulled out his ribbon as if it were the only one that anyone had ever seen.
Mostly she thinks about his smile.
“It meant so much to him that he was carrying his ribbon around all year,” said Paschall, who admitted it was a tough yet much-needed decision to step away as the primary organizer. “I feel like it’s something that means a lot to our athletes.”
Paschall added, “They have feelings and they understand the sense of accomplishment.”
Her memories also include the lessons learned by general education peers, especially after seeing photos and video clips on social media from some of the sendoffs as the kids left for Wednesday morning’s Special Olympics.
“Just to think we’re contributing to these young people who are about to be adults,” Paschall said. “For them to have good attitudes towards people with disabilities and their place in society, I really liked that part too.”