Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: Biography – Students, Staff/Personnel
Series 19: Students
Clella Sergent Cook Student Staff

CLELLA SERGENT COOK Student (1944-1948), Staff (1986-1995)

“What Pine Mountain Settlement School Has Meant to My Life”

TAGS: Clella Sergent Cook, influence of Pine Mountain Settlement School, boarding school influence, work program, labor, Harlan County schools, environmental education, hiking, careers, creative thinking, teaching, Intervention Program, Little School, job opportunity self-reliance, Ethel de Long Zande, Philippians 4:8

Clella Sergent Cook was a student at Pine Mountain Settlement School during its last years as a boarding school, 1944-1948. She was a resident of Harlan County and like many of her classmates, her experience had not been expansive. In the following autobiographical narrative, she tells us that she had never been to Harlan Town, Kentucky, the county seat only seven miles from her home.

This heartfelt narrative, “What Pine Mountain Settlement School has Meant in My Life,” is a testimony to the rapid and radical educational boost that the Settlement School gave to Clella in her four years at the institution.

During her career as a teacher, Clella returned to Pine Mountain Settlement School as a worker. In 1987 Clella was a teacher in the School’s Environmental Education program(?). From 1986 to1995 she taught in the School’s intervention program, spending at least one year at Beech Fork.

Clella Sergent is fifth from the left in this festive group photograph taken during the Christmas celebration cycle in Laurel House II.

Ernestine Vitatoe, Jane Burkert, Mary Ruth Bird, Charleen Lewis, Clella Sergent, Margaret Blair, Birdie Tipton, Betty Huff, Mary Garrett, Pearl Taylor, Alberta Turner, Ida Mae Lewis. (In Laurel House) [nace_1_026a.jpg]


Pine Mountain Settlement School has meant much in my life. In fact, with what my parents had taught me about life, the things I learned at Pine Mountain Settlement School have shaped my whole life, including my teaching career and my dealing with life’s situations.

Coming to PMSS was earth-shaking in many ways. I hadn’t even been to Harlan Town which was our county seat, and only seven miles away. Our Pine Mountain Settlement School teachers came from all over the United States — from different cultures and diverse backgrounds. Oh, how I loved to hear the talk of their homes far away and the places they had visited. I ate up all this knowledge; I thought to myself I’d like to visit those places someday. As I look back on those years I marvel at the dedication, love and care they had for us mountain youngsters. Every student was made to feel important, and that we had something to share with the world.

Students of PMSS during 1944-1948 had hands-on experiences of many different jobs besides formal education. We were taught to be responsible for our actions, our jobs, our decisions, and to work out our problems with the help of teachers, staff, and sometimes the student body. We left PMSS with the challenge to share with our communities, and eventually the great beyond, our talents, beliefs, and the knowledge that each person is important and unique.

My teaching career has been based and executed on the education I received at PMSS. It definitely was more than “book learning” and formal education. You learned…

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…how to deal with everyday situations. There were fiery discussions with student and staff when rules were broken and sloppy work was executed. Those actions were not tolerated at PMSS. You could do your best, work on your problems, ask for help, and try, try, again. We were not alone. If one teacher or staff member couldn’t help you, they would get others to discuss the issue or problem with you, until it was worked out to mutual agreement.

Rewards were offered for excellent work, creative thinking and pride in whatever task was accomplished to the PMSS standard. A member of the Student Council helped us see, sometimes to compromise, negotiate, or let go and go on to something else, or build on an idea. Sometimes a student or faculty member couldn’t live by the Pine Mountain standard, so they marched on, but there weren’t very many [student] withdrawals.

The Fall Field Hike taught us more than we realized at the time. We were only too happy to have a school day off to tramp the hills and valleys. We were taught through these hikes and excursions to care for our land and to appreciate the beauty our Creator had bestowed on us. We also learned useful conservation habits.

Any boarding student you meet feels that PMSS added many dimensions to their life and career. We all love to come back, visit, catch up on each other’s news, thank our former teachers, then return to our jobs and pass on the teachings that are so valuable to all of us. The one important thing that stands out in my mind is that each of us has a lot to share with our community and area — to let each person we meet, co-worker or student, know they are important and can be an asset to the world, not a burden on society.

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These goals weren’t always easily attained. If you came, as I did, ill-equipped in basic learning and had to compete with the more learned student from the coal camps you had to use extra help from teachers, elbow grease and sweat of the brow.

We learned in Chapel:

“Whatsoever things are true,
Whatsoever things are honest,
Whatsoever things are just,
Whatsoever things are just,
Whatsoever things are pure,
Whatsoever things are lovely,
Whatsoever things are of good report,
If there be any virtue, and if there be any praise
Think on these things.”

Philippians 4:8
“Seniors 1948.” [Back row] Jane Burkhart, Ida MacLewis, Charleen Lewis, Margaret Blair, Raymond Sturgill, Mary Ruth Bird, Betty Huff, Ann Metcalf, Alberta Turner. [Front row] Melvin Coots, Mary Garrett, Hobart Wilder, Clella Sergent, Owen Lewis, Birdie Tipton. [nace_II_album_100.jpg]

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Where Does Pine Mountain Settlement School Go From Here?

The future of Pine Mountain Settlement School seems to me to be headed in the right direction. There are three programs now being carried out:

The Environmental Education program is an excellent program. We must love and care for the environment for us, our children, grandchildren and their children. It’s mind-boggling when you think of how long it takes to make an inch of soil. We don’t want to lose a speck of it to the Mississippi Delta.

Pine Mountain has a community worker who works with the immediate area — with 3- and 4-year olds, Scouts, Homemakers, ball games and other community organizations. 

The Intervention program that involves the neighboring counties helps in the educational field. It places a retired teacher in a school in Perry, Letcher, Harlan and Leslie Counties. We have seen, and are seeing, life-changing effects on their students, who were slipping through the cracks of our educational systems. They know now they have something they can share with the rest of the school and community. Success in the least job or class learning is a heady motivation. We have a chance to pass on the cultural and mountain heritage, work habits and healthy attitudes toward work no matter how minor or big the job may be, and to be proud of our birthplace. In other words, some of the very attitudes Pine Mountain Settlement School taught us. It works!! That work is a privilege and a highway to success in whatever field we may be talented and choose.

The one disadvantage to living in our area is lack of job opportunities. If this… 

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…problem could be solved there would be hope that our area could prosper: support our people, not produce welfare recipients, but a joy and honor in work done to the best of your ability. If the School could help solve this problem, one major hurdle and disadvantage would be solved.

We need with all our being to instill in the people and students that share our lives the PMSS belief in Self Reliance, never to give up but try and try again, if an idea or job is a benefit to you and society. a job no matter how small or large should be done to the best of our ability.

There is something about Pine Mountain Settlement School that brings back those who knew it as students, or just through short visits — the Elderhostel program, the Nativity Play, or through day-to-day contact. It feeds the need of the human heart and soul. As long as there is Southeastern Kentucky, Pine Mountain Settlement School will be needed.

ABOUT Clella Sergent Cook

Clella Sergent was born in Cawood, Kentucky, on June 12, 1929, to Taft Sergent and Beulah Fields. Her siblings were Eulalah, Mary Sue, Ethel, Margaret, Willard C. and William Taft Sergent. She attended Union College and Eastern Kentucky University where she earned her Master’s Degree. Clella taught elementary school for 42 years and was active in the 4-H and drama programs. She also taught Sunday School and directed youth plays and drama events for 50 years at the Lower Beech Fork United Methodist Church. Clella and her husband, Paul Cook, lived in Leslie County, Kentucky, for most of their lives. They had one daughter, Ruth Ann Cook Ervin and one grandchild, Rickey Paul Ervin.

Clella Sergent Cook died on February 28, 2009, at age 79. She is fondly remembered for her interest in Appalachian folklore and her Appalachian heritage, incorporating these subjects into her teaching. She was particularly interested in re-telling “Jack Tales” to her students.

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Clella Sergent Cook

Alt. Title

Clella Sergent ; Mrs. Paul Cook ; 




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

Clella Sergent Cook ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; influence of Pine Mountain Settlement School ; boarding school influence ; work program ; labor ; Harlan County schools ; environmental education ; hiking ; careers ; creative thinking ; teaching ; Intervention Program ; Little School ; job opportunity ; self-reliance ; Ethel de Long Zande ; Philippians 4:8 ;

Subject LCSH

Cook, Clella Sergent, — June 12, 1929 – February 28, 2009.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.


2020-November-15 hw


Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY


Clella Sergent Cook


Collections ; text ; image ;


Original and copies of documents and correspondence in file folders in filing cabinet.


Series 09: Biography – Students/Staff and Series 19: Students.




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 09: Biography – Students,/Staff and Series 19: Students.

Coverage Temporal

1929 – 2009

Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Cawood, KY ; Leslie County, KY ; 


Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.




Core documents, correspondence, writings, and administrative papers of Clella Sergent Cook ; clippings, photographs, books by or about Clella Sergent Cook ;




“[Identification of Item],” [Collection Name] [Series Number, if applicable]. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.

Processed By

Helen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;

Last Updated

2020-June-26 aae



“Clella’s Obituary.”  Walker Funeral Home, Hyden, KY. (Accessed June 25, 2020.] Internet resource.

“Clella Sergent Cook.” Series 09: Biography – Students, Staff and Series 19: Students. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

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