LIMA — Nathzollo Bankston Gurley touched a great many lives through her efforts to improve the community by participating in volunteer groups as well as becoming the first African American principal at Lima schools.
Gurley was born Jan. 9, 1925, in Lima to the Rev. Nathaniel Lloyd Bankston and Corene Bankston, who were originally from Georgia. Her upbringing was intertwined with the history of Fourth Street Missionary Baptist Church. Her father served on the deacon’s board from 1934 to 1949, so she was raised a devout member.
From an early age, she demonstrated a keen mind by graduating second in her class from Lima Central High School before attending St. Clair Business College in Dayton on a scholarship. Despite the prejudices of the age, Gurley achieved an associate’s degree in business administration. During her education, she married Curtis Gurley Sr.
The two started a family that would grow to include Curtis Gurley Jr., Nathaniel Gurley, Corene Newby and Flora Holland. The Gurley family was active in their community as well as in their parish, but even still Gurley found the time to pursue a career and further her education.
She worked for the Air Force as a secretary. Her obituary, printed in The Lima News, related the story: “She worked as a secretary for the United States Air Force until a promotion assigned her to go to the Philippines; however she refused to go because she was scared to be in a plane over the ocean.”
From there, Gurley furthered her education by earning degrees in mathematics and elementary education. The latter of these degrees would open up the path to her position as an educator in Lima. She was a lifelong student, studying at Wilberforce State College, Bowling Green State College, Ohio Northern University, University of Dayton and Columbia University.
A Lima News story from October 2016 lists her Lima schools accomplishments. “She was a fifth grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary, Lima Senior High School — Dean of Women, Assistant Principal of Lima West Junior High and served as the first black principal in the Lima City Schools at Lima South Junior High School.”
Her warmth and dedication to her students is remembered by those she instructed. Though Gurley worked very hard to directly aid the students of Lima schools, she also supported them in a number of indirect ways.
“She was a faithful member of Fourth Street Missionary Baptist Church for over 75 years where she served in the Willing Workers Club for youth, Senior Usher Board, Senior Choir and Sunday School Teacher. She was a member of the Lima Branch of Ohio Northern Women, Soroptimist International of Lima, Hy-Ho Club, NAACP, The Delta Kappa Gamma Society (and) Urban League,” according to her obituary.
Numerous stories at the time noted fundraising dinners and other events put on by Gurley’s own Hy-Ho (Help Yourself-Help Others) Club. These events were put on in order to provide scholarships to Lima’s brightest students. Many items also list her as a guest speaker, another way she was present in the community for the causes she held dear.
One of those causes was civil rights. She was an active figure in the effort to end segregation of public and private establishments for people of all races. She was a participating member of NAACP and also held positions as Conductress and Matron of Cyrene Chapter 31 Eastern Star Prince Hall.
Gurley died Oct. 17, 2016, and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, Lima.
Reach Drew Ewry at firstname.lastname@example.org.