After forty years of teaching at Muleshoe High School and four at Midland High School, John Gulley, master teacher and trivia master extraordinaire, is calling it a day. April Smith, Val McCamish, and Principal Cindy Bessire organized a reception May 20 at the high school Academy room to celebrate his career at MHS. Students and teachers also contributed, and it was a success.

Photo courtesy of April Smith

Mr. Gulley, who was always formal with his greetings with fellow teachers and adults, so we tended to respond in kind, was born in Clovis, New Mexico, in 1949 to Davis and Elzada Gulley. He and his younger brother James grew up where he still lives now, three miles north of Progress, which put them in the Lazbuddie school district. He attended school there through eighth grade until he attended a summer workshop in Muleshoe taught by Kerry Moore. Mr. Moore saw talent and desire and suggested to John’s parents to let him transfer to Muleshoe High School.

So they did. He started his freshman year at MHS and for the next four years he got involved in productions supervised by Mr. Moore. He reminisced, “There was a lot more going on back then. We had a fall play, a musical, a senior play, and of course, one-act, so I was in a total of twenty-one plays during high school.” And for those of you interested in Muleshoe school history, Tom Jinks was the high school principal while Mr. Gulley was a student.

Mr. Gulley graduated from Muleshoe High School in 1968 and attended Texas Tech University, graduating in 1972 with a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in government and a minor in history and education. He then moved to Midland to teach government and history at Midland High School for four years.

At this point Texas Tech was offering a fellowship in public administration which would allow him to earn an MPA, which he did. He then took a job as an emergency loan supervisor for the Farmers Home Administration (FHA) in Littlefield. This coincided with the need for him to be at home to help his parents care for an uncle who was battling cancer, so after a year he changed jobs and became the manager of the Muleshoe Chamber of Commerce, which saved him the drive time he was using to work in Littlefield. He was the chamber manager for four and a half years.

Then one day Muleshoe High School principal Wayland Ethridge called and asked if he would like to teach school again, specifically Spanish and French. Now, Mr. Gulley had taken Spanish in high school and French while at Tech, but needed a bit more background to teach them, especially Spanish. So he took some Spanish classes at Lubbock Christian University and more hours at Tech and was ready to go. So, from 1984 till the present, his teaching career at Muleshoe High School included Spanish 1, 2, 3; regular and AP government, dual credit government and economics, gifted/talented, and French 1, 2. The French classes didn’t last too long because, as he said, “The kids wanted to speak it, not take it,” French being a bit trickier than Spanish to learn. Plus, there is not much need to know French around here, but Spanish does come in handy.

Along with all these class subjects, his personal experience and interest in plays led him to work with Kerry Moore and the UIL one-act plays the high school put on for many years. One in particular I could remember that he helped with was “Elizabeth the Queen,” and there were several others he was involved with that were successful. He also judged speech tournaments when Mr. Moore (Dr. Moore) held tournaments in Muleshoe.

Another area where Mr. Gulley made his mark at the high school, with the teachers in this case, was serving as trivia master in the workroom at lunch. He enjoyed trivia and obscure facts, and in conversation one day, someone suggested we play around with trivia at the lunch table. The Trivial Pursuit game had come out in 1981 and Jeopardy was popular on TV, so we were all up to the challenge. And it was a fun way to add to our lunch break. Mr. Gulley was the master of ceremonies and never ran out of questions to ask us. No telling how many books we covered as he doled out questions that sometimes we could answer- and sometimes not! And then there would be times when some smarty pants knew the answer-or thought they did-and would blurt out an answer before Mr. Gulley could finish the question, which always got a frown out of him. But he would get over it, and it was on to the next question. Johnny Carson was still doing Carnac the Magnificent skits on the Tonight Show, and that was my inspiration for the Valentine card I made for him to let him know how much we appreciated his leadership in the trivia marathons. (And those of you too young to know Carnac, google it.) None of us could pen down the year we started the trivia sessions, but I made this card in 2005, and I really think we had done it for several years before that. So even if you just use 2005 as the starting date and 2024 as the ending date, consider that this has been going on for at least the last nineteen years. Quite a run, I must say.

You might notice the title “Bubba the Magnificent” above his lovely Carnac turban. He and Mr. Moore had just returned from taking one of the plays to Austin to compete in the state UIL one-act play competitions. They had taken the cast of kids to eat at the Texas Cafe, which was a new place in Austin at the time. We were sitting in the workroom before school the following week and someone came in and made some comment about him liking the Texas Cafe. Mr. Gulley asked why he would say that and was told that he must like it because he had a bumper sticker on his car that said so, something to the effect of “Texas Cafe-Bubba Likes It.”  He scooted his chair back as he insisted that he didn’t do bumper stickers and proceeded to go out to his car to see the damage. The cast members guilty of the prank were never identified, and the sticker was gone before the next day, but the Bubba stuck. And bless his heart, when we, well, mostly me, would call out “Hi Bubba!” when we would see him, he would graciously return the hello. He would never fit the mold of a Bubba, but he was a good ol’ boy to take the joke.

Another thing Mr. Gulley does is travel in the summer after school is out. It all of started when he signed up for a two-week class in Spanish in Spain in 2000. He said since it was kind of hard to ask someone, “Hey, want to go with me to Spain for a Spanish class-I went by myself and did just fine.” It turned out that it was nice to be able to make the decision to do and see what he wanted to, so he does enjoy going by himself and then shares his trip with friends when he returns.

At the retirement reception, fellow teacher and trivia player Kamry Cribbs fittingly came up with a list of Mr. Gulley Retirement Trivia questions. I have already answered a few of those questions, but some others covered these topics:

How many countries has Mr. Gulley visited: Seventeen-England, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, France, Italy, Turkey, Switzerland, Greece, Mexico, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Morocco.

Who was Mr. Gulley’s mentor- We all knew the answer to this one- Kerry Moore.

How many principals has he gone through- eight, not counting the one he had in Midland: Mr. Ethridge, Dr. Wyer, Mrs. Ward, Mr. Salazar, Mr. Bishop, Mr. Jenkins, Mr. Myatt, and Mrs. Bessire.

How many MHS classrooms has he been in-four.

How many languages can Mr. Gulley speak- English, of course, then Spanish, French-“Well, a little French!” he laughed. And very little Italian. “The Italian phrases for How much does this cost, Where is the restroom, and I’m lost! helped me get by when I was in Italy,” he said.

This year Mr. Gulley was honored at the 2024 Athletic Banquet with the Legends Award for his  “unwavering support for Muleshoe High School throughout his exceptional career in education. Mr. Gulley has consistently shown up to celebrate the achievements of student athletes and teams, while also offering comfort and support during difficult times. His absence will be deeply felt at Muleshoe High School.”

Before he can enjoy another trip this year, knee replacement surgery is first. In fact, that knee replacement shadowed his retirement decision. Not being able to confirm that he could complete a full year of teaching due to the timing of the surgery and length of recovery, he couldn’t in good faith sign a contract for next year. So while returning to the classroom, and possibly the trivia chair, are possibilities, only time will tell.

In the meantime, Mr. Gulley said this year being somewhat handicapped by his bad leg has been a learning experience. “Everyone has been so good to me; the kids, the teachers, opening doors, bringing food to class for me, many small kindnesses, everyone has just been so thoughtful,” he said, “and I appreciate that.”

Another option when all the knee issues go away is more travel with the chance to go places anytime during the year, which might lead to new countries. Or to go back to places like Switzerland and Italy to see things still left to see.

Whatever the future holds, high school will never be quite the same without Mr. Gulley.

Happy trails, Bubba.

Thanks to April Smith, Kamry Cribbs, and Coach Richards for their help with this story, and to Mr. Gulley for sharing his life with me.