Marcellus Dungee was at home one snowy day when a friend called him on the phone.
Normally, Dungee would have been performing warm-ups or rehearsing songs with his students at Richmond County Intermediate (RCI) and Rappahannock High School (RHS).
But snow had cancelled school for the day, leading a friend of Dungee’s to believe that the snow day had become a vacation day for the music teacher.
“’Marcellus, I know you’re just at home resting and not doing anything,” Dungee remembered his friend saying to him.
Dungee replied: “Just because it’s a snow day, our work continues, whether it’s planning or entering grades.”
So Dungee worked on what his friend perceived was a “day off,” maintaining over 25 years of dedication and service to Richmond County Public Schools (RCPS).
It was his dedication for which the Richmond County Museum chose to recognize him as a part of honoring longtime educators in the county for Black History Month.
Having graduated from Virginia State University (VSU) with a Bachelor of Music Education in Vocal Music, Dungee became a part of RCPS in 1986.
When asked why he chose to teach music, Dungee cited his roots.
“I come from a very musical family,” Dungee said. “I’ve been singing for a long time. I remember being able to harmonize with my sister probably at age 6.”
Dungee added that the Lindsay-Montague building at VSU was partially named after his second cousin, Dr. J. Harold Montague, who served as chair of the university’s Music Department from 1933 until his death in 1950.
“My mother would often talk about him and how well he could play,” said Dungee, who added that everyone in his “family of eight” sang, including his brother who majored in Music at Norfolk State University.
Since joining RCPS, Dungee has concentrated on a variety of goals and projects with the students over the years, from teaching them how to sight-read notes to exposing them to choirs all over the state at District Assessments to having them reach Virginia Honors Choir.
The music teacher has also focused on district and area choirs, where his students have demonstrated extensive involvement in terms of attendance and singing music solos.
In discussing what he felt he accomplished over the years as a music teacher, Dungee talked about creating multiple choirs at RCI.
“Being able to move from a 7 and 8th grade choir to being able to create an all-sixth grade choir, a seventh grade choir and an eighth grade choir was an accomplishment,” said Dungee, who added that the number of middle school students in the music program has risen since he first began teaching at RCPS.
“In my first year in RCI, I had maybe about 14 or 15 kids,” Dungee said. “Now, I have over 50 students [there], and the highest at one time was probably 90.”
Dungee added that he has been overjoyed by his students’ continued love for music following high school.
“There’s a colleague that I have now that attends my church and we sing on different choirs together,” said Dungee. “Just to know this individual used to be a student of mine and we’re together singing now…it’s just great.”
The music teacher also discovered a few years ago that one of his former students decided to major in vocal music.
“That really meant a lot to me for one [of my students] to actually study voice,” he noted.
Dungee said the ingredient to his success and longevity at RCPS has been his sense of humor.
“I genuinely am a comical person,” he said, smiling. “My students in class and I are always laughing.”
Dungee said a running joke in his classes consists of his students trying to guess his age, including one instance where students asked if Abraham Lincoln had attended Dungee’s prom.
Dungee even danced with his middle school students at one of their more recent concerts.
“A lot of individuals see me as straight-laced…I demand respect,” he said. “But at the same time I like to laugh.”
Having worked with the Richmond County Museum for a number of years, Dungee was elated when Edna Rodgers chose to list him among the teachers being honored by the museum’s new exhibit for Black History Month.
The exhibit, titled “African-American Teachers in Richmond County-Then and Now,” is currently on display at the museum and will run through the month of March.
“Some of these black teachers [in the exhibit] were true pioneers who overcame the hardships of the early years just after the Civil War when the state of Virginia first made provision for elementary education for blacks,” said David Jett, curator of the museum.
“Teachers worked long hours with [little aid and were] sustained by the belief that education would uplift their people,” Jett added.
“Anyone that has a job had to come through a teacher,” said Dungee. “If you can read “it” or “hi” or “bye” or if you can add 2+2 or 3+5, then it was a teacher that got you to that point.”
He added: “It’s a demanding job but rewarding as well.”
The museum is located at the corner of Richmond Road and Wallace Street in Warsaw. Hours of operation are Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information about the exhibit, call 804-333-3607.