Couple made education life’s work

After more than five decades of marriage, Naomi Goynes still picks out her husband’s ties.

The old man stands by patiently as she examines several choices in the living room of the North Las Vegas home the couple has shared since 1964.

"You know you couldn’t get along without me," Naomi, 77, tells Theron Goynes, 81.

When he has donned her choice — the blue and white tie — she straightens it and playfully tells him, "Oh, you look so handsome."

He takes it all with an indulgent smile.

Admirers of the two longtime educators are often quicker to list among the Goyneses’ most impressive accomplishments their 52-year marriage than they are the couple’s professional achievements.

It was part of what got them named co-grand marshals — with Sarann Knight Preddy, the first black woman to hold a Nevada gaming license — of this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade.

"It’s pleasing to see a couple like that who met so long ago and are still together," says Wendell Williams, founder of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, which organizes the parade. "They really enjoy each other."

Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, in whose district the Goyneses live, calls the couple "a great example for anybody, but particularly for a black family."

"You have an educated mother and father who have done a great job rearing their children," Weekly says. "Many of our children don’t get a chance to see a man and woman working together as partners to raise a family."

That’s not to give short shrift to their considerable professional achievements. The pair spent a combined 63 years as teachers and administrators in the Clark County School District. A local elementary school was named in their honor.

"They had such a big impact on the education of so many young people," says Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas, who has known the couple since the 1960s. "They’ve been a bedrock in the community."

Theron Goynes, a U.S. Air Force veteran, also spent 20 years on the North Las Vegas City Council, 12 of them as mayor pro tem. He is said to be the first elected black person in Nevada history to head a government body when he chaired a council meeting in the mayor’s absence.

A proud man with a sharp sense of humor, Goynes says parade organizers made a "very, very phenomenal choice" in choosing him and his wife as co-grand marshals. "We came out as victors."

The couple say they are honored, as Martin Luther King Jr. has long been a hero of the family’s.

"He loved everybody and fought for freedom for all of us," Naomi says. "He didn’t get there with us, but his dream lives on."

Even the couple’s 8-year-old grandson idolizes King and "aspires to be like him," Theron says.

King’s dream of racial equity has yet to be achieved, the Goyneses say. But there has been a lot of progress since the couple moved to the valley.

Back then, they were unable to buy housing anywhere but "the Westside," because they are black.

"They’d say, ‘This development is full,’ " Theron says. "We had no choice but to live where we are. I told my wife we may have to leave any day. I’m only going to take so much of this."

But the Goyneses remained in the home they bought near Martin Luther King and Lake Mead boulevards. They got involved in the community "on both sides of the track," Theron says.

"Years passed. Our kids grew. I realized it ain’t so bad after all."

They have three grown children and five grandchildren. The children’s pictures line the walls of the couple’s home, along with plaques and proclamations celebrating the Goyneses’ community service dating back decades.

Naomi, who was born in Memphis, Tenn., likes to reminisce about how it all began. In 1956, she and Theron, who is originally from Texarcana, Texas, were each hired, just months apart, for their first teaching jobs in Nashville, Ark.

Naomi, who holds a degree in home economics from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, taught the subject and sponsored the 4-H club. Theron, who had just been honorably discharged from the Air Force and holds a degree in business administration from Prairie View A&M University in Texas, taught business and math.

The day the two met, "I had on my little red dress I made, looking all cute," Naomi says.

Later that day, Theron showed up at her door, asking whether he could walk her to the faculty social.

"We danced and people started talking," she says. "That was it."

The couple married in 1958. Before moving to Las Vegas, they spent four years teaching on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Kayenta, Ariz.

During his career in Clark County, Theron served as a teacher, counselor, adult education coordinator, assistant principal and principal.

"He was a leading figure, a pioneer, one of the early black school administrators," says Michael Green, a historian and College of Southern Nevada professor.

Naomi served as a kindergarten teacher, reading specialist, dean of students and junior high school assistant principal.

The Goyneses say they owe their long marriage to an abundance of love.

"There is so much love in here," Naomi says of their home. "There was no need to go out and find it elsewhere."

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.

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