Dean Agee glanced out a Cumberland High School classroom window to see Sunny Martin as she walked by the annex building where he was a first year agricultural teacher. The senior and her girlfriends chatted as they headed to the nearby home economics cottage. Dean claimed that Sunny “paraded by,” but her style was not directed at him. This was one of the first times their paths crossed, since each came from a different part of the state.
Dean was raised in Giles and Smith counties in Southwest Virginia while his father was developing programs for high school agriculture teachers, but he graduated from Blacksburg High School after his father took a position there. Dean earned a bachelor’s degree in vocational agriculture from Virginia Tech in 1958, following in the footsteps of his father, Class of ‘31. He accepted a position in Cumberland, but soon decided teaching was not his calling.
“I taught for a year and a half, and then enlisted in the National Guard,” he said. “I figured the army was easier than teaching, and I didn’t want to get drafted.”
Sunny was born and raised at Melrose, the family’s farmstead in Cumberland. Her high school alma mater had about 200 students with only 33 in the graduating class. Dean noted, “You got to know all the students and many of the families.” So, when Sunny wanted to travel to Tech to visit a boyfriend whom she had met through Future Farmers of America, she rode with Dean who was going home to visit his family.
“That guy later became a candidate for governor,” Sunny said. “I don’t know what I was thinking when we broke up.”
Any personal teacher-relationship was forbidden, and Dean admitted that he was “more interested in Longwood College” and laughingly added that Sunny “dated a lot of people.” The occasional transportation was just a convenience.
“I had to call his house on Sunday to see when he was going back. I’d ask for Mr. Agee,” she said. “Dean’s father would say, ‘This is Mr. Agee, and I’d have to say I want the other one.”
The trips became more than just chitchat near the end of the school year after she had attended ring dance weekend with her Tech friend and Dean was driving her home.
“We decided to come home the long way down Skyline Drive,” Dean said, with Sunny reminding him whose idea it really was with, “There was no ‘we’ to it.”
Nevertheless, they did not become a couple until after she graduated in June.
“I had an old area ag supervisor who visited me about the third week of the school year, and told me that a young teacher is supposed to go to church in the community, join a civic club and visit people,” he said. “But the two things I should not do were drink alcohol and date high school girls.”
Dean eventually asked Sunny for a date during a primary election party when her father Roberts “Bobs” Martin was running for commissioner of the revenue. Her mother Lucy had seen Dean in town and invited him, as well as just about everyone else in the area, to a gathering at Melrose.
“Dean was enjoying the refreshments too much, so when he asked for a date, I told him to call me the next day,” Sunny said. “He did, and we went to Cloverleaf Restaurant in Richmond.”
For Sunny, the affection was not immediate. In fact, she had been dating a fellow who had written her name on the bug catcher of his dump truck.
“Dean told me he wasn’t going to date anyone who had a truck named for her,” she said. “So, I guess, that was the first time I realized he might be the one.”
Sunny’s father also had reservations and asked her if she really wanted to date someone she called “Mister.” Her response was, “That will probably change.” And, it did. That summer, the couple often double dated, went to movies at the nearby drive-in and picnicked and swam at Bear Creek Lake.
In the fall, Dean returned to teaching and Sunny enrolled at Mary Washington College. By then the relationship had become a commitment. Dean would drive to Fredericksburg to pick her up on most weekends and take her home. On Sunday evenings they would reverse the trip.
“On Valentine’s weekend, Dean stopped at Melrose to get some things that momma was sending to me,” Sunny said. “He was coming for the weekend, but it was snowing so hard that his car got stuck in the driveway. He ended up spending a week there. Worst Valentine’s I ever had!”
To read the entire story, see the Feb. 13 edition of The Central Virginian.