August 18, 2009  •  Gertie & Mary  •  Articles - Jennifer

Some teachers might, every once in a while, get a greeting card from a former student thanking them for making an impression or helping them learn.

But Annyce McCann got a big pat on the back from one of her most successful former pupils in a national magazine.

The retired Kanawha County librarian got a shoutout from Jennifer Garner in the September issue of “O, The Oprah Magazine.”

Garner was spotlighted in the magazine’s regular monthly feature, “Books That Made a Difference.” She lists her top favorite reads, among them a biography of John Adams, “The Razor’s Edge” and “The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.” She also pays tribute to the teacher she credits for shaping her imagination and helping her love of language bloom.

“As a kid in West Virginia, I had a very rich imaginary world,” Garner, 37, writes. “And my dream was to grow up to be a librarian, because I had a librarian named Mrs. McCann who I thought was the most magical woman on the planet.”

Garner says she wrote stories about her Teddy bear that McCann would turn into books, typed out on manila folders and fully illustrated: “T-Bear Goes to Mars” and “T-Bear’s Trip to the Moon.”

“She was my first mentor – the first person who really took an interest in me for me, which when you’re a kid is a major deal,” Garner says of McCann.

Annyce McCann, now 72, heard about her name being mentioned in the pages of the glossy magazine when she got a phone call from another librarian.

“She called me and said, ‘Well, I didn’t know I knew a celebrity,’ ” McCann said. “I said, ‘What are you talking about?’

Now McCann has at least a couple copies of the magazine sitting around her South Hills home.

“I thought it was very nice,” she said. “I really appreciate it. It was just so sweet of her to mention me. We were very close, and still are.”

McCann was a fairly new teacher at Oakwood Elementary in the late 1970s.

Married to Joseph, who’s now retired from selling school supplies, McCann had been a stay-at-home mother to four children. She didn’t start her teaching career until her youngest was in pre-school. After several years of study at Morris Harvey College, and then Marshall University to get a master’s degree, McCann became a librarian in Kanawha County Schools at age 42.

She had been on the job only a short time when she met first-grader Jennifer Garner.

“She was as precious then as she is now,” McCann said. “She is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.”

McCann remembers a sweet little girl who was as precocious as she could be.

“She excelled at everything she tried,” McCann said. “Singing, dancing, academics, writing – she was good at everything. But the other children liked her, too. She was popular because she was kind to everyone.”

Garner stood out not just because of her talents, but because of her genuine desire to learn, McCann said. She read everything – a particular favorite was the “Ramona” series by Beverly Cleary – and she wrote all the time.

McCann recalls working to turn Garner’s handwritten tales into keepsakes.

“The first time I did that, I surprised her,” McCann remembers. “I think it was around Christmastime. I took one of her stories and made it into a book and wrapped it up and put it in her locker.”

McCann also went to great lengths to make sure Garner had a wider audience for her early fiction.

“I got some of her stories published in ‘Cricket’ magazine and some of the other children’s magazines that were around at the time,” she said.

“I can’t say it’s something I do for every child – I’ve done it several times over the years – but for a child who’s that interested, I do it,” McCann said.

“She always loved to write, and I encouraged her to keep writing.”

McCann kept close tabs on Garner even after she graduated from Oakwood (now closed) and McCann moved on to work in other schools. She was the librarian at Ruthlawn Elementary for many years, until she retired from full-time teaching in 2003. She now works as a substitute teacher and librarian at various schools around the county.

“I would always talk to her mom and keep up to date on what she was doing,” McCann said.

In fact, she said she’s been meaning to call Pat Garner and pass along a thank- you for the magazine write-up.

She hasn’t lost touch with her star student, either.

McCann made sure to get a ticket when Garner, now a married mother of two, was starring in “Cyrano de Bergerac” on Broadway in 2007.

“A friend and I drove up to New York to see her. We got to spend about 30 minutes with her. She was as down to earth as ever.

“Jennifer is always going to be Jennifer,” McCann said. “I don’t think fame and fortune are going to change her at all.”


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