“Ms. Baba” is a rock star.
She doesn’t sing, but her melodic voice captivates her audience. She is a talented pianist, but most of her fans don’t know that. She enters a room and creates an instant buzz of excitement as her groupies vie for a spot close to her.
Ms. Baba tours weekly through Mecklenburg County. Her performance venues are public schools, and her specialty is storytelling.
Mary Lou Hindley is Ms. Baba, an alias bestowed upon her by her granddaughters for her enthusiastic renditions of “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”
She didn’t seek fame; it evolved from humble beginnings. She answered a call at her church for volunteers to serve as lunch buddies to at-risk kids in public schools.
Hindley was paired with Regina, a kindergartener at Eastover Elementary, in 1993. During one of their weekly visits, Hindley offered to read a story to Regina’s class. The teacher accepted, the students loved it – and a routine was established.
Hindley followed Regina all the way through elementary school, reading weekly to her class in each grade, and ending every meeting with a batch of homemade goodies.
When Regina transitioned to middle school, Hindley moved her story sessions to Sharon Elementary, where her granddaughter had started kindergarten, and she’s been reading there since.
Eventually, through friendships forged with teachers she met along the way, Hindley added classes at Ashley Park Pre-K-8 School and Billingsville Elementary.
Nearly 20 years after she began, Hindley now visits eight classes a week, spending about an hour at each, and leaving every child with a cookie or other treat to take home (although because of new regulations, those goodies must now be store-bought).
At 74, Hindley has more energy than most people half her age.
She grew up in Washington, D.C., the daughter of a Ph.D. scientist and a nurse, before attending Denison University in Ohio to study piano. “But let’s face it: In the ’50s, we went to college to get an M-R-S,” said Hindley. She did just that, meeting Scott, her husband of 54 years, at a sorority-fraternity social. The couple moved to Charlotte nearly 30 years ago and currently lives in Carmel Valley.
When she isn’t fulfilling her Ms. Baba obligations, Hindley teaches piano to more than a dozen students, and she bakes – a lot. Elmcroft Senior Living on Little Avenue gets a weekly delivery of fresh-from-the-oven cookies, and Hindley hands them out to her music students and anyone else in need. She calls it her cookie ministry.
“I’m constantly baking,” said Hindley. “That’s why Weight Watchers is so important in my life.”
Her sense of humor, generosity and warmth are infused in the time she shares with students. She likes to tell the kids stories that both entertain and teach a lesson, and most are her own creations.
Before Ms. Baba became her stage name, she was known as “Mrs. Henry,” because it was easier for young children to remember and pronounce than Hindley. She often shared anecdotes from her own life, particularly funny tales about her husband, whom she called “Mr. Henry.”
When Mr. Henry needs help, he calls out for his wife with a long, drawn-out version of “Honey!” that always gets the kids giggling.
And then there’s Pinky Wooly. He is a sweet but mischievous lamb at the center of a series of stories Hindley initially made up for her granddaughters but has been sharing with CMS students for decades.
Jennifer Smith, Hindley’s niece and a first-grade teacher at Providence Spring Elementary, made felt figures and a board to add a visual element to Pinky Wooly’s adventures.
Hindley says she has eight stories typed and edited, but “many more live in my head.” With some prodding from teachers and friends, Hindley has entered Pinky Wooly’s adventures in a writing contest and submitted them to an editor. Although the feedback she received was positive, she has yet to achieve her dream: to see the Pinky Wooly stories in print.
She may not be a published author yet, but Ms. Baba has attained celebrity status in certain circles within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
On a Friday afternoon this fall, Ms. Baba entered Mrs. Ireland’s first-grade class at Sharon Elementary. The students were working busily at their desks but started to whisper excitedly and nudged one another as they noticed her presence. Murmurs of “Ms. Baba’s here! Ms. Baba!” traveled around the room.
Mrs. Ireland directed her students to the carpeted area as Ms. Baba took her seat in a rocking chair and smiled warmly at the faces gazing up at her.
“Well, boys and girls,” she began, “Mr. Henry had trouble in the refrigerator again. He opened the door and shouted –” Hindley paused, and, right on cue, her audience joined her for the chorus: “Hon-eeeeee!”
Angel Trimble is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Angel? Email her at email@example.com.
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