Born in Georgia and attended school, including getting a teaching certificate in Florence, S.C, after which she taught in several rural schools.
According to her daughter, Newark would not accept her teaching certificate. In her oral history she says she tried to get “in school” and couldn’t because they weren’t accepting “grown people”. She started subbing in Elizabeth and later was able to get work in Newark as a sub.
In 1967 (sometimes listed as 1960), she received her BA from Kean College (then Newark State), as the oldest member of the class.
She eventually got full time work at Robert Treat, working at Robert Treat and Belmont-Runyon for most of her career. She officially worked for NPS for 23 years, but taught sub and alternate route into her 80s.
Her household was well-known for many prominent residents including Mayor Sharpe James in his childhood.
She was a member of many associations associated with Mt. Zion Baptist Church, National Council of Negro Women, Retired Teachers Association, Red Cross and Newark Community School for the Arts. She was also the catalyst for the Improve Newark programs, an urban gardening program, and several other neighborhood projects. She lived on Pennsylvania Ave where she adopted lots and helped with gardens and sidewalks.
Her funeral program called her “an outstanding educator, historian, community leader and mentor”.
Funeral Program, Barbara J. Kukla Papers
Kukla, Barbara J. “Willie Belle Hooper, 92, Newark Teaching Titan” Star Ledger Aug 15, 1999
Kukla Barbara, Defying the Odds