She left this world rather suddenly on March 29, 2006 after having suffered a massive stroke. Crowds gathered to express condolences and to lend comfort. Her funeral was a celebration of her life and a glimpse of her translation to heaven.
For many years she and Rev. Troy Acree had lived on the outskirts of Blairsville toward Young Harris. Her influence was scattered from these mountains throughout the state and into the nation and world.
How could one so quiet and humble have such an impact on others?
I gave the question some thought and came up with three R's. She would relate to the three R's, educationally, for literacy education was her long suit. But she became who she was through her raising, her religion, and her relationships.
As to her "raising," she was born into a preacher's family on January 11, 1927 in Gwinnett County, GA, daughter of the Rev. Dr. L. E. Smith and Leone Moon Smith. She had one sibling, a brother, Les Smith who chose a military career as his life's work. Stability was a characteristic of the Rev. Dr. Smith family. Unlike many Baptist pastors who moved every two or three years, Dr. Smith was pastor for 39 years at the Park Avenue Baptist Church in Atlanta. Following his retirement, he was named pastor emeritus at the same church. Renva's mother graduated from the Georgia Normal and Industrial College in Milledgeville and was a teacher before she became a preacher's wife. Renva told me that they often had church children in their home where her mother, and later Renva, tutored them with their homework.
In rearing her, Renva's parents were loving but firm and, unlike many PKs (preacher's kids), Renva grew up active in the church and having her father as her pastor. The Christian religion had a major place in her entire life. At an early age she gave her heart to the Lord, and kept her religious development tuned to God's will for her life. Her mother was an excellent role model of a pastor's wife, even though Renva did not know at the time she needed such a role model for her own life.
Mrs. Renva Smith Acree
Relationships play an important role in who we are and who we become. When it came time for college, Renva Smith chose to attend Bessie Tift College in Forsyth, GA, where she graduated from the all-girls' school in 1948. Her relationships at the Christian college helped to make her who she was.
She had already met a young man considering the ministry-Troy Acree. They met at the statewide speakers' tournament sponsored by the Discipleship Training Department of the Georgia Baptist Convention. They had more time to develop friendship at Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly, North Carolina. Their courtship grew into a lifetime of commitment. Shortly after Renva graduated from college, she and Troy married and they moved to Louisville, KY. Her next degree has sometimes been called in ministerial circles the PHT degree-putting hubby through. Renva taught school while Troy attended Southern Baptist Seminary.
Her role of mother and grandmother saw the birth of four children, Wanda, Allen, Marc and Penny, and seven grandchildren, all of whom were Renva's pride and joy.
For 30 years Rev. Troy Acree served as a pastor, mostly in Georgia churches. Then for ten years, before his retirement in 1989, he was director of area associational missions centered in Blairsville. During the years of Troy's ministry, Renva was his helpmeet and also followed her own career of elementary and kindergarten teacher. She earned the Master of Education degree from West Georgia College. She retired in 1988.
In her relationships with others, she met Ms. Mary Allred at the Georgia Baptist Assembly in Toccoa, GA, in 1979 and heard the lady speak on the great need of adults who were functionally illiterate due to circumstances that had prevented their learning to read or write. In 1980, she and Rev. Troy Acree attended a conference at Glorieta, N.M. There she took training to become a certified literacy teacher using the Laubach method to teach the ARW (Adult Reading and Writing Program).
In 1983, as she was a member of the Georgia Baptist Convention Woman's Missionary Union Executive Board, she went to Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., to take further literacy training under the Home Mission Board. Later on, in 1998, she was on a committee at Samford assisting with rewriting and updating the literacy teaching manual.
She qualified as a trainer in four areas of literacy work: Adult Reading and Writing (ARW), English as a Second Language (ESL), Conversational English (CE) and Tutoring Children and Youth (TCY). She was much in demand to lead conferences to train literacy workers throughout Georgia, in nearby states, on the Navajo Indian Reservation in the west, and as far away as Ghana, Africa. Persons gaining certification through the conferences Renva Acree led so ably were required to complete sixteen hours of in class time and additional work to be qualified as a literacy teacher.
She gave much credit for her interest in literacy education to her elementary school teacher, Mrs. Goss, at the Grant Park School in Atlanta. That excellent teacher "moved up" as Renva progressed through grade school and gave her the desire to be a genuine, caring teacher like Mrs. Goss.
In 1988, she set up a successful after-school tutoring program at McConnell Memorial Baptist Church in Hiawassee, with trained tutors enlisted to give help to students needing special instruction. The program still moves forward.
T.U.L.I.P. is an acronym for Towns-Union-Literacy-Instills-Pride, an organization which she helped to organize and which maintains several sites in the two counties for training literacy workers and for tutoring students with special needs.
Multiple honors and accolades through the years were conferred on Renva Acree because of her hard work and community service. She always accepted them humbly. Some were Georgia Mother of the Year; Chairman of National Literacy Education Committee, American Mothers, Incorporated; Community Service Award, Old Unicoi Trail Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution; Chaplain, Executive Board, Georgia Mothers; and for ten years on Georgia WMU Executive Board.
My life has been enriched because she was my friend. We shared many insights on the journey of life from the time we were young minister's wives in the Hebron Association at Hartwell, GA, to experiences through Woman's Missionary Union, associational missions work, and retirement. But for Renva Acree, there was never really "retirement." She may have changed gears, and maybe, just maybe, she learned to slow down a bit in the last year or so.
The last time I talked to her she was telling me the happy news of a student whom she had tutored for many years through various levels of the young lady's education. "She will be entering the Dora Hunter Allison Spiva School of Education at Truett McConnell College to become an early childhood education major."
The story of the young lady could be multiplied many times over about persons Renva Acree touched positively: They go forth to help others as she helped them.
c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Apr. 6, 2006 in The Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.