Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Tribute to Elizabeth Reed Berry, Teacher and Friend

Delightful task! To rear the tender thought,
To teach the young idea how to shoot.”
-James Thomson (1700-1748 – from “The Seasons—Spring”

The Union County High School Class of 1947
Senior Trip to Washington, DC, May 25-30, 1947
Seated: L. to R.: Mr. J. H. Cooley, Principal; Just graduated seniors: Max Rogers, Glenn Franklin, Max Stephens, Bill Abernathy, Price Turner, Charles Souther, Charles Jenkins, Jewel Payne, Robert Dyer, Dennis Wilson, and Mr. N. V. Camp, Science Teacher.

Standing, L. to R.: Just graduated seniors Mary Lou Hunter, Lois Melton, Joyce Crump, Loujine Young, Helen Brooks, Ethelene Dyer; Homeroom and English Teacher Mrs. Elizabeth Berry; County School Worker Mrs. Doris Caldwell, Visiting Teacher (Truant Officer), and Mrs. Star Bedenbaugh, Home Economics Teacher; and Just Graduated Seniors Madge Nicholson, Maggie Lee Sullivan, Charlene Wimpey and Verna Ree Cook.

It was the fall of 1946 when Mrs. Elizabeth Reed Berry came as a new teacher to Union County High School. I was a senior and she was assigned to be homeroom advisor for my Class of 1947. She had graduated three years before from Bessie Tift College at Forsyth, Georgia and had been born and reared in far-away (to us) Augusta, Georgia, the daughter of Robert Henry Reed and Mary Chambers Reed.

She had been employed her first two years of teaching in Murphy, North Carolina at a school there. When she married Union County native John Berry in 1946, she looked for a job in our county and was employed straight away by the Board of Education and our Principal, Mr. James H. Cooley. Maybe she volunteered to be senior class sponsor, or perhaps she was assigned that task. Whichever, we were soon in contact with a vivacious, pleasant, happy young teacher who was just enough older than her students to let us know she meant business in classroom discipline. But her kind ways and aptness to teach soon endeared us to her. Soon students and teacher had struck up a rapport that would last years beyond our graduation time of May 1947.

In this tribute I will pay respect to Mrs. Berry as teacher, first and foremost, and as a dear friend of lifetime proportions. I shall never forget her influence upon my life. My heart was saddened as I heard of her death on Sunday, May 30, 2010 at age 87. Her last years, beset with illness, were filled with much tender loving care from her son W. R. Berry and her daughter Annette Berry Crawford. But until her illness of long duration, she was exemplary in keeping in touch with “her students” of the Class of 1947, inquiring how we were faring in our own work and living out our lives. She was still our teacher, as James Thomson so aptly stated, “rearing our thoughts and encouraging our ideas to shoot” (albeit by our own advancing years these thoughts could no longer be called young and tender).

When Elizabeth Berry married my long-time neighbor on the edge of Choestoe and Owltown, John Berry, I was a bereft young girl who had lost my mother one year prior to her coming to our community to live. We attended the same church, Choestoe Baptist, and even before she became my senior year teacher, we had become Christian friends. She encouraged me greatly, and we started a little “Sunday evening dinner celebration.” This involved coming to my house one Sunday for a meal (which I had to cook, even at the young tender age I was, because I became the chef and housekeeper at our farm home following Mother’s death). The other two in the three-some Sunday evening meal-sharings were Mrs. Berry, as she and John hosted us, and my double-first-cousin Marie Collins whose mother (my aunt) Northa Dyer Collins, would prepare a wonderful meal with Marie’s help. How I had the courage to lay a table and cook for this group and our friends prior to Sunday Night “Training Union” (as it was called then), I’ll never know. But Mrs. Berry would always compliment me on my meals, my clean house, and my willingness to participate in the fellowship meal. From that experience I learned much about how to entertain guests and gain confidence in opening my home to visitors.

At school I remember much that Mrs. Berry led us to do. She sponsored our “senior play,” the drama we rehearsed to perform and for which we sold tickets to raise money. We had a junior-senior prom, and Mrs. Berry was instrumental in planning and implementing a wonderful event. We had a banquet to which we invited our poet, Byron Herbert Reece. It was my duty to introduce him. Mrs. Berry aptly helped me with the introductory speech. And then when graduation came, I was thrilled to be named valedictorian of my class. Mrs. Berry, desiring that I should give a good speech on graduation night, was my main constructive critic and coach in preparing the address.

We had the rare privilege of taking an educational trip to our nation’s capitol following graduation. About half of my classmates, twenty of us, went on the trip. It seems antiquated now, but instead of a comfortable rented coach, we rode the whole trip from Blairsville to Washington D. C. on a school bus. Accompanying us were Mr. J. H. Cooley, our principal; Mr. N. V. Camp, our science teacher; and lady teachers Mrs. Elizabeth Berry and Miss Star Bedenbaugh, and county visiting teacher Mrs. Doris Collins Caldwell. It was a trip of a lifetime, and we country students who had hardly been any farther afield than Blairsville, Murphy, N. C. or Gainesville, at the most, were led by our teachers on that trip to learn how to meet our legislators and senators and how to get the most from our tours of the Capitol, the White House, the Smithsonian, Arlington Cemetery, the Treasury Department, the Library of Congress and the stately monuments of our nation’s capitol, as well as George Washington’s home at Mt. Vernon. Up to that point in my life, it was the trip of my life. I have been forever grateful for Mrs. Berry and the others who went the extra mile to “rear our tender thoughts and teach our young ideas how to shoot.”

Mrs. Berry had a great influence upon my choosing teaching as my own career. Several years after she left Union County High School, she got certification in school library media services, and she and I attended many professional meetings and enjoyed again the fellowship of being together with mutual interests. When my Class of 1947 began having Class Reunions in 1984 and rejuvenated our love for each other and our teachers, Mrs. Berry was a regular and welcome attendee.

As when we were her students in 1946-1947, she was always interested in what we were doing to make a difference in life. She encouraged us as we made an historical quilt of the history of education in Union County, as we erected a message board at the entrance to the school grounds, and especially as we set up and financed the Class of 1947 Scholarship Fund that assists a graduating senior from Union County High with college costs each year.

To the family of our teacher and friend, Mrs. Elizabeth Berry, our deepest condolences. Know that she had a powerful impact and a lasting influence upon our lives.

c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 3, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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