Schoolhouse Memories, Life Lessons with Wanda Cox Byerley

Wanda Cox Byerley

“How can you put 85 years on one page?” Wanda Cox Byerley asked me at the end of our interview, right before she asked me who’d want to read it.

I told her I’d do my best, and the audience would probably surprise her.

It’s probably an understatement to call Wanda a walking contradiction. On the one hand, the twice-widowed mother of two and older sister to seven brothers calls herself “tough,” and she is. But in the same breath she’ll tell you how much she loves all seven brothers, all her children, step-children, grands and great-grands, and every student she ever taught.

“How many precious students I’ve had, they come back to me,” she said. “I love them in spite of themselves.”

Wanda loves a good wisecrack, as any who have met her know well. But she’s also full of serious wisdom, a lifetime of solid experience and learning that shines through every word.

It may come as a surprise to some that Wanda’s not a Union County native, although her ancestors migrated to Knoxville from Union and Claiborne counties to find work. A self-described Great Depression baby, she said she “grew up rough and tough,” with parents Clifford Woods and Virgie O’Dell Woods, helping raise her seven younger brothers, “one for every day of the week.”

“And every day I thank the good Lord for not making a longer week because they would have filled them up with more boys for me to help raise,” she said. “But I have lots of love for my little brothers.”

Even though she loved them, Wanda found that she also loved going to school, at least in part because “it was a lot more fun than washing diapers.” It sparked a lifelong love of learning and education.

“I had the most wonderful teachers, and they showed an interest in me,” she said. “My favorite subject was always math, and Wanda doesn’t want to talk about her spelling.”

Her family moved around a lot, so she attended three elementary schools in Knoxville, plus Rule for junior high. She said she loved Beaumont best of all, and she remembers Martha Nash, Isabel Payne and principal Mr. Biggs as her favorite teachers there.

“I made a living out of all the wonderful skills Isabel Payne taught me,” she said. “I could control a classroom a lot of the time just by rolling my eyes.”

But after junior high, Wanda’s family moved to a farm in Union County close to the Anderson County line. She started high school at Horace Maynard High, and the change took some getting used to.

“It had about 11 teachers, and I was used to three times that many, but they did an excellent job,” she said. “There was no lunchroom, no restrooms but an outside toilet. It was a shock, but I could cope.”

She said she had a lot of favorite teachers at Horace Maynard, one of whom was math teacher Curtis Donahue, but “everyone helped develop my skills. Time or space won’t permit you to mention all the names.”

Between her sophomore and junior years, she got a job at JC Penney in Knoxville, and they asked her to stay on after graduation, “but in my heart I always wanted to be a teacher. I was the oldest of eight kids and nobody mentioned college or had any money, but I didn’t want to give up on that dream.”

She started working night shift at Baptist Hospital after graduation, but soon her dream of teaching came true. Union County Schools superintendent Todd Weaver called and asked if she’d take over teaching at the one-room Pine Grove School. She quit the hospital job, went to summer school at UT, and with one quarter of college under her belt, she started teaching Pine Grove’s 31 students that fall.

“Oh, what childhood memories,” said Wanda. “It was happy and everlasting. Books, water buckets, running home for lunch, pie suppers, cold biscuits with jelly.”

She finished her degree with summer school and evening courses at UT and credits two Union County educators with encouraging her. Her first supervisor was Miss Winters, followed by Patricia McKelvey after Miss Winters passed away.

“Miss Winters would come and encourage me in the little one-room school,” Wanda said. “(Patricia and I) have been lifelong buddies, and I’ll never forget how she encouraged me to stay in teaching while finishing my degree.”

In the meantime, Wanda was building a family as well as a career. She married Everett Wayne Cox, and they had two boys, Everett Lynn Cox and Gregory Allen Cox. Her first husband passed away in 1988, and she married Paul Byerley in 1993. He passed away last September.

At Union County Schools, Byerley “taught everything to high school to college level and three years of GED classes. I’ve always answered every question as well as I could, and if we didn’t know the answer, I would look it up.”

She finished her career as a facilitator at the high school after 47 years with the school system.

But, she stayed active in the community. She is involved in the Union County Historical Society, collects Coats for the Cold with Randy Turner, serves on the county’s equalization board, works with 4-H and Leadership Union County, and just looks for ways to help others. She was even named Citizen of the Year by the Union County Chamber of Commerce and Woman of the Year by the Union County Business and Professional Association.

“Some of the things I don’t tell what I do because that’s between me and the Lord and those that need my help,” she said. “I’m in this world to sponsor those that need help. If the football players need help, I’ll be there. If a kid needs a scholarship, I’ll kick in my part.”

She also attends Union County Commission meetings and stays in touch with local government. “not to be bossy, but because our County Commission works hard, our mayor works hard, our officials work hard, and sometimes we don’t encourage them and let them know we care about them.”

And even though she wasn’t born in Union County, she is a Union Countian through and through.

“Everyone in Union County has the freedom to speak their mind, and everyone has the opportunity to come to school in Union County. The doors are open for them, and the majority of the things are good. Union County has some of the most beautiful places, Big Ridge State Park and all the lakes, and some of the best people. Such grounded, basic, good people. If we had more people like we have in Union County scattered all over this world, we’d have a lot better place to live,” she said.

Wanda has always and still loves teaching, loves seeing students’ eyes light up when they learn something new.

“I’m one of the only non-swimming swimming instructors that you’d be speaking to,” she said. “One summer at Big Ridge State Park, the lifeguards had so many students they needed my help. One child got it and yelled, ‘You taught me how to swim!’ All I was doing was telling you how to do it because I couldn’t do it myself.”

“Sometimes, if you just read the instruction book and pass it on, you can teach them how to swim through all the things that might hinder them. Just find your way, kids! Find your way.”



I just love to run into Wanda anywhere and see that smile as i get my hug from her. We've always found something to talk about or maybe share a joke. Wanda you are an absolute joy to me and always brighten my day.
I would also like to publicly thank her for all her support through the years for the J.C. Baker Masonic Lodge and her generosity toward the Shriner's Hospitals. And also for so many other countless things she does in this community.
Thank you Wanda and I have alway and continue to love you from the bottom of my heart.

Steve Whitaker

On Sept. 1, 2008, my dad and I stopped by the Roy Acuff Museum and Union County Historical Society in Maynardville after a family reunion in Sharps Chapel.

Miss Wanda greeted us before we cleared the doorway. “Come in, come on in. Where you folks from?”

“I’ve been in Indiana for years, but I was raised down in here,” Dad said.

“I see,” Miss Wanda said. “Couldn’t get back here fast enough, could you?”

That was the start of a beautiful adventure. As Dad and I traced our family roots from Union County back through Virginia and North Carolina and all the way to Germany, Miss Wanda was there every step of the way, guiding our search and feeding us biscuits.

She became very important to me, and not because of her expertise in genealogy. Her stories are now my stories. (I still laugh when I think about her lemon eggs!) I love her like my own, and I'm glad to see that Union County appreciates her for the treasure that she is.

She is a treasure to me.



Patriots Celebrate First Playoffs in 14 Years

Larry Kerr

The Union County High School football Patriots may have lost against Anderson County in state playoffs on Nov. 2, but the season was stacked with wins for the team. And while the loss to Anderson County may have stung, it also marked the first time the Patriots made it to state playoffs in 14 years.

Coach Larry Kerr counts this as a cause to celebrate.

"It's like I told the kids, once you get past the pain of that loss, you'll be able to look at what you all have accomplished this year that's never been done before," he said.

Union County Childrens Charity Under The Tree

Chief Elf Brooke Simpson and Gina Buckner putting a tree up at Food City.  Brooke is the brains amongst the paper work to keep things organized.

The Union County Children’s Charity (Under The Tree) has been working since August for the 2018 Toy Drive Campaign. Applications went out and ornaments have been made with the children’s wishes. Trees went up at local businesses: Janet’s Hair and Tan, Food City, Tolliver's Market, Commercial Bank, Pete’s Place, Rhonda’s in Sharps Chapel, First Century Bank, New South Credit Union, Union County Trustees Office, Union County High School Beta and Okies Pharmacy. Also, American Business & Equipment along with CSI are collecting new unwrapped toys.

Union County FCE Flannel Blanket Workshop

Left to right: Carrie Cook, Janet Wolfenbarger, Judi Gerew, Annie Grau, Mary Johnson, Sue Ross, Carolyn Shields, Terry Reinitz

On November 5, 2018, eight Union County Family & Community Education (FCE) members and 1 guest (Joyce DeRoy, not pictured) met at the UT Extension Office in Maynardville, TN to make flannel baby blankets to donate to the NICU in Knoxville. The group made 15 baby blankets before running out of material.

Club Sandwiches

Club Sandwiches

We have gotten away from the club sandwich. McDonald's and Burger King have spoiled us with their tasty hamburgers and fries. I remember seeing my first Mickey D's. There was no going back to just plain sandwiches, or even club sandwiches. Back in the day, every lunch counter had their specialty club sandwich. They were made fresh as you watched the counter girl pile on the goodies. Most homes didn't have fresh tomatoes or lettuce out of season. What a treat!

The Nostalgia of KARM

Ronnie Mincey

Mincey’s Musings
Year One, Week Forty-Four

My wife has taken on a new interest—she is taking art classes from Betty Bullen, a fellow graduate in the Horace Maynard High School Class of 1968, I believe.

Of course, the interests of a spouse often have effects on the other marriage partner. On more than one Sunday after church and between Baptist meals, I have driven my wife to Jerry’s Art-O-Rama just off Kingston Pike to purchase supplies. On the first visit, I went inside the art store with her, but found practically nothing to interest me.

Your Hair Didn't Get Wet

Clark family early 1981

Not all my accidents were entirely my fault. I had help with some of them.

I came of age in the 80s; also known as the Big Hair decade. If you were a teenage girl at that time, you had at least 3 things in your hair arsenal: hot rollers, curling iron, and hair spray that could also be used as liquid cement. And if you had straight hair like me, you also kept a curly perm. It’s a wonder I have any hair left on my head.

In the World, Not of the World? Part 6 and Conclusion

Archie Wilson

Do you remember the events surrounding the three Hebrew children in Daniel Chapter 3? Being in the world, not of the world is exactly like that! Let’s look at some obvious parallels between what is going on with Jesus Disciples and the Hebrew Children.



This is a good dish to make at Easter time when you have an abundance of decorated hard boiled eggs. Don't use any that have been out of the fridge over a few hours. This is a good dish to serve on toast or hot biscuits for lunch. Sometimes we forget how versatile eggs can be. Don't let hard boiled eggs go uneaten. Fancy them up either as Deviled Eggs or Creamed Eggs.

Indian Summer

Indian Summer

Indian summer is a name that brings thoughts of balmy, hazy fall days and cool nights. It is a description of weather conditions rather than an actual season, for no dates exist for it. The closest time frame I could find was from Henry David Thoreau, who noted in his diary that Indian summer occurs from September 27 to December 13.


Falling for Fall in Tennessee

Falling for Fall in Tennessee

October may be gone but with the colors of fall hanging around a bit longer this year why not head out for a day trip to one of Tennessee’s well-loved local areas or a beautiful state or national park. While the Great Smoky Mountains are a forever favorite, locals can bypass many of the crowds for other beauty within a day’s drive.


UCBPA Meeting

Tuesday, November 13, 2018 - 12:00

UCBPA meets the second Tuesday of each month for approximately one hour. Membership is $25 annually. The meeting begins at noon at Hardee's in Maynardville. Anyone interested in making Union County a better place to live, work, worship, or play may attend.

Lego Club

Tuesday, November 13, 2018 - 16:00

Kids school age and up can enjoy a movie and the fun of playing with Lego's and making friends! We usually have a theme or specific thing to build as well as a movie to watch while building!

Facebook 101 for Direct Farmers

Thursday, November 15, 2018 - 08:00

Taught by UT Extension Marketing Specialist, Megan Bruch Leffew, and Area Information Technology Specialist, David Yates, the workshops will be held:

• November 14 in Kingsport
• November 15 in Knoxville
• November 28 in Jackson
• November 29 in Nashville
• December 5 in McMinnville

Exact location information will be emailed to registered participants the week prior to workshops. Participants can bring their own laptop or tablet or use a tablet provided by the instructors. Because of the hands-on nature of the workshop, space is limited.


Helen Marie Hulsey

Helen Marie Hulsey, 95, of Knoxville, passed away peacefully on November 12, 2018. Born on October 30, 1923 to Giuseppe and Mary Vazzana. Preceded in death by husband of 34 years, John W. Hulsey; daughters, Judy Petree and Brenda Underwood.
Survived by children Deborah Hulsey of Knoxville, James Hulsey, Mary James, and John Hulsey, all of Indianapolis. 16 grandchildren, 20 great grandchildren, 1 great great grandson, and her brother and 2 sisters. She will be deeply missed by her family, friends, and all who knew her.

Ruth Jean Campbell

Ruth Jean Campbell-age 79 of Sharps Chapel passed away Monday morning, November 12, 2018 at North Knoxville Medical Center. She was preceded in death by her husband of 56 years, Wayne T. (Kayo) Campbell; parents, Toby and Edith (Wright) Sharp; sisters, Viola and Mona Grace Sharp; brothers, Clio and Sam Sharp.

Survivors: daughter, Donna Campbell of Sharps Chapel; sister, Dot and J. C. Cox of Maynardville; brothers, Larry and Helen Sharp; Jack and Brenda Sharp, all of Sharp Chapel. Several nieces and nephews.

Richard Lewis 'Bud' Richardson

Richard Lewis “Bud” Richardson-age 57 of Maynardville, born October 16, 1961 passed away suddenly Saturday morning, November 10, 2018 at North Knoxville Medical Center. Preceded in death by parents, E. R. and Mary (Anderson) Richardson; brother, Eddie Richardson.

Survivors: children, Jason, David and April; four grandchildren. Sisters, Patsy (Billy) Humphrey, Vickie Shope; brothers, Jeff and Jessie (Jessica) Richardson. Several other family members and a host of friends.

Wanda Lee Eldridge

Wanda Lee Eldridge-age 77 of Luttrell passed away Friday evening, November 9, 2018 at her home. She along with her late husband were the owners of the former Mark’s Market in Luttrell. Preceded in death by husband, Alvin A. “Mountain Man” Eldridge; daughter, Robbin Fortenberry; granddaughter, Misty Leann Childress, parents, Samuel and Nana Lane Seivers; brothers, Robert and Bobby Seivers

Curtis Nathan Case

It is with great sadness that the family of Curtis Nathan Case announces he was received into the arms of the Lord after a brief illness Friday, November 9, 2018 at the age of 53 years. Curtis was preceded in death by his father, James Edward Case, mother, Dorothy Ann Case, brother, Michael Case, father-in-law, Ross Miller Sr., brother-in-law, Ross Miller Jr.

Lucy M. Grigsby

Lucy M. Grigsby – age 93 of Luttrell, went home to be with Jesus on Monday, November 12, 2018. She was a lifelong member of Cedar Ford Baptist Church. Lucy made an impact on the community through her service to Luttrell Elementary School and her church.

Rev. William Darrell Brewer

Rev. William Darrell Brewer-age 77 of Maynardville went to be with the Lord Friday, November 9, 2018 at his home. Preceded in death by parents, William O. Brewer and Imogene Sherritze Brewer; sister, Janice Robins.

Survivors: wife, Jean M. Brewer; daughters, Charlotte (Robert) Jones, Elaine (Tim) Smith, Sandra (Rich) Griffith; step-children, Boyd (Mindy) Peters, Eric (Connie) Peters, Kelly (Donnie) Wiggins, 15 Grandchildren, 20 Great-Grandchildren. Brother, Mike; sisters, Kay, Sue and Kathy. Special friend and caregiver, Rebecca Collins.

Linda Sue Wilkerson

Linda Sue Wilkerson-age 71 of Corryton passed away Thursday morning, November 8, 2018. She was a member of Hoitt Avenue Baptist Church. Preceded in death by husband, Harold G. Wilkerson; daughter, Deborah Atkins.

Survivors: children, Mark, Denise, Lonnie and Gabriel; ten grandchildren, Josh Atkins; Suzanne, Amber, Dexter and Steven Bolden; Jake, Riley, Maddy, Jackson and Delilah Wilkerson; six great-grandchildren, Hayden, Hayley, Haylynn, Hadley, Jasper and Emilee. Special aunt, Hettie Paul; special cousin, Ricky Vance.

Evelyn Grace Helton

Evelyn Grace Helton of Knoxville went to be with Jesus on November 6, 2018. She was the newborn daughter of Cynthia Helton and granddaughter of Jo Ellen Helton and Fred Anderson Helton; niece of Kristen Boisbert. Service will be private. Mynatt Funeral Home of Fountain City is honored to serve the Helton Family. Online condolences may be left at

DeAnna Alexi

DeAnna Alexi, age 47, of Knoxville TN, daughter of Tony and Margo Alexi, of Knoxville, went home to be with the Lord on Tuesday, November 6, 2018, under the care of the amazing staff at UT Medical Center, with her family holding her hands at her bedside. DeAnna had been under the care of UT Hospice at home prior to hospitalization. She was preceded in death by her maternal grandparents, Gertrude and Herman Cruze of Knoxville TN and her paternal grandparents Anthony and Betty Oleksy of New York. She was born in Silver Springs, MD on January 30, 1971. Survivors are her husband Christopher L.

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