Schoolhouse Memories, Life Lessons with 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.”
Historians will record 2018 as the second year in a row of a balanced budget for Union County; likely the most significant legislative accomplishment of the County Commission in a generation. Union County’s budget is one of the most important pieces of public policy the Commission enacts every year.
My husband's widowed mother married her former brother-in-law in our living room. Uncle Charlie had hurt his leg putting down our well on the property of what was to be our new home, closer to my husband's work. The minister said it wasn't written anywhere that you had to stand to be married. We were all seated.
Back to the well. The water table was high at the new place. We didn't need to drill a well, Uncle Charlie said. He would help us pound down a well. It was cheaper to do than drilling a well. The three of us could do it.
Some spices I am privileged to experience from the side line.
That spring evening, my daughter Sara’s softball team was playing the number one, undefeated team in their league. The other team were all 12 years old whereas Sara’s teammates were barely 10. We went in with no illusions of victory. If we were lucky, we may get one run.
At the top of the third inning, Sara went up to bat. At this point, none of ours girls had made it to first base, which was no surprise. At least they looked cute in their red, white, and blue outfits.
The pitcher threw. Sara swung.
I remember when I worked full time in a sewing factory. My mind would wander while sewing. After you do the same stitching over and over, it doesn't take all your attention to do the job. My mind would wander to wondering what I would fix for supper that evening. My kids were in the lower grades in school and came home about the same time I did. They had a long bus ride.
When you run across a snake, their normal reaction is to get away. But if they feel threatened enough all snakes will bite defensibly. If you are bitten, here are some recommended first aide treatments.
Try to determine if it’s venomous or not. If you’re confident it’s not you can treat the bite like you would a puncture wound. Check with your doctor to see if you might need a tetanus shot booster.
Narrow Ridge invites our friends and neighbors to join us for our open music jam on Saturday, July 21 at our outdoor stage just up the road from our Mac Smith Resource Center at 1936 Liberty Hill Rd. We are happy to announce that local artists, Dixie Nicely and Wendal Sturgill, will kick off the festivities from 6:30 to 7:00 pm. 7:00 will begin the open mic/jam portion of the evening when we invite guests to share their talents in a forum that provides equal time to all who wish to participate.
"We invite all area Worship Leaders, Pastors, and Faith community leaders to come together on the last Thursday of each month at Hardee's at 7:30 am. This is to be a time of fellowship, prayer, and discussion about how we as a community of Faith can work together to have a positive impact on our county. All are welcome!" Margaret Chesney
The next regular workshop and meeting of the Union County Board of Education will be held on Thursday, July 26, 2018 at 6:00 p.m. at Union County High School. The workshop will begin at 6:00 p.m. with the meeting immediately to follow.
REGULAR WORKSHOP UNION COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION THURSDAY, JULY 26, 2018 6:00 p.m. Union County High School
1. Discuss School Trips
· None at Time of Publication
2. Budget Amendments and Transfers/Director’s Monthly Report—Ann Dyer
On February 22, 2018, A Call To Prayer was made in the Luttrell Community. Several community pastor agreed to go back to their respective churches and call on their members to pray for the Lord to guide in an effort to unite our churches with a common goal of a Community Worship & Revival leading folks to Jesus the only begotten son of God.
Benny went to sit on the lap of his LORD and SAVIOR Saturday July 14, 2018 at children's hospital.
Benny our sweet angel is the son of April King. Grandson to Sherri and Matt Bridges. Benny was also a brother to Kyle King and Jesse Perry. Great Grandchild of Barbara Brown along with Ronnie and Tina Bridges. Benny was the nephew of Alley King, Jacob King, Ethan Muehliesen, Leah Bridges, Isaiah Bridges, Faith Bridges and Noah Bridges.
Proceeded in death by great grandfather W.L. Carmon Our love for our sweet Benny will forever be. Always our sweet Angel!!
Donald H. Norris-age 64 of Maynardville passed away Monday morning, July 16, 2018 at his home. He was a member of Cedar Grove Baptist Church. Preceded in death by parents, Roy and Maude E. Norris; brother, David Norris.
Barbara Kay “Momma” Burkhert, age 72, went to be with the Lord on July 15, 2018. She had 3 kids, John J. Viglasky, Liesa Canupp, and Greg Viglasky. She also had 3 grandkids Ashley Taylor, Stacey Canupp, Taylor Viglasky, as well as, 4 great-grandkids. Family will receive friends 5:00-7:00pm Thursday July 19, 2018 at Mynatt Funeral Home Halls Chapel with service to follow. Family and friends will meet 10:45am Friday July 20, 2018 at Fort Sumter Cemetery for and 11:00am interment. Please leave online condolences at www.mynattfh.com
LaVerne McLain Cummings, of Knoxville, suddenly went to be with her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Wednesday, July 11th, 2018 at Parkwest Hospital. Preceded in death by parents Ed and Mildred McLain, grandson Chad Breeden, and sister Sandra Leach. Survived by loving husband Harlan J. Cummings, daughter Angelia (Bob) Love, son Brent Cox, grandson whom she raised Matthew (Amber) Cox, granddaughters Amanda Dykes and Brittney Russell, sisters Faye (Roger) Neff and Burlene Tolman, as well as 6 great grandkids. She was looking forward to seeing her great grandson Grantley expected in August.
Michael Ernest Smith – age 53 of Maynardville, passed away suddenly Saturday, July 8, 2018.
Michael is preceded in death by his parents, Ernest and Mary Smith; and sister, Barbara Smith. He is survived by his son, Daniel; sister, Debra (Stacy) Lynn; special niece, Emily; special nephews, Derrick and Aaron Lynn; several aunts, uncles and other nieces and nephews.
Jackie Owen Carpenter, age 83, passed away at home on July 9, 2018. Jack was born October 28, 1934 in Claiborne County and graduated from Claiborne County High School in 1952. He served in the U.S. Army from 1957-1960. He earned his BA from University of California, Northridge in 1972. Jack accepted Christ at an early age and was a member of Salem Baptist Church, where he taught Sunday School for many years. He retired in 1998 from Harrison-Chihowee Baptist Academy (The Kings Academy) after 22 years of working as Business Manager.
Carolyn Lee Underwood-age 52 of Maynardville went to be with the Lord, Monday, July 9, 2018 at her home. She was a member of Grace Full Gospel Baptist Church. Preceded in death by husband, Richard Williams; grandson, Richard Dylangaddy.
Survivors: daughters, Alicia Williams, Chassitty Williams; son, Cory Underwood; husband, Randy Underwood; sisters, Charlene Gouldie, Sandra Bryant, parents, Alice and Robert England; two granddaughters, Mackenzie Mixon and Alyssa Gaddy; many nieces, nephews and a host of friends.
Steven James See, age 35 of Knoxville, went to be with the Lord July 6, 2018. He was a member of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Steven was always a friendly, outgoing young man and always had a smile on his face. He loved going to church and enjoyed fishing with his friends. He was a great uncle to his niece and nephews, as well as, a wonderful step-dad to Courtney and Austin. Preceded in death by father Steve See; grandmother, Bobbie Franklin; uncle Jack McClain.