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.



Get Your Morning Mojo at Liquid Lightning

Liquid Lightning

It is a great time to be a coffee drinker in Maynardville. Whether you are waking up early headed to work, finishing up the morning school drop offs, or just plain love to guzzle coffee all day, with one sip you will be sure to add a new stop to your daily route. Liquid Lightning, a local veteran owned and operated coffee shop, has opened their doors and put the go-juice on to brew with a goal of bringing delicious coffee, lots of laughs, and a sense of joy and comfort to the community.

Win for Author Kaye George

Kaye George

Knoxville TN: Local author Kaye George took home a second place win from BOULD (Bizarre, Outrageous, Unfettered, Limitless, Daring) for her short story Dream Girl. The story is published in BOULD Awards Short Story Anthology and is now available on Amazon.

Shirleys Bread

Shirley's Bread

I got a call from Aaron Russell the other day. He was checking to see how I was doing. He hadn't talked with me in a while. During the conversation, he mentions that he likes to bake bread. Not just any bread, but salt-rising bread. He described the process as well as how good the bread tastes. That got me thinking.

Ambulance Selfie

Ambulance Selfie

“Well, you always want an adventure!” Lynda locked the car doors.

It’s an interesting story how we had gotten to that point. Lynda is my best friend and cousin. We played ball together, ran around together, and went to the same middle and high school.

George Washington Cherry Treat

George Washington Cherry Treat

Fresh pie cherries aren't available in February. That's okay. Food City does my canning for me these days. They have one pound cans of red tart cherries on the shelf every day. I call them sour cherries.

Do you really think George cut down a cherry tree? Do you really think he fested up to the deed? Naw. George was known as a ladies man. I wouldn't be surprised if he did tell a lie now and then.

Science versus Faith

Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal once said, “The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing… We know truth, not only by reason, but also by the heart.”

Pascal was a genius and a genuine polymath who lived in the 17th century. To cover his accomplishments and body of work would require volumes, which have already been written. I want to focus on the concept he so poetically illustrated above – the ever-present battle between the head and the heart. Specifically,

Cherry Creme Fudge

Cherry Creme Fudge

Here is a fudge recipe I made a long time ago, that is, if you call 1981 a long time ago. Fudge recipes have evolved over the years. They are easier to make now. Just cook up some sugar and evaporated milk. Add chocolate and marshmallow cream and you have fudge. But it is not the same as the old fashioned variety. Oldsters will agree with me. (I will share one of those recipes at a later date.).

Failed Back Surgery Is Relatively Common

Failed Back Surgery Is Relatively Common

Failed back surgery (continued low back and leg pain after surgery) is relatively common according to a new report from the Boston University School of Medicine. With each reoperation, success, as defined by pain reduction, becomes less likely and most patients do not improve. However, preliminary studies using a simple procedure to remove scar tissue or adhesions suggests a new treatment could help those with post-surgical, chronic low back pain.

The German Beer Stein

German Beer Stein

I have had a beautiful beer stein since World War II. My brother, Rodney, sent it back from Germany. He was part of a Navy goodwill tour that started at England then went on to Germany. He sent back two beer steins and a Black Forest coo coo clock from there.

When he returned home, Rod took back the coo coo clock and one beer stein. That left me with one beer stein. I have placed that beautiful beer stein in a prominent place in my home as I moved around the country. It is time to give it a permanent home while I am still here to do so.


Interested in Homeschooling?

Monday, February 25, 2019 - 18:00

Join us for our annual Mom's night out. Monday, February 25, at six pm when April Shepherd, from the Smoky Mountain Home Education Association will be speaking at Hardees. April, a proponent of country living and a successful homeschooling Mother, will be speaking on using everyday living to teach fundamentals and life skills. She has titled her talk, "Little House on the Prairie Schooling". Sponsored by the local support group of homeschooling families, more information can be obtained by contacting Connie Dickey @ 865-992-3629

Mens Conference

Friday, March 1, 2019 - 19:00
Alder Springs Missionary Baptist Church

Alder Springs Missionary Baptist Church will be hosting a Men’s Conference on Friday, March 1st at 7:00 P.M. and Saturday, March 2nd at 9:30 A.M.
Evangelists will be Rev. Jerry Vittatoe and Rev. Mike Viles. Pastor, Rev. Jimmy Davidson extends a hearty welcome to all men.

4-H County Baking Contest

Monday, March 18, 2019 - 17:00

After youth have participated in school during February, they will be awarded a blue ribbon to move forward to the county contest. The entries at the county will be due for judging on March 18 then displayed with awards at the Extension Month Open House on March 19 for sampling.


Janice Ann Beeler Fields

Janice Ann Beeler Fields-age 66 of Corbin, Kentucky passed away suddenly Monday morning, February 18, 2019 at her home. She was a loving mother, nana, sister and friend. She will be sadly missed by all. Janice was a member of Nave Hill Baptist Church and was a former co-owner of Fields Apparel in Monticello, Kentucky. She was recently employed at SEKRI, Corbin, Kentucky for 22 years. Preceded in death by parents, James Aubrey and Lillie Beeler, two brothers, Gary and Terry Beeler; nephew, Adam Beeler.

Robert Bradley Douglas

Robert Bradley Douglas, known as Brad Douglas, was born October 12th, 1978. Brad spent his life in the Knoxville area embracing the Tennessee Volunteers, fishing and hiking. Brad's favorite thing to do was to take him and his family exploring. It is with great sadness that the family of Brad Douglas announces his passing at the age of 40. His spirit, enthusiasm and willingness to put other's needs above his own will be missed but not forgotten.

Robert Bruce Kezer

R. Bruce Kezer-age 84 of Knoxville departed this world for heaven on February 15 from his home. His family was at his side. Born in Jersey City, NJ, on September 30, 1934 to Edwin and Ruth (Adams) Kezer, Bruce graduated from the University of Vermont in 1957. He then entered the US Army and served, in peacetime, for three years until being honorably discharged at the rank of Lieutenant. Bruce loved Jesus with all his heart, and worked to live instead of the other way around.

Thomas Michael McLaughlin

Thomas M. McLaughlin age 57 currently of Maynardville TN, formerly of Edison NJ, passed away on February 8th 2019 at UT Hospital following an exhausting battle with cancer. Preceded in death by father, Thomas W, and brother Michael W McLaughlin.

Survived by wife Kathie, daughter and son-in-law Jennifer McLaughlin and Josh Lamb, son TJ, mother Elaine, sister and brother-in-law Lori and Gary Yurchak, grandchildren Chris and Michael, as well as a host of other relatives and friends.

Judson "Juddy" Bailey

Judson “Juddy“ Bailey - age 79 of Washburn, was born on February 27, 1939 and passed away peacefully on Sunday, February 10, 2019. We all called him Pap. He was a member of Nave Hill Baptist Church. He loved his family, hunting, playing cards, dogs and driving around. He spent his last few months putting on his shoes and saying “I believe I will go home”. He is finally “home“, peacefully in the arms of Jesus.

Frances Jane Nichols

Frances Jane Nichols “Janey”, age 61, of Rockford, went to be with the Lord on February 8, 2019, surrounded by her loved ones. She was a beloved mom, sister, and granny. Preceded in death by parents Jack Huggins and Bernice Van Dyke, brother Jackie Huggins, sisters Sarah Munsey, Sandy Huggins, and Darlene Dunaway.

Raymond Scott Brock

Raymond Scott Brock-age 84 of Washburn passed away Friday evening, February 8, 2019 at his home. He was a member of Salem Primitive Baptist Church. Preceded in death by wife, Barbara Brock; parents, Walter and Lois (Atkins) Brock; sister, Ruby Idol; son-in-law, Henry Paul McGinnis.

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