Thursday, May 31, 2007

Frances Verdie Miller, Teacher Extraordinary

Frances Verdie Miller

When another baby girl was born to William J. "Bud" Miller (1849-1919) and Jane Malinda Collins Miller (1861-1931) that cold day, December 4, 1895, on the Choestoe farm owned by her father, the parents gladly welcomed their fourth of eight children. Little did the parents realize then that the daughter they called Verdie would grow up to be an outstanding educator.

Here is a brief story of the life of Frances Verdie Miller, educator.

Verdie's mother, Malinda Jane, was a granddaughter of Thompson Collins (ca 1785-ca 1858) and Celia Self Collins (ca.1787-1880), among the first settlers in Union County. Verdie's grandparents were Francis ("Frank") Collins (1816-1864) and Rutha Nix Collins (1822-1893). Unfortunately, the young Frances Verdie did not get to know her Grandparents Collins, for both had died before she was born in 1895.

Frances Verdie Miller's siblings were James Francis "Frank" Miller who married Addie Dean; Gordon Spence Miller who was born and died February 3, 1889; Ruth L. Miller who was born and died September 5, 1890; Stephen Grady Miller (1891-1932) who married Birdie Bryan and became the father of Jane Miller and Zell Bryan Miller, (the latter a long-time Lieutenant Governor, then Governor of Georgia, and U. S. Senator); Lannie R. Miller who married Dr. S. Vanus Hunter; Benjamin Dwight Miller (1898-1965) who married Laura Saxon; Bascom Hedden Miller, better known by his initials, B. H. (1900-1967), a noted barber of Union County, who married Idell Sampson Everett; and William Fletcher Miller who married Fannie Mae Shuler.

To earn a living for his wife and family of six living children, "Bud" Miller farmed his bottom land in Choestoe District and owned and operated a country store.

Devout in their living and practice of their faith, "Bud" and Jane Miller were regular church attendees and made sure their children were likewise regular in activities of the Salem Methodist Church.

Verdie and her siblings attended Choestoe School, a school which normally had a large enough enrollment for two teachers, one for the primary grades and another for the upper grades. She was apt at learning and had no trouble continuing her education at Young Harris Academy where she went for her high school studies. She graduated from Young Harris College where she excelled in the study of mathematics. She later graduated from the University of Georgia where she received a double major, one in mathematics and the other in English.

Although a beautiful lady, Verdie chose a teaching career over marriage and family. Remaining single all of her life, she devoted herself to educating students.

She was always close to her brother, Stephen Grady, who was four years her senior. When Dr. Joseph A. Sharp, a beloved teacher at Young Harris College, became president of Emory-at-Oxford, both Stephen Grady and Verdie took jobs teaching at that academy and junior college.

When Dr. Sharp made the decision to return to Young Harris as president of the college, the Miller brother and sister were elected to the faculty. Grady Miller was head of the Department of History and served as Academic Dean at Young Harris until his death in 1932. Verdie Miller taught Mathematics, English and Latin at Young Harris. During her early years of teaching, Verdie's beloved father, "Bud" Miller died on July 7, 1919. Her mother, Jane Malinda Collins Miller, died January 4, 1931. They were buried in the Old Choestoe Cemetery where their gravestones may be viewed today.

In 1942, Frances Verdie Miller made a move to LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. Although it is unusual for a person to have expertise in both mathematics and English, these were the subjects for which Verdie was qualified to teach. Noted as an expert professor, she touched many students during the five years she was a classroom teacher at LaGrange College.

In 1947, LaGrange College officials named Verdie Miller as Dean of Women. She held that position for ten years until 1957. Longing for the classroom, she returned to teaching until her retirement in 1964.

Her achievements read like a "Who's Who Among Famous Women." She was a member of the American Association of University Women, the Georgia and National Deans of Women, the Delta Kappa Gamma National Women's Educational Society, and the LaGrange Women's Club.

But foremost in her achievements was her faithfulness to First United Methodist Church in LaGrange. There she led women in Sunday School from 1947 through 1966. A room at the church bears her name as the "Verdie Miller Sunday School Class."

When the portrait of Miss Miller was unveiled at a special ceremony, the then pastor of the church, the Rev. Dr. Reynolds Greene, praised her for her contributions to education. But her humility and leadership as a teacher of the Word of God prompted Dr. Greene to conclude: "Her Christian character is a living example for the class named in her honor."

From her retirement in 1964 until her death on September 30, 1968, Frances Verdie Miller continued to make her home in LaGrange, to visit family and friends, and to be an example to others.

From humble roots on a farm in Choestoe, Frances Verdie Miller went out to make a difference in the lives of countless students and others touched by her influence.

c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 31, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Memorial Day Tribute to Major Robert Neal Collins Sr.

Young Robert Neal Collins served as a gunner in the US Army Air Force during World War II. He would proceed to the rank of Major and become a pilot as he spent a total of 27 years in the US Air Force Reserves.

How many times Major Robert Neal Collins, Sr. (1921- 2007), US Air Force Veteran of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnamese War, flight instructor, lover of flying, read or quoted "High Flight" by John Gillespie McGee, Jr., I know not. But the poem so characterizes Mr. Collins that I reproduce it here in his memory and for our consideration as we observe Memorial Day, 2007.

High Flight
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds--and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of--Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
-John Gillespie McGee, Jr. (1922-1941)
Major Robert Neal Collins, Sr. experienced the same lofty thoughts the young American-born British fighter pilot so aptly expressed in his sonnet. The young McGee, at age 19, was killed December 11, 1941 in a training flight as his plane from the Spitfire Squadron fell near Scopwick, Lincolnshire, England. The young pilot wrote the poem on the back of a letter sent to his parents. He noted: "I am enclosing a verse I wrote the other day. It started at 30,000 feet, and was finished soon after I landed." His parents shared the poem with the world, and it has inspired countless thousands.

On March 14, 2007, three days shy of his eighty-sixth birthday, R. Neal Collins "slipped the surly bonds of earth." It was not in a plane this time for the flyer, soaring high above the clouds, but God came down, touched the hand of His servant, and said, "Come away with me. This time, I am taking you where you will experience flight and freedom as you've never seen before. He truly "touched the face of God."

When I heard of R. Neal's passing, I thought back to the beginning of World War II. Three men, born the same year, 1921, on the same Collins Road in Choestoe, joined the U. S. Army Air Force. One was Robert Neal Collins (a cousin), one was William Clyde Collins (my double-first cousin), and one was Francis Eugene Dyer (my brother).

At Choestoe Church where the three young men were members, we kept them in our prayers throughout the war, praying for their safety and return. They were on the list of many others from our community who followed their patriotic leanings and were willing to give all for our country. All three sons of Francis Thurman "Bob" Collins and Mary Viola Collins (she had died in 1937 before World War II began) served during World War II. Cecil W. Collins was in the U. S. Coast Guard; James Thompson Collins was in the U. S. Navy; and Robert Neal Collins was in the U. S. Air Force. All three of the Collins brothers and their cousins, Clyde Collins and Eugene Dyer, returned as decorated heroes from the conflict. The community and their relatives felt pride in their noble service.

Following World War II, Robert Neal Collins, Sr. resumed his life, but kept his ties to the U. S. Air Force by serving in the Reserves. For twenty-seven years he served his country, retiring in 1970 with the rank of major. During the Vietnam Conflict, he was activated and spent sixteen months with Airlift 445 at Dobbins Air Force Base, flying to England and Vietnam. As a certified flight instructor, he taught many in the North Georgia area how to fly.

He was a noted teacher. In 1954 he received the Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Georgia and in 1964 the Master of Science degree from George Peabody College.

He taught mathematics at Union County High School, his alma mater, and in night classes at Young Harris College. Known for his wry wit and humor, he had the ability to make his classroom one of ease, yet of strong purpose. Many former students rise up and call him blessed.

On October 19, 1951, he married beautiful Ruby Rogers, daughter of Thomas Franklin and Jessie Teague Rogers. To Neal and Ruby were born three children: Robert Neal, Jr. on November 18, 1953; Rhenee on January 2, 1955; and Joseph R., born June 15, 1961. Family was important to this couple. They reared their children and cherished their grandchildren as they arrived. At the time of Neal's death on March 14, 2007, they had six grandchildren and two step-grandchildren. Ruby and Neal celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary in October, 2001. Relatives and friends expressed the love and admiration they felt for this couple.

Church and a right relationship with the Lord were important to Robert Neal Collins, Sr. He was a Sunday School teacher, director of the Sunday School for years, and a long-time ordained deacon of Choestoe Baptist Church where he grew up. His steady influence and eye for fair administration led the church through years of growth, then through reversals to renewed growth and redirection. Neal sought the leadership of God and led others to depend on Him.

Family has suggested that memorial donations may be made to the Choestoe Church Building Fund for the church's new Family Life Center that Neal helped to engineer.

I hope you re-read the lines of "High Flight." Major Robert Neal Collins had the lofty experiences so aptly penned by John Gillespie McGee, Jr. In addition, R. Neal had the experience of seeing insight blossom on the faces of students as he taught them and they responded to his instruction. Whether he was guiding an eager student in the intricacies of flight or opening up the secrets of mathematics to a high school or college student, he was himself both learner and teacher. As Henry Adams stated: "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." We remember you gratefully, Major Robert Neal Collins, Jr.

c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 24, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

John Joseph Vandiver settles down in Washington state

John Joseph and Lula Mae Estee Vandiver and their children,
Ada Margaret and John Henry.

From Choestoe, Georgia to Washington state is a long distance, even by today's air miles. In 1895 and the years following, it was a journey of faith to find work and places to live. The stops the John Floyd Edward Vandiver and Rhoda Lucinda Souther Vandiver family made along the way in their move west in 1895 were recounted in the memoirs of their fourth of thirteen children, John Joseph Vandiver. This is the third and last in a series of his memoirs.

In the spring of 1906, John Joseph Vandiver moved to Seattle, Washington. There he went to work in a surveying crew mapping the route for the Oregon and Washington railroad that paralleled the Northern Pacific from Portland to Seattle. That job was completed in November.

Work in Alaska was next on Vandiver's agenda. When he landed in Catalla in March, 1907, the weather was colder than any he had experienced in his life. Seven feet of snow greeted him.

The surveying team worked in all weather conditions and finally finished the work for a terminal and rail line northward to the Copper River. In November of that year, with the Alaska surveying over, he returned to Washington.

Job prospects were still poor. He found work on the survey team for the Tieton Canal and the Ellensburg high line. While he was thus engaged, he decided that he needed more education. He attended night school in Seattle at the YMCA. Finishing high school, he was admitted to the University of Washington in 1910. Simultaneously studying at the University as a "special" student and working for the Reclamation Service on the Tieton Canal as inspector, John Joseph Vandiver was able to complete his engineering studies.

But all was not work for this ambitious man born in Georgia and transplanted in far away Washington state. While a student at the University, John Joseph Vandiver met and courted beautiful Lula May Estee, also a student. She was from East Lynn, Illinois.

They were married May 26, 1914. As newly-weds, they lived near the Tieton Canyon where John Joseph was employed by the Reclamation Service keeping canals and roads operable for construction of the giant Rimrock Dam. When the Reclamation Service wanted to transfer engineer Vandiver to Wyoming, he and his wife decided Washington was for them, and he resigned from his job, moving to Yakima permanently. There he spent most of the remainder of his career as a carpenter, building his own house and those for many others. As he progressed in his ability as a builder, he was able to upgrade the houses he built for his own family, including one for his in-laws, Mr. and Mrs. C. D. Estee, whom he and Lula Mae moved from Illinois to live near them in Yakima.

John Joseph and Lula Mae Estee Vandiver had two children. Ada Margaret Vandiver was born May 23, 1915 in Seattle, Washington. John Henry Vandiver was born August 23, 1916.

From his parents and their beginnings in the mountains of North Georgia, John Joseph Vandiver learned a strong work ethic which guided him all his adult life. He was always able to make a way for himself and his wife and children. Honesty and integrity were distinctive marks of his character. He admits in his memoirs that at times life was "hard sledding." But he persisted, was willing to tackle hard jobs, and finally had a most productive life. Many of the couple's happiest years were spent in a house he built for them on Pleasant Avenue in Yakima Washington. There they could see the towering mountains in the western landscape. No doubt, as he grew older, the mountains of Washington state reminded the aging Vandiver of Choestoe Valley and towering Bald Mountain, the highest peak in Georgia near which he lived from 1878 until he left in 1895 going west.

c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 17, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Continuing the saga of Vandiver's life in the West

On May 3 my column focused on the memoirs of John Joseph Vandiver who left Union County, Georgia with his parents, John Floyd Edward Vandiver and Lucinda Souther Vandiver in 1895, making a stop for awhile in Drake's Creek, Arkansas, and then moving farther west.

By way of explanation, I wrote about this family in February, 2005. This is not an effort to repeat that story, nor is this account written in exactly the same manner. Then, this column was not available online to many who have since "found" the weekly "Sentinel" newspaper online. I have had numerous requests from descendants of the Vandiver family to repeat those stories. That is why, almost two and one-half years later, in modified format, the memoirs of John Joseph Vandiver again appear in this column.

Between 1895 and 1898, jobs were scarce for a young man of nineteen in Drake's Creek, Arkansas. John Joseph Vandiver worked on his father's farm at the "Old Lollard Place" and supplemented his farm earnings by cutting railroad crossties and transporting them eight miles across a mountain to sell them for $1.10. In 1898, John Joseph's father bought his son a ticket to Greeley, Colorado. John's older brother, Bill, was already there. They worked for awhile at Charles Robinson's farm for $20.00 per month. Then the brothers launched northward to Laramie, Wyoming, where they heard "big game" was available for the hunting. Circumstances turned them in another direction.

At the Kuster Hotel in Laramie, the Vandiver brothers learned that a Mr. Thornton had been in town looking for ranch hands. Traveling 60 miles west of Laramie to the Thornton Ranch at Rock River, the Vandiver lads were hired and worked herding cattle and sheep.

Then it was off to become hands on the Union Pacific Railroad survey party, where they worked the whole winter of 1898-1899. In the spring of 1899, John Floyd Edward Vandiver sold out in Arkansas and moved his family to Rock Creek, Wyoming. Prospects for making a living seemed better there. In 1900 the Vandivers moved again to Little Medicine and the John J. Burnett Ranch. John Joseph Vandiver wrote in his memoirs: "It was hard going in those times. About all the work that could be had was herding sheep. I spent two winters making railroad ties in southern Wyoming near the Colorado line in about three feet of snow. I went down the Medicine Bow River on the tiedrive in the spring of 1902."

In June of 1902, John Joseph Vandiver went to Seattle, Wash., where he found work in a brick yard, at Moran's Sawmill, and at a logging camp at Moon's Canal.

In the fall of 1902, when it was too cold to continue outside labor, John found a job at the Fry-Brulm Packing House, driving a meat wagon, remaining there until spring.

In April, 1903, he made another move to Yakima, Washington where he signed on as a hand at the Bear Ranch. In the fall of 1903, he went to Okanogan, Washington.

John Joseph Vandiver's parents sold out at Little Medicine, Wyoming and went to Okanogan, again joining their son already there. The elder Vandiver paid $800 for some land in Pleasant Valley near Malott, Washington. The family lived in a log cabin on the land. In another log cabin, built for a schoolhouse, the Vandiver children still at home were enabled to attend school. One could wish that John Joseph had written more in his memoirs about who taught the school. He wrote only that those younger siblings still at home at the time were Sarah, Nell, Hartwell, Calla and Jess. In the fall and winter of 1903-1904, both John Joseph and Bill were at Pleasant Valley with their parents.

Then came "Last Chance." With a name like that, one would think "desperation!"

John Joseph and Bill Vandiver worked at the Last Chance mine about ten miles from Pleasant Valley. There they cut firewood for the mine, working about two months, a job that paid them about $3.00 per day.

When spring planting time came, the Vandiver brothers returned to Pleasant Valley. They helped their father on the ranch during 1904 and 1905, and got additional work at their neighbor's ranch (Mr. Malott) at hay harvest time.

By the spring of 1906, no doubt thinking that if he ever landed a significant career, he would certainly have to launch out on his own, John Joseph Vandiver went back to Seattle, Washington.

The remainder of his story will be told in the next episode of this Union County native's call to the west to live and work.

[Source: John Joseph Vandiver's Memoirs written in 1959 and published in Watson B. Dyer's "Souther Family History," 1988, pages 266-268.]

c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 10, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

From the Memoirs of John Joseph Vandiver

Several months ago I wrote about the famed Adam Poole Vandiver (1788-1877), a legendary man of the mountains of North Georgia known as "The Hunter of Tallulah."

Reportedly, Adam Poole Vandiver had a total of thirty-two children and three wives.

With that many children, he now has descendants from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Canada to the Gulf Coast, and points beyond.

I recently have made contact through e-mail with a Vandiver descendant with a rather common name of Dan Smith who lives in Raleigh, NC. We have been exchanging interesting family information and he hopes to attend for his first time the Dyer- Souther Family Reunion to be held July 14, 2007 this year.

Adam Poole Vandiver is Dan Smith's fourth great grandfather. Dan's interest and relationship to the Souther clan is through his great, great grandfather, John Floyd Edward Vandiver (1849-1923), son of George, grandson of Adam Poole). Rhoda Lucinda Souther (1853-1947), twelfth and youngest child of John Souther (1803-1889) and Mary Combs Souther (1807- 1894) married John Floyd Edward Vandiver on January 9, 1872.

Rhoda Lucinda Souther Vandiver and her husband took up residence following their marriage in the home of her father, John Souther, near present-day New Liberty Baptist Church. In fact, Rhoda's father gave land for that church and cemetery site where his four land lots joined. Pictures of the couple show them as distinguished and handsome. They had thirteen children, twelve of whom were born at the old Souther homeplace before the couple decided to move west. The first of Rhoda and John's children was Mary A. Vandiver who married Frank L. Smith on May 7, 1894. This couple moved to White County, Georgia to make their home. New-found distant cousin Dan Smith of Raleigh, NC, descends through a child of the Smiths, Jesse Benjamin Smith. In seeking information for Dan Smith, I came upon a lengthy personal memoir written in 1959 by John Joseph Vandiver, fourth child born to Rhoda and John Floyd Vandiver. The memoir is valuable for the insights it gives about his early life in Choestoe and why that Vandiver family decided to move west.

John Joseph Vandiver was a New Year's gift, born January 1, 1878 at his grandfather John Souther's home. He was the fourth child born to Rhoda Lucinda Souther Vandiver and John Floyd Edward Vandiver. Old Bald Mountain (Enota) towered above the Souther home to the east. The major occupation of the family was farming the land along Town Creek, raising hogs to take to the market in Gainesville, and gathering chestnuts and chinquapins to sell.

John Joseph and his siblings, twelve of whom, like he, were born in the old Souther home, went to school at New Liberty that served as a schoolhouse during the week and a church house on Sundays. The teacher he remembers as being the best instructor was Rev. John Twiggs, "who taught us many good things." He recalled with sadness the death of his grandfather, John Souther, in 1889 and his grandmother, Mary Souther, in 1894. They were buried on land his grandfather gave as a cemetery at Old Liberty.

John Souther willed his house and a portion of his land to his youngest daughter, Rhoda Souther Vandiver. John Joseph wrote: "Our living was meager for we had to grow all that we had to eat on the farm. Apples were dried for winter, as were pumpkins and beans for winter use. Potatoes were piled in a heap on the ground, as were cabbages, and dirt rounded up on them to keep them from freezing. Kraut was made from cabbage and stored in large pottery churns. Green beans were pickled in churns for use in the long winters." From their sheep they got wool for socks and spun the thread to weave woolen cloth for clothing.

In 1895, John Floyd Eugene Vandiver decided to "go west." Others in the Choestoe Valley had gone west and found better paying jobs and more productive farm work in western states. By that time, John Floyd and Rhoda Lucinda had twelve children: Mary who was already married to Frank L. Smith; William J; Cordelia Jane who married Andrew Townsend on March 2, 1893 (son of Eli Townsend and Sarah Sally Dyer Townsend); John Joseph; James H.; Fankie Roseanne; Della L; Sarah Evelyn; Nellie May; Frank Hartwell; Calla B.; and Thomas Marion (born March 30, 1894), one year old when his family started west. Upon leaving in 1895, Rhoda Lucinda sold the old Souther homeplace to Eli Townsend who purchased it for his son Andrew, married to Cordelia Jane Vandiver. Rhoda Lucinda's child, then, was living in the place where Rhoda was born, and where Rhoda herself had given birth to twelve children. Cordelia Jane and Andrew Townsend had two children, also born in that house, before Andrew's untimely death at age 24 on November 27, 1897.

In his memoirs, John Joseph Vandiver did not tell how the large family traveled from Choestoe Valley to their first stop out west, Drake's Creek, Arkansas. It was after the Civil War, and the Vandiver family probably went by covered wagons, taking what they could of family belongings with them to the train station in Gainesville. From there they took passage to Arkansas. Neither does he explain why they chose Drake's Creek for their lodging place. Maybe other relatives had gone before them to that location.

"In 1895 there was a depression similar to the one of 1929, and we had to work hard to live," Vandiver remembered. "When Andrew Townsend died (in 1897), my sister Cordelia (Delia) came to Drake's Creek with her two children to live with us." The thirteenth and last child was born to Rhoda Lucinda Vandiver on March 17, 1897, with the birthplace listed as Asher, Arkansas. John Floyd Edward Vandiver found a farm on Lollard's Creek (the old Lollard place) for sale and bought it for $1,500. The family finally owned their own farm in Arkansas.

Whatever the size of the farmhouse, it was no doubt crowded with Rhoda and John Floyd, twelve of their children (after Cordelia Vandiver Townsend joined them), and two grandchildren, a total of 16 people.

But as was the custom then, they shared in the work and "made do" with circumstances.

(Next week: Continuing the saga of the Vandiver family's move west, we will trace their journey to other locations to find better work.)

c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 3, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.