Thursday, October 30, 2008

More on the career of Dr. N.V. Dyer

The farm mule that Norman Vester Dyer chose to have his father sell and give him the $150.00 to continue his education proved a good investment. This man, noted wherever he went as an industrious, wise and solid "school man," touched teachers and students in various parts of Georgia.

He started out teaching in Choestoe, his home community, as an assistant in the country school where he began his own first grade work. Professor Theodore Swanson, who had been the teacher for the seven-month term, wanted to leave early, and suggested to Vester Dyer's father, Bluford Elisha Dyer, known as "Bud" Dyer, a trustee of the school, that the young lad who was just finishing seventh grade, was capable of taking over the school and completing the term. Challenged and somewhat frightened by the task, Vester buckled down and was able to complete his seventh grade school year as a teacher. This was the beginning of his 46-year career as an educator.

Places, besides Choestoe, that knew the influence of this educator, all in Georgia, were Hiawassee, Jones County (Green School), Dooly County (Lily), Milner, Luthersville, Fairburn, Blairsville (Collegiate Institute), Cornelia, Eastanollee (Stephens County), Dawsonville (Dawson County), Summerville and Villa Rica. In the period of his service, the major administrator of a school within a city system was called superintendent (now called a principal). Even though he was head of the school, he also enjoyed teaching so much that he had a class he taught seniors at each school called vocational guidance, citizenship or group counseling. His class was popular with seniors and helpful to them as they explored areas of job opportunity, set goals for their future, and struggled with ideas about living lives of service to mankind.

In his memoirs entitled A Fugitive from a Georgia Schoolhouse, Dr. Dyer said he often encountered three major disturbing elements in school administrator's work: selfishness, politics and ignorance (Fugitive from a Georgia Schoolhouse, p. 65). He gave numerous examples of these three often-times negative hindrances to educational progress.

Selfishness reared its head in those who would downgrade the school and its work because of petty jealousies or desire that jobs of teaching and school management be awarded through nepotism—or making family members or special friends recipients of any jobs available in the schools. In such situations, qualifications of the teachers and administrator, or even their success in operating a school took a back seat to favoritism.

Those who suffered most from such unprofessional practices were the students themselves.

Politics often played a role in who would be elected administrator or who would keep the job. After eleven years as a successful superintendent (principal) of Cornelia city schools, Mr. Dyer was ousted because of the "political machine" operable within the city. The same was true after four years of hard work in the Eastanollee School in Stephens County.

Sometimes called "The Court House Gang," the politicians wanted to get rid of Mr. Dyer as superintendent. Stephens County citizens, who had seen the school improve greatly under his leadership, circulated a petition with over 2,000 signatures asking that he be kept on as superintendent. They even had a Professor N. V. Dyer Day, complete with a hired band, invited speakers and dinner on the grounds on March 30, 1935 in an effort to break the School Board's deadlock on his reelection. Asked to speak before the Board of Education on his own behalf, Mr. Dyer surprised all the large crowd present at the court house by arising, quoting the speech of Brutus from William Shakespeare's play, "Julius Caesar," and likening the political maneuverings to those described in the play in that ancient Roman regime.

He saw ignorance as a daunting deterrent to progress in education. He did not mean by this illiteracy, or backwardness sometimes found in a community due to a lack of educational opportunities. He saw prejudice and resistance to change for the better as enemies of education. In many of the systems where he served as administrator, he offered classes for adults that would help them to a better quality of life. He set up Home Economics classes in some communities and invited mothers to learn to care better for the nutritional and nurturing needs of their children. If men could not manage to get jobs, he offered night classes in literacy or in trades that would help them in vocational pursuits. And ever, he urged students in school to set their sights on higher education, helping them to find ways to get enrolled in college or vocational school beyond high school. Truancy was a problem in his early years of teaching. He helped to write the truancy law that was eventually enacted by the State of Georgia.

Change in administering discipline to students was one of Mr. Dyer's strong points. He initiated the idea of keeping records, turned into the office, of student's offenses. These were recorded on individual cards for each student. If a student had "demerits" equal to five hours from teachers, he/she would be assigned work around the school to clear the demerit points. In that way, many improvements to the buildings and grounds were made by students who had caused disturbance of any kind. Prior to the work to erase the offense, Mr. Dyer would have a counseling session with the student and talk about responsibility, citizenship and payment for offenses. He talked to them about taking pride in their work, and making the school grounds and buildings better than when they had entered the school. This method of discipline, he affirmed, worked much better than the old-fashioned "paddling."

In whatever town the Dyer family lived, they became a vital part of the community as well as the school. Always active in church, he, his wife Jane, and their three daughters, Sarah Ruth, Betty and Helen, were involved. He was a deacon and lay preacher. Jane was a teacher and women's worker. The girls were part of the youth program, and when they became adults, were also leaders in their churches. In Dawsonville, Mr. Dyer led in the effort to erect a new building for First Baptist Church. In most of the towns where he served as superintendent, new school buildings were erected. Active in Lions Club, he served as a local officer as well as a leader in the district and state organization.

Reba W. Roberds who was a teacher under his supervision during his eleven years as head of the Villa Rica Schools said of him at his retirement banquet in May, 1955: "I knew him as a man devoted to high ideals of service, a man of vision and perseverance, a Christian gentleman, and a true friend."

Dr. Norman Vester Dyer, born on a Choestoe farm March 10. 1885, died December 28, 1968 in Villa Rica, Georgia. Of his 83 years spent on earth, 46 of them were as an educator.

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published October 30, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Choestoe man was outstanding educator The Career of Norman Vester Dyer

Telling his father that he did not want to farm, but rather to teach, and that the mule he was given by his father would be sold and used for education proved to be a good move for the enterprising Norman Vester Dyer (March 10, 1885 - December 28, 1968).

This seventh of fifteen children born to Bluford Elisha Dyer (1855-1926) and Sarah Evaline Souther Dyer (1857-1959) found ways, besides the sale of his mule for $150.00, to earn his education.

After he graduated from Hiawassee Academy, he took the state teacher's licensing test and earned a first grade certificate. He got a position for a year teaching in the Green School eight miles from Gray, Georgia. Following that year of an eight-month school year, with his earnings $50 per month, he went to Mercer University in Macon to continue his own education. He, with his father's signature, borrowed $250 from Mr. Pat Haralson, lawyer, in Blairsville to go to Mercer his first year. Alternately teaching and going to school, he earned his bachelor's degree from Mercer and repaid all the money he had borrowed for college. Later, mainly by attending summer sessions (seven summers in all, he states in his memoirs), he earned the Master of Education degree from the University of Georgia. It was from Mt. Vernon University in Virginia that he received the doctorate degree. Mercer University, his alma mater, awarded him an honorary doctorate.

Back in the days when an educator was both a classroom teacher and a principal, Vester Dyer found himself serving in several Georgia towns. Among these towns were Lily (near Vienna), Milner, Luthersville, Fairburn, Blairsville, Eastanollee, Dawsonville and Summerville. He was principal of Cornelia High School and county school superintendent in Habersham County at Cornelia for eleven years. His retirement came after eleven years as principal of Villa Rica High School. Altogether, he served forty six years as a teacher, principal or superintendent of schools.

Other than teaching in country schools in Union County, his stint as an administrator in Blairsville was as president of the Blairsville Collegiate Institute. A school begun by the Notla River Baptist Association and supported in part also by the Georgia Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board, the school was the only high school then in Union County. N. V. Dyer's term as president was in the 1920's, prior to the schools being taken over as a public high school by the Union County Board of Education. In his memoirs, Mr. Dyer says of his work as president of Blairsville Collegiate Institute: "Since it was a church school, I was expected to visit the churches of the county, make religious talks, and fill the place of a missionary as well as carry on the work of the school. I found the students exceptionally interested in the school work, and had very few disciplinary problems." (p. 47, "Fugitive from a Georgia Schoolhouse.").

Following his term at the Blairsville Collegiate Institute, Mr. Dyer moved on to Cornelia as superintendent (or principal) of the public school there.

On June 17, 1915, Norman Vester Dyer married Ruthie Jane Self. She was a teacher at Young Harris, in the elementary and/or academy division of the college. It was there that Dr. J. A. Sharp, president of the college, performed the marriage ceremony for the couple in the college parlor. She was a daughter of Cicero Self and Sarah Lance Self.

Three daughters would be born to this couple, Sarah Ruth on March 14, 1919 in Luthersville, Georgia, and identical twin daughters, Betty Jean and Mary Helen in Cornelia, Georgia on May 26, 1926.

Dr. Mauney Douglas Collins (1885 - 1957) was born the same year as Dr. Norman Vester Dyer. Both Choestoe lads, their careers in education would parallel. Dr. Collins served as state superintendent of Georgia schools from 1933-1957, a total of twenty-five years, during times of great change. These two were friends and associates from their boyhood together at Choestoe throughout their long careers as educators. Dr. Collins wrote the foreword to Dyer's book of memoirs, "Fugitive from a Georgia Schoolhouse": "He (Dyer) has touched for good the lives of hundreds of young Georgians, and encouraged them to get the education that would make them more valuable citizens of their native state."

Is that not the aim of education— touching lives, producing valuable citizens?

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published October 23, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

NOTE: this article was originally Oct. 16, 2008 but was deferred by the newspaper.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A mule, a dream and a long career as an educator

The gift of a mule was a kick start to an education and a 46-year career as a teacher and school administrator for Norman Vester Dyer (1885-1968).

Norman Vester Dyer was a student at the Hiawassee Baptist Academy. He had gone to school there periodically, going a semester or two, as he could afford the tuition and board, and then getting a job back in his home community teaching in the country schools of Choestoe or Old Liberty. He longed to finish his senior year at the academy, but his money had run completely out.

Vester Dyer told his roommate that he planned to walk across the mountain from Hiawassee to Choestoe and have a talk with his father. It was in March, 1906 that he went back home and told his father, Bluford Elisha "Bud" Dyer that he was ready for the gift of his mule. Mr. Dyer had formed the custom of giving each of his nine sons a mule when they reached the age of 21. Vester turned 21 on March 10, 1906, and he felt the time was right for this gift from his father.

"Father, I want my mule," Vester stated at an opportune time when he arrived home.

"What do you plan to do with it?" his father asked.

"Sell it and get money to finish my senior year," the son told his father.

"And what will you plow with?" the father inquired.

"I don't plan to plow," was the young man's response. "I plan to teach."

Without further discussion on the matter, Mr. Dyer told Vester to go to bed and rest. The next morning, his father took the three-year old mule he had been keeping for Vester and was gone from home for about three hours. When he returned, he handed Vester $150.00, the price he had been paid for the fine mule.

With money in his pocket and a dream in his heart, Vester returned to Hiawassee Academy and enrolled for his senior year. The long trek by foot from Choestoe back to Hiawassee seemed much shorter than the outward journey, for he had in his possession the money that would provide for tuition, books and board for his senior year.

During the summer of 1906, Vester Dyer did not return to his father's farm in Choestoe to work the crops. Instead, he was invited by Mr. Van Burns, with whom he was boarding, to teach in summer school. Vester was assigned to teach Greek and world history, two subjects in which the young man had excelled at the academy. The contract with Mr. Burns was that he would have his board and room from his teaching, "and, according to what I am paid for the summer session, a percentage of the tuition." At the end of that notable summer, with experience in teaching the classic language and world history to avid students, Mr. Burns paid the young teacher a shiny silver dollar. This seems like paltry pay for a summer's worth of teaching, but in those days, a dollar would go a long ways toward needs.

Norman Vester Dyer had already been teaching in country schools near his home in Choestoe. He tells in his memoirs of going to the court house in Blairsville to take the teacher certification tests for licensing. The courtroom would be full, he said, of men and women aspiring to get basic certification or to upgrade their license to teach. The County Commissioner of Schools was authorized by the state of Georgia to issue three types of certificates, 1st grade, 2nd grade, and 3rd grade. Pay was based on the grade of the certificate. The first certificate Mr. Dyer received was a 3rd grade. This was several years before he finished his senior year at Hiawassee Academy. His earnings were $22.50 per month. He had 50 pupils in seven grades. He said of that experience, "I felt that I had been highly honored by being placed in a position to teach many of my fellow students, cousins, brothers and sisters." (p. 37 in "Fugitive from a Georgia Schoolhouse." Thomasson Publishing, Carrollton, GA, 1961.)

From his humble beginnings of attending a one-teacher school in Choestoe, to going back later to teach in that same school, to becoming a noted teacher and administrator in Georgia schools, this man who sold his mule to help pay for his education was on a roll. For a career that lasted 46 years, many students benefited from his wisdom and ability to teach.

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published October 9, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Focusing on the Chattahoochee- Oconee National Forests

Woodman, spare that tree!
Touch not a single bough!
In youth it sheltered me,
And I'll protect it now.

These lines from poet George Pope Morris [1802- 1864] might well have been written in protest to the widespread devastation of virgin forests that existed in the nineteenth century as trees were felled for lumber to supply the demand for building better houses. People wanted nicer dwellings than the log cabins that characterized the early-settlement period of our mountain lands.

As we saw the life and times of Jim Berry, last of the "true mountaineers" in the last two columns here, we learned that he was an employee of the Vogel-Pfister Land Company that dealt mainly in harvesting trees for timber in the Southern Appalachians.

Following the Civil War, a proliferation of timber harvesting occurred in this mountain region. The work of cutting trees and getting them to sawmills set up on streams provided much-needed employment. Very little attention was given to environmental practices and preserving the land or its forests. Large land companies, with an eye for the timber market, bought up lands the early settlers had received in either gold lots or land lots. The lands were cut over and many chestnut, oak, and hemlock trees yielded bark for tanning businesses and lumber for houses. It was a perilous time for mountain forests. The mountain landowners, many owing taxes on their acreage, sold land for as little as $1.00 per acre. Capitalists took advantage of a poverty-level situation and amassed land once rich with virgin timber. The plea of Morris's poem, "Touch not a single bough!" went unheeded. Former farmers sought refuge in the "lumber camps" that sprang up. There they found shelter and subsistence wages.

Erosion set in. Wildfires were prevalent. With forest deadenings widespread, floods came, with nothing to prevent the water from taking the topsoil in formerly productive farmlands. It was a sad and ruinous time. A voice was heard among all the destruction. His name was Gifford Pinchot, one of the first environmentalists. He urged that government and citizens do something about the "burned, slashed, and over-grazed forest." President Theodore Roosevelt stepped in, and in 1901 he ordered that "the preservation of the mountain forests should no longer be left to the caprice of private capital."

The famous Weeks Act was passed in the US Congress on March 1, 1911. In this Act, the U. S. Department of Agriculture was authorized to purchase lands that had been cut over and denuded. Gifford Pinchot's pleas had been heard. The slow process of restoration was set in motion. It did not happen quickly, for growing trees takes time. Restoring natural resources is a slow process.

Out of the Weeks Act grew the National Forest Service Reservation Commission. In 1911, large tracts of mountain land, about 31,000 acres in all, in Union, Fannin, Lumpkin and Gilmer Counties were purchased for $7.00 per acre. The seller was the Gennett Land and Lumber Company of Atlanta, Georgia. The purchase became official on August 29, 1912. A small portion of the lands acquired by the National Forest Service still had stands of virgin timber, but most of the land had been cut-over, cleared, or desecrated through careless industrial cutting and logging.

Another aspect of this era of mountain history shows a decline in population. For example, Union County statistics reveal that population dropped over ten percent from 1900 through 1910. Due to the ecological changes brought about by environmental excesses, people had to leave to find work elsewhere. The poor mountain farms could not support the population. The "westward" movement to Colorado and other western states and influx to manufacturing towns like Gainesville, Dalton and Atlanta accounted for the population decrease.

The Gennett Purchase began the stewardship of forest lands that would eventually lead to formation of the Chattahoochee National Forest in 1936. At first, these lands were incorporated into the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests in Tennessee and North Carolina. Gifford Pinchot's pleas were being heeded. Goals were set for reforestation, planting of new trees. Management of soil, water and wildlife were incorporated into the plan.

Two important names emerge in this early period of National Forest management. Ranger Roscoe Nicholson was the first Forest Ranger in the North Georgia Region. His area was the Tallulah Ranger District. Ranger Arthur Woody of Union County also made a name for himself as he was employed by the Forest Service. They patrolled with an iron will. They used trained bloodhounds to trace down forest arsonists. The first fire towers were built by them and the men they employed—Union County's at Brasstown Bald. Ranger Woody used his own money to stock streams with trout and the forests with deer when these were not forthcoming from Forest Service funds. Ranger Nick and Ranger Woody were brave pioneers who set the pace for later practices that were expanded and enforced.

Credit is due President Franklin Roosevelt's programs to help the nation recover from the Great Depression that began in earnest in October of 1929. During his presidency, beginning in 1932, his "Alphabet Projects" tackled the job market and supplied workers for needed efforts to bring America back into competitive production. The Civilian Conservation Corps was organized in 1933. Camp Woody near Suches and the CCC Camp at Goose Creek on Highway 129 had the boys working to plant trees, check tree blights and insect infestations, build firetowers, fight forest fires, build roads and Vogel State Park. A new day dawned for the mountain forests of North Georgia.

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published October 2, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.