My Lost Year at Mt. Berry, Georgia
By way of introduction let me say this is a long story and most of it does mot take place at LWMA. But it does fill in a lot blanks and ties most of my other stories together in one way or another. It also shows how I, an LWMA Alumni, can relate to the SII Alumni who had to work for their schooling.
Phil Potts said in his "Reflections" story that he begged to go back to LWMA after his first year. I'm not sure if I wanted to go back after my first year or not, but I thought my brother and I would be going back in 1960-61. But things did not work out quite that way. Because of our limited funds from Dad's VA and Social Security money my grandmother did not think that she could send us back to LWMA. She searched for a school that would be less expensive than LWMA and found Mount Berry School for Boys (MBSB) at Mt. Berry, near Rome, Georgia
Martha Berry founded her school in 1902 for the same reasons Lyman Ward founded The Southern Industrial Institute (SII) in 1898. These two institutions were started for poor rural children who were willing to work their way through school. There were no "Public Schools" in those areas of the south around the turn of the twentieth century. (It feels a little strange to say that here at the turn of the twenty-first century.)
Mount Berry School for Boys was co-ed (?) in a small way in 1960-61. There were about 200 boys and two girls going there. The two girls were day students and the daughters of the staff who lived on campus. (Those readers who were cadets at LWMA during the "Female Cadet" era, 1976 - 1982, can relate to this situation.) There was also a co-ed college on the 27,000-acre campus. Berry College was three miles away from the high school down a straight road called "The Stretch" near U.S. Highway 27 that lead to Rome. Many a high school boy had to walk "The Stretch" back if he missed the bus leaving the college campus.
On this huge campus there was a dairy farm, a chicken farm, a hog farm, and lots of other unpleasant places to "work". That brings me to the mandatory work program. It went like this, during the school year, you had to go to school four days a week, work two days a week, and go to Sunday school and Church on Sunday. I had classes on Monday and Tuesday, work on Wednesday and Thursday, and classes again on Friday and Saturday. Some others worked Monday and Tuesday followed by four days of class, and the rest had classes Monday though Thursday and worked on Friday and Saturday. This schedule gave the school 1/3 of the students working six days a week.
The college students worked the same schedule, but I was sure they had more freedom that we did. If we were good little boys, we could go to downtown Rome once a month! We had to ride a bus to Rome, as was too far to walk. All that made signing out at the LWMA CQ office and going to Cheater's Drug Store in Camp Hill any afternoon seem more like freedom to me.
During the summer of 1960 after my first year at LWMA my brother, Richard, and I had to go to Berry to work for our tuition for the next school year. We worked on the "Campus Crew" and had to clean up after an ice storm the winter before. This was mainly sawing off limbs and applying tar, pulling limbs and fallen tree parts from the ground, loading limbs and fresh cut wood into a dump truck to be burned at a fire that burned all day long during the work days that summer. This was great outdoor work a fifteen year old boy! I did not like it too much at the time but I think it was much better than having to work on any of the farms. (See my "White Gloves" story!) We worked eight hours a day Monday through Friday and four hours on Saturday morning that summer. Of course the "Room and Board" charges were deducted from the money we earned that went into our "Tuition Fund". Between not making overtime on Saturday and all the deductions for "Room and Board", someone told me that we cleared about seventeen cents an hour toward the "Tuition Fund". This was "Reasonable" I suppose, but I felt like the school was getting a lot of work for almost nothing. By the way, we never saw any of the money we were making. It was all on paper from the boss's time sheet to the tuition account. Grandmother had to send us spending money each week!
When the first semester started in September I was assigned to work my two-days-a-week in the high school dining hall. My duties were general kitchen help and waiting tables during breakfast and lunch. To me this was just like K. P. at LWMA. In fact the lady who was the dining room supervisor, "Boss Moore", could not understand how I knew how to clean a table without leaving any streaks. I told her I had plenty of training and practice at LWMA! One of my duties was to go out back at 6:00 AM and pull a rope and ring a bell in a small wooden frame bell tower. This was more or less the same as Reveille and Mess call at the same time. A few minutes later the front doors would be opened for breakfast. We had two crews: An early one, that I was on, that came in at 5:00 AM to get Breakfast started and help serve lunch, and one that came in before lunch to help with that meal and served supper. The early shift was over sometime after the lunch cleanup around 2:00 PM. Breakfast was served "Cafeteria Style" because some of the boys had to go milk the cows early and come back to breakfast. Lunch and supper were served "Family Style". (LWMA did it all meals family style in 1959-60) That meant that after the doors were opened all the boys would come in and stand behind their assigned chairs while a student said a prayer. After "AMEN" all the boys set down and started eating. That was when the table waiter's work was really busy! That's not all the boys working in the dining hall did. We had only two adult supervisors in the kitchen and they supervised the older boys as they cooked all the food! All the boys, including me helped prepare food for cooking and washed the dishes, and the pots and pans afterwards!
For the second semester I was assigned to the "Cleaning Crew". This was a nice name for us "Janitors". We had to clean the halls, common rooms (day rooms), and bathrooms in the dormitories during school hours and the classrooms, halls, offices, auditorium, and bathrooms in the school building afterwards. That does not sound to bad until you realize that two of the three dormitories were four stories tall. This work was very much like getting ready for Saturday Morning Inspection at LWMA all day long for two days a week! Then we had those days of stripping floors and putting down wax! Of course all the floors were mopped and buffed everyday. The dormitory clean up work was supervised by the live-in "House Mothers" in the two four-story dorms, Pilgrim Hall and Friendship Hall. (I always thought it was a strange coincidence that LWMA had a "Friendly Hall" and Berry had a "Friendship Hall".)
There was no "Cadet Corps" so we had adult supervisors on the job. We did have a "uniform" of sorts. During "Work Days" we wore blue jeans and blue "Navy" style work shirts. For class we wore blue jeans and light blue dress shirts, except the seniors, who wore white dress shirts to class. On Sunday we all wore a navy blue suite, white dress shirt, and solid navy blue tie to Sunday school and church. The girls wore pink dresses, except the seniors who wore light blue dresses. (I feel sure the SII student's uniforms were along these lines.) The only students who had any authority over the other students, besides the usual "upperclassman" stuff were the "Hall Monitors". Those poor stooges had to keep the halls quiet during the evening study hall. That job was very much like the platoon sergeants at LWMA, but without any real rank outside of that job. They seemed like big tattletales to me. You could not have paid me enough money to do that.
Without the freedom to go off campus and with the work program the place seemed like a prison to me. Without the military program of LWMA there was just not enough discipline to suit me either. I needed less of the first and more of the second! In the spring of that year I got into trouble for mouthing off to a teacher and I was expelled from that one class (Algebra I). Because of that mistake I was invited NOT to come back to Berry the next year! You can imagine how heartbroken I was over that! :)
When I was "uninvited" to come back to Berry my grandmother wrote Col. Wesley P. Smith and asked if I could return to LWMA for the 1961-62 school year. He was kind enough to do so, but because of my bad grades at Berry I would have go to summer school in the summer of 1961. I got my Algebra (I) credit and 1/2 a credit in English (I) that summer before returning to LWMA. Col. Smith and Maj. Donald C. Teel, who was LWMA's dean then, allowed me start that year as a sophomore even without the full credit in English. Now you know why I had to take English I and English VI in my senior year. (See the "Capt. O. P. Lee" story.) The schooling at Berry also made me one of the few cadets who ever graduated from LWMA with 1/2 a credit in Shop and Bible! I also spent the summer of 1963, between my junior and senior year, in summer school just trying to make up for my freshman year at Berry and to stay in class of 1964. I got a full credit in American History and 1/2 credit in Algebra II that summer. (One and 1/2 credits were all credits you could get during the DeKalb County Georgia School System's summer school program back then. The 1/2 a credit in English I and Algebra II did NOT transfer to LWMA. What a rip-off!)
If you read my story about "First days at LWMA" you can see now "How I did everything I could to get back to LWMA." I guess that was the reason why I was so willing to "Play Fireman" in the "Big Heat of 1962" story. It was too hard for me to get back to LWMA for me to let something like a little out-of-control grass fire burn down my school! I even gave up smoking when I came back to LWMA so there would be no trouble about that. I also tried my best to stay on the Dean's List and keep my demerits low. I did all that just so I could remain at LWMA for my last three years of high school.
My brother had to stay a Berry because his part of Dad's VA money was running out. Even though he wanted to return to LWMA things worked out all right for him at Berry. He met a college girl there the next summer and they got married right after he graduated in June of 1963. By the way, Richard and Gloria are still married in year of 2000!
Postscript about MBSB, Berry Academy, and Berry College:
I will say these three things for Berry:
- It was and still is a beautiful campus even if it is not as well maintained now. We had lots of woods to hike in and Mount Lavender to climb!
- I had some great friends there, just like at LWMA.
- It helped many students, even if was not one of them.
The mandatory work program and the school uniform rules were dropped in the 1962-63 school year. Then the name "Mount Berry School for Boys" was changed to "Berry Academy" and it really became co-ed in 1964. Nineteen years later in 1983 Berry Academy closed its doors forever. Of course Berry College is still operating on the largest private college campus in the world.
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