|This story will
highlight the lives of two prominent citizens of the Independence and
Taylors Crossroads communities that without their many years of dedicated
service to the school system and children in Overton County, many students
would not be where they are today. Those two people are Wilbur C. Smith
and wife Anna Lee. Here is a look back at their early years:
Wilbur C. was born on May 7, 1920 in the Oakley community of Overton
County. His parents were Floyd Smith and Ida Mae Smith, and he was their
only son. There were two daughters, Louetta Cobb and Aqulla Massey, and
later on, a half sister and brother, Ina Dean England and Ilon D. Smith.
Wilburís mother died when he was only nine years old, and sometime later,
his father remarried Angie Conner. Wilbur attended various schools,
including Lone Maple, Jay Bird, Ozone, and Independence. He stayed in the
fifth grade for three years, but not because he wasnít a good student, but
because of a little bit of an untruth he told due to the fact that he
wanted to be in the classroom with his friends and cousins. On one
occasion, Wilbur actually quit going to school at Ozone because he was
disciplined by one of the teachers, something that upset him greatly. In
spite of the extra time spent in grade school, Wilbur did graduate from
Livingston Academy at the age of 21 years. In the early 1950's, Wilbur
received a BS degree from Tennessee Tech, and later in 1972, obtained an
Anna Lee was born on August 3, 1922, into the family of Johnie Beaty and
wife Bernice Taylor Beaty. She was the oldest child of four children, two
sisters, Ilene McDonald, Elwanda Waller, and one brother, Willie Beaty.
When Anna Lee was only seven years old, her mother passed away which left
her to help with the rearing of her younger sisters and brother. She
attended grade school at Bethsaida, and began high school at Byrdstown,
but after only one week, transferred to Livingston Academy because she
thought she might have a better chance of making the basketball team. Anna
Lee was a member of the 1942 graduating class at LA, and sometime later,
attended Livingston Area Vocational School.
Anna Lee was known as somewhat of a Tom-Boy growing up. The chore Anna Lee
least liked around the house was dishwashing, and how much she disliked
the job was proven on one occasion when the dishes were put back in the
cupboard without having ever been placed in the dishpan first.
The first time Wilbur C. saw Anna Lee is a time he can still recall very
plainly. She was playing basketball on an outside court at Bethsaida in
striped pants and she was barefooted. He was known to have made the remark
that Anna Lee was the prettiest girl he ever saw, but the feature that
appealed to him most was her pretty legs. From that day on, he walked to
Bethsaida every opportunity possible to court that lovely barefoot girl
who caught his eye.
The first time Wilbur C. officially called on the Beaty residence with the
intent to court Anna Lee, he was not expected. He had walked nearly 12
miles to get there, and it was nearly dark when he arrived. Since he was
not expected, a light supper was served that night consisting of bread and
buttermilk. Because it was so late when he got to the Beaty house, rather
than walk back home that long distance in the dark, he had to spend the
night.The first day Anna Lee and Wilbur C. attended high school, Anna Lee
asked Wilbur C. to borrow his knife so she could sharpen her pencil.
Sometime later, during a literature class in high school, Wilbur C. was
required to memorize a poem by Edgar Allan Poe entitled "Annabel Lee."
Anna Lee help him memorize the poem, and while practicing saying it with
her, Wilbur dropped the "Bell" from the name and would recite it as Anna
Lee. When it came his turn in class to get up and recite the poem, he
forgot to include the "Bell" then too, which broke up the entire class
with laughter and embarrassed Anna Lee greatly.
After graduating from high school, Wilbur C. and some of his friends were
sitting around Celina awaiting a job offer of some kind or other, when a
fellow came by and offered to give them a job without telling any of them
what they would be doing. Since employment opportunities were pretty
scarce then, Wilbur C. jumped at the chance to earn some money. Off they
went to Willow Grove and the job turned out to be digging up a fellow
named "Charlie" who had been buried there.
years, two months, and eighteen days spent courting each other, on July
20, 1942, a wedding ceremony was performed in the home Ras Vaughn, a
minister in Livingston, uniting Wilbur C. Smith and Anna Lee Beaty in holy
matrimony. An indication of how much the young couple had in common was
the fact that on their wedding day, they each weighed 134 pounds. Their
first night together was spent at the home of Wilburís father and
step-mother. Supper that night consisted of mixed green beans and
butterbeans with cornbread and wedding cake.
As the years went by, three daughters, Justine, Winola, and Marvena, were
added to the Smith family, and upon the birth of their son, Merl, Wilbur
C. was seen and heard by the neighbors running up and down the road
shouting "Itís a boy! Itís a boy!"
Wilburís first teaching job was at Summer Shade school where he taught all
eight grades. In 1951, several schools in the area were consolidated
including Ozone, Free Communion, Unity, Summer Shade and Lone Maple. Thus
began the rewarding coaching career that witnessed three teams from
Independence Elementary School victorious in the State Tournament.
Sometimes things didnít always go too smoothly during a demanding
basketball season. A good example of this was the time Anna Lee and two of
the children came down the mumps at the same time. Wilbur had a game
scheduled and was torn between leaving his very sick wife and children and
a basketball team that needed him as well. To make matters even worse,
just as the basketball bus arrived to pick Wilbur up for the game, the bed
Anna Lee was in fell. There was no time to make the necessary repairs to
the bed, and as a result, Anna Lee had to wait until around midnight that
night when Wilbur got home from the game.
When Wilbur was only around
the age of 35 years, a few gray hairs began to make an appearance, and
worried that this might add some additional years to his appearance,
Wilbur tried to talk Anna Lee into putting a rinse on his hair. At first,
she wouldnít agree to do it, but after a while, she gave in, and one
Sunday afternoon carried out Wilburís request. Much to their dismay, it
didnít work as expected. Instead of covering up those gray hairs with a
color close to Wilburís natural shade of hair, the rinse turned his hair
bright blue. They spent the rest of the afternoon washing and rewashing
his hair until finally, the dye was washed away.
During Wilburís early years at Independence, he had a 1953 Ford that he
always parked around behind the school. Each time he was ready to leave on
a basketball trip, he would ask one of the older boys to bring it around
to the front of the school. It was always a race to see who could get to
the car first and have the privilege of driving the car around to the
front of the school
The score keeping system was truly a unique one at Independence before
more up to date methods came along. With no electric scoreboard in
existence for most grade schools, a blackboard that was above the goal was
used. That required the scorekeeper to lay on a board at the back of the
goal. When each team scored, that person would raise up long enough to
mark the points on the blackboard. On one occasion, Wilbur was accused of
having his scorekeeper put his foot over the goal to keep the team he was
playing from scoring. Once during a game with Dry Valley, Wilburís team
lost was a score of 27 to 25, and this was probably about the last time
this particular type of score keeping was used at Independence. Wilbur
left that score on the blackboard for sometime after the game as a
reminder of that particular loss. In another game, Johnny Harris was the
only one to score 2 points during the entire game. It has been said that
game was the worst beating Wilbur had in all his career of coaching.
Members of the 1953-54 State Invitational Tournament team for Independence
were: Willie D. Reagan; Fred Reeder; Kenneth Wilborn; Jack Taylor; Joe
Reagan; Jesse Smith; Harold Sells; Cricket Holman; Robert Stover; and
Members of the 1955-56 winning State Invitational Tournament team were:
James Smith; Billy Ledbetter; Willie D. Dial; Richard Stover; Joe Stover;
Randall Stoops; Byrl Mullins; Robert Sells; Henry Sells; and Jim Jolly.
Winning team members of the State Invitational Tournament on the 1957-58
team members were: Roy Hugh Melton; Joe Stover; Randall Stoops; Kendrick
Melton; E.B. Richardson; Royce Harris; Leon Reeder; and Jack Conner.
In 1968, Wilbur accepted a position in the Central office of the Overton
County Board of Education and left behind his days of coaching and the
responsibilities of being a grade school principal. After working at the
shirt factory in Livingston while the children were small, Anna Lee began
work as an aid at the Pleasant Valley school. Later, she was employed as
school secretary at Independence Elementary. Her job was one with lots of
details, including bookkeeping that required everything balance out down
to the last penny. She was a great asset to those principals, teachers,
and parents she worked with over the course of her years at Independence.
The Better Homemakers Home Demonstration Club of Independence and Taylors
Crossroads was an organization Anna Lee was very much involved in also.
Since retiring from the ranks of the employed, the Smiths have continued
to grow a large garden, each spring and summer season usually several
gardens in fact. Their choice tomatoes are sought out by folks who buy
home grown vegetables at the Farmers Market in Livingston. They have also
had a booth on Saturdays at the Crossville Flea Market where Wilbur C.
says theyíve peddled their "junk." The Highway 127 sale is another place
theyíve sold items.
In 1988, Wilbur C. began a writing career with the Livingston Enterprise.
The first column he had was entitled "Remembering The Forgotten," and was
one that included interviews he did with World War I veterans. Later he
began a second column entitled "Just Reminiscing," a very popular and well
read addition to that same newspaper. His book entitled "Wilburís Tales"
has sold over 1,100 copies.
While most of their lives have been blessed and very happy, the Smiths
have also had their share of heartache. Their oldest daughter, Justine,
died in 1994 at 51 years of age from ALS. Justineís son, Gregory Hunley,
died a few years later from a brain tumor. He was only 38 years old. The
Smith family now includes six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Church has always played a very important part in their lives. Wilbur C.
says he does not consider himself a preacher, but he has often been asked
to hold a funeral or to baptize individuals.
It isnít possible to put into words how very much Wilbur C. helped and
influenced the many students he came in contact with over the years. The
lives he touched and made better by excellent teaching skills and positive
influence in the classroom cannot be measured. A trend was begun under
Wilburís leadership abilities that helped place Independence at the top of
the list as a school where the very best grade school education could be
had. Test results over the years have proven this to be true. Asking most
any Livingston Elementary student from the period of the late 50's and
60's who their biggest rival was, not only in basketball but in
scholastics also, and the reply will come back nine times out of ten as
Independence. Wilburís students were encouraged not only to become great
basketball players, but to make the very best grades in school too. Many
times the very fact that Wilbur had a student playing basketball gave that
person a reason to stay in school and complete an education.
On October 25, 1982, the Independence Parent-Teachers Organization paid
tribute to the Smiths with a "This Is Your Life" program. Drue Huffines
served as narrator during that special evening. The gymnasium at
Independence was packed with former students, friends, neighbors, members
of the school system and Board of Education who attended. Guests were
called to the platform to reminisce about happy memories, and often the
entire gym rocked with laughter as amusing incidents about the Smiths were
shared. Even though several years have passed since their retirement, both
Wilbur C. and Anna Lee continue to remain highly respected and very well
thought of individuals in not only the community where they reside, but in
all of Overton and the surrounding counties. I am very happy to be
included in the very large circle of those who count it a privilege to
call both Wilbur C. and Anna Lee friends.