6/1/2003 CHARLES JOHNSON:
Orphans grateful for Bible teacher
As the result of a late 1920s influenza epidemic in
North Central Texas, my mother was left a widow with four little children. As
this was before Social Security's widow and children's benefits and due to my
mother's limited education of sixth grade, she reluctantly made the decision to
place her three older children in the State Orphans Home in Corsicana on Dec.
With all the attention that is being given to family
values now I began to recall my childhood during those 14 years in the State
Orphans Home. There were many strong role models in the orphan's life and they
took their responsibilities seriously and exercised them with firmness and love.
The most profound influence on our young lives was
"Miss Bettie," as she was affectionately called by her students. Miss Bettie
Burson, a spinster, taught grammar school at the State Home for 14 years, from
1923 until her death in 1937.
Miss Bettie made it her hobby to tell Bible stories to
the children after her daytime classroom instructions. We would gather in her
room in the little Girls' Building, or outdoors under the stars, weather
permitting, to hear her tell us those interesting Bible stories. She taught us
to live according to the Ten Commandments among our fellow 1,000 orphans during
those years of the 1930s Depression. Miss Bettie took as her creed the following
Scriptures: "Now they were bringing, the babes to him that he might touch them,
but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them together
and said 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for of
such is the kingdom of God. Amen I say to you whoever does not accept the
kingdom as a little child will not enter into it.'" (Luke 18: 17)
Church attendance every Sunday was mandatory in the
State Home's all purpose auditorium. On Sunday night attendance at Christian
Endeavor was required, with gospel singing, accompanied by a talented student on
the piano, such as Mary George Stinnett, class of 1943. Wednesday night Bible
study was also held in that auditorium. Our auditorium was used by the popular
gospel singing groups, like the Stamps Baxter Quartet, for the gospel singing
annual county conventions.
During high school years the students were allowed to
attend the church of their choice in the city of Corsicana. Miss Bettie was
there to counsel the students in that decision.
Among my State Home treasures is "Miss Bettie's Book of
Bible Stories," which was published posthumously in 1939, and was presented to
each of the graduating seniors of my class on May 24, 1943, by the
superintendent of the State Home. The superintendent of the State Home in the
1930s wrote: "Miss Bettie was the greatest religious influence the State Home
children have ever known. She was kind, sympathetic and willing to advise all.
To have her associated with children was a blessing."
I was indeed blessed to have had Miss Bettie as my
Wilma Fay Lee, class of 1944, is still experiencing the
blessings of Miss Bettie. Fay, of Hemet, Calif., now age 76, visited Miss
Bettie's grave site in a cemetery in Mexia on July 14, 2002. Fay was in Texas to
attend a wedding. Fay's Jewish grandson-in-law drove Fay to Mexia for her to
visit our beloved Miss Bettie's grave, but first said: "I can't believe that you
want to visit a grave site that is 65 years old. And of a teacher in a State
orphanage. Fay replied: "I loved Miss Bettie, who taught us Bible stories." Then
the Jewish grandson-in-law stated: "But, she taught you only the New Testament."
Fay, with fond remembrance, answered: "No, our Bible consisted of both the Old
and New Testaments."
Miss Bettie lovingly taught and read to us from both
the Old and New Testaments. Miss Bettie eventually went blind as a result of
diabetes and her students would take dictation as she recited her Bible stories.
My recently deceased sister, Jewell, age 8O, is one of those State Orphans who
would type and read the stories after Miss Bettie's blindness. When Miss
Bettie's services were held at the First Baptist Church in Corsicana her Bible
students were bused to the memorial service, where the girls all recited the
whole 23rd Psalm. And then the kids who memorized verses from the Bible were
driven in the State Home bus, to the burial services in the cemetery at Mexia.
As Wilma Fay Lee told me: "I can still recite the
verses I memorized so I could be part of that group at Miss Bettie's graveside."
"John 3:16. For God so loved the world that he gave his
only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have
"Isaiah 55: 6, 7. Seek you the Lord while he may be
found. Call you upon him while he's near."
"Romans 3:23. For all have sinned and come short of
"John 14:6. I am the way, the truth and the light; no
man cometh to the Father, but by me."
This writer, now age 76, Wilma Fay Lee, Ida Mae Maroney,
of Vancouver, Wash., and many other orphans continue to be blessed by our
exposure to Miss Bettie; an orphan's best Bible teacher. And we are grateful!
Charles Johnson of Dunnellon, Fla., is a 1943 graduate
of the State Home in Corsicana. As the 2003 State Homecoming nears, the Daily
Sun will publish several of his pieces.