Sitting in the home where she was born nearly 90 years ago, Gerry shared her love for her community and the life journey that brought her back to where she started.
Born on Nov. 8, 1928, Gerry attended Hilton Elementary School. Since the school is located right behind her backyard, Gerry and her siblings walked home every day for lunch. “I wanted to ride the bus,” she laughed. One of her friends and classmates was June Carter. “We grew up together; she was just like the rest of us. None of us had much money then,” Gerry said.
Gerry is still very involved in the school. “I’ve been helping the school for many, many years. It’s a great school and has wonderful teachers,” she said. For over eight years, Gerry has been a sponsor for the Newspapers In Education (NIE) program which provides newspapers as an educational resource in the classroom. Not only does she pay for the newspapers for each participating classroom in the elementary school, but also sends a personal card containing one dollar to each student who gets published in the ‘Write-On’ section in the Wednesday edition of the Kingsport Times News. Every week, students answer a specific question. If the student’s response is chosen and printed in ‘Write-On,’ Gerry awards them with a special card.
“Kids who get chosen are thrilled to death,” Gerry said. “Some of them will never have their name in the paper or receive that kind of recognition. The parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles can’t wait for Wednesday’s paper to come out!”
Gerry also helped to come up with an incentive program which awards students who have a perfect attendance record. Every month, Gerry gives $10 to the student whose name is drawn from a list of those with perfect attendance that month. At the end of the year, she awards $100 to another student whose name is drawn. “Sometimes kids miss school when they don’t really have to. This helps to give them an incentive to stay in school,” she said.
Over the years, Gerry has been instrumental in helping to bring several reading programs to the school, such as the ‘Read To Me’ and the Accelerated Reader Program. Donating her own money as rewards, Gerry provided motivation to encourage the students to read more books. Although the Accelerated Reader Program was discontinued this year, Gerry continues to encourage students to read. An avid reader herself, her love of reading is something she has passed on to many students over the years.
According to Sarah Medukas, assistant principal at Hilton Elementary School, Gerry is greatly loved by the students and staff.
“The kids get so excited when she comes in. They love and respect her,” she said.
Every month, Gerry faithfully delivers birthday cards to kindergarten, first and second grade students with one dollar tucked inside. One year, Gerry took the entire school to the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons. Another year, she took them to the Bristol Motor Speedway's Speedway in Lights.
“We have kids that just aren’t going to have those privileges without her,” Sarah said. “She is such a great part of our community and such a great supporter of our kids.”
Gerry was away from home for over 40 years pursuing her career. After she graduated from high school, she attended the Whitney School of Business in Kingsport. She went on to work as a Director of Medical Records for hospitals in Tennessee, Florida, Georgia and New Orleans.
“I had the reputation of being able to go in and clean up a mess and to bring a place up to date,” she said. As a consultant to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals, Gerry conducted lectures and seminars across the country. She traveled to places such as Puerto Rico, New York, Seattle, and many other states. After a long and successful career, Gerry retired from the medical records business. “I enjoyed every minute of it and enjoyed every place I ever went to,” she said.
Not one to be idle, Gerry frequently visits the Hilton Elementary School, the Gate City Library and her gym, the Great Body Company of Kingsport where she works out three times a week. When asked her secret to longevity, she said, “I think it’s because I was always happy.” She jokingly calls herself a ‘recycled teenager.’
“You don’t want me to say I’m an old woman do you?” she laughed. Reflecting on her philosophy for life, she offered the following advice: “Strive to do the very best you can. Be happy. Help others and enjoy life to the fullest.”
It appears that this amazing Hiltons resident has done just that.