BELLE RODDENBERRY, TEACHER FOR ALMOST FIFTY YEARS
By Jack R. Mays
Charlton County, Ga. Historian
Charlton County Herald
July 15, 1987
There is no final way to judge the worth of a teacher except in terms of the lives of those she has taught.. Author unknown.
Few of her students believed her when she told them of her plans to rotate among their homes after retirement, spending several days with each of them. They had heard her make the remark often, and joked among themselves about the consequences of such a visit.
It was 1947 and teacher Belle Brantley Roddenberry sat at a small folding table among four of the high school senior class members. One of the class favorites, Ralph (Rastus) Allen, a sort of self-styled stand-up comedian sparred with her verbally, drawing caustic barbs from the long-time teacher in response, as the three female students sat by, enjoying the exchange between the two. Young Allen and Mrs. Roddenberry were really quite fond of each other, but didn’t want to spoil the public images as adversaries they had both worked hard to create.
Mrs. Roddenberry, one of the county’s most respected faculty members, was winding down a teaching career in the county’s schools that began soon after the turn of the century.
As an attractive 26 year-old in 1903, Belle Brantley left her home in Hancock County, Georgia, near Sparta, to take a job as governess and private tutor for the financially well-off Willie Newell family, founders of the little community of Newell, Georgia, near Folkston, a job for which she was well qualified. She had graduated from Southern Female College in LaGrange, Georgia with an A.B. degree, and a degree in music.
Soon after settling in the county, Belle Brantley met John Dunham (Dock) Roddenberry, son of Henry Roddenberry, Jr. After a courtship of nearly a year, in 1905, the two were married by Rev. T.F. Drake, pastor of the Folkston Methodist Church in the church where Mrs. Roddenberry was the pianist and a Sunday School teacher. The couple bought a home in Folkston, on the corner of Magnolia and Main Street.
On March 19, 1910, a son, Leon Culver, was born to the couple. Twenty-one months later, the baby died, but two other children were born to the couple, a daughter, Eloise and a son, Brantley.
Belle Roddenberry began teaching in the Folkston schools soon after the death of their son Leon. She was handed some of the county’s most difficult teaching assignments and her background and training made the tasks look easy.
Mrs. Roddenberry, a prim and proper school teacher, drove her students hard. She lectured long and often to her classes on the difficulties to be faced without an adequate education and she became easily exasperated by those who refused to learn.
In the late twenties the county’s schools faced the prospects of having to close because of a lack of funds. The state of Georgia could not meet its financial obligations and the county was unable to take up the slack because of slow tax collections on the local level.
Belle Roddenberry organized a group of teachers who met with the county and town leaders in an attempt to solve the crisis. The two groups joined forces, appealing to the county’s taxpayers to pay their taxes in order to keep the schools open. The taxpayers responded and the closing was averted.
In 1918 and again in 1929 the county schools faced crises due to epidemics of influenza. On both occasions Belle Roddenberry was first in line to offer her services to the community while the schools were closed until the epidemic subsided.
On July 19, 1939, after 34 years of marriage, Mrs. Roddenberry’s husband, J.D. Roddenberry died after a long long illness.
She taught Latin and Literature in the classrooms through two world wars, 1917 through 1918 and 1942 through 1945. The veteran teacher began to teach children of parents she had taught earlier. Through her entire teaching career, Belle Roddenberry enjoyed the admiration and respect of her students and her fellow faculty members. Somehow, having Belle Roddenberry on the school faculty gave school officials high marks for teacher recruiting.
For many of the years, Belle Roddenberry took on the added responsibility of High School Principal. The school board and school superintendents knew they could place complete confidence in her. They were never disappointed as the classes under her supervision ran like a well-oiled machine.
In June of 1948, Belle Roddenberry, a diminutive, but proud teacher, stood on the graduation stage, handing out the diplomas to the graduating seniors. It was to be her last official function after almost fifty years in public education. The graduates knew they were watching a legend as they crossed the stage to her, to receive their diplomas. The smile on Belle Roddenberry’s face told the story of a job well done.
She watched as the town grew from 200 people to over 2,000 and the school system evolved from small one-room school houses in every nook and cranny of the county, to a modern consolidated system with adequate buildings and the transportation needed to get the students to classes.
Belle Brantley Roddenberry found her way into the hearts of thousands of school students who sat in her classrooms.
After her retirement, Belle Roddenberry kept the promise she had made so many times. She did visit hundreds of homes of former students…often without notice as she appeared at the front door with her little suitcase in hand. “I’m here for the week,” she would tell the astonished former student. The host families always enjoyed her visits…she was never any trouble to them.
She kept up the visits as long as she was physically able. At one former pupil’s home in Folkston, she fell and broke both arms. A long period of convalescence was necessary as her former students hand-fed her during that period.
In the later years, Belle Roddenberry moved to her son Brantley’s home in Atlanta. After many years there, she entered a convalescent home in Atlanta. There she died on September 9, 1974. She was 97. Graveside services were held in Folkston’s Pineview Cemetery with the Rev. Robert Huling officiating. Her son, Brantley, is deceased, but the daughter, Eloise Roddenberry Kilpatrick, lives in Ozark, Alabama. To Eloise were born three daughters, granddaughters of Belle Roddenberry.
Belle Brantley Roddenberry was a vital part of the community for three-quarters of a century. She will long be remembered by those who knew and loved her. Her final worth judged only by the lives of those she had taught.
[A photograph accompanied this article with the following cut line: Ralph Allen (Rastus), right, a sort of self-styled stand-up comedian sparred with her verbally drawing caustic barbs from the long-time teacher in response as three female students, let to right, Dora Nell Higginbotham, Marcelle Prescott and Alcine Thrift looked on, enjoying the exchange. Mrs. Belle Roddenberry is second from right. (1948)]