“We came in here every day,” Martha Francis Dodd McConnell said as she looked around the inside of Possum Trot Church late Tuesday morning. “These were our fondest memories.”
The 90-year-old Berry College alumna sat in front of the third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students of Berry College Elementary and Middle School where she told them about life as a Berry student during the 1930s.
McConnell told the students stories of overalls and dress-clad students, strict teachers and meeting Martha Berry herself during the Old School Days program hosted by Oak Hill & the Martha Berry Museum. McConnell started at Possum Trot Church, called the “cradle of Berry College” by the school’s website, in the third grade and stayed until she moved up to Martha Berry High School.
Along with her classmates, McConnell would catch a bus from the main college campus out to Possum Trot Church, which is just over 5 miles into Berry property.
After students put their things in their classrooms they gathered in the chapel to sing, listen to a devotion and learn the scriptures Martha Berry had painted on the walls.
“We had to memorize all of these verses,” she said looking around the room at the large white scriptures on the wall. “I don’t think I remember any of them,” she added laughing.
There were 36 students who attended the school, she told the BCEMS students, with six in her classroom.
Since there were three school buildings at the church, McConnell said first and second shared one classroom, fourth and fifth in another and sixth and seventh in the last classroom at Possum Trot.
Third grade floated between the first-second and fourth-fifth classrooms she said.
McConnell also shared with students some of the old-fashioned ways her school worked.
For example, she remembers how she and her classmates had to clean every window in the classrooms inside and out.
Students did all of the chores at Possum Trot, she told the students.
“There were no janitors,” she said. “We were it.”
McConnell’s presentation in the old school house was just one part of the BCEMS student’s day at Possum Trot Church.
Earlier in the day students listened to a presentation from the staff of Oak Hill and got to participate in pioneer games.
The Berry College Elementary and Middle School staff came to Oak Hill for this program, Rachel McLucas, interim director and curator for the museum, said. The teachers and staff were really thrilled to hear from McConnell who knew Martha Berry first-hand and could give them insight on their school’s roots, she said.
The history lesson for the BCEMS students came just before Mountain Day, an annual Berry College celebration held at the college around Martha Berry’s birthday. On Friday and Saturday the Mountain Day festivities will be in full swing with the yearly Mountain Day Olympics, talent show, first parents breakfast, picnic, Grand March and finally Marthapalooza.
A special tribute will be held for Martha Berry on Saturday at 10 a.m. on the College Chapel South Lawn with the Grand March beginning at 1 p.m.
The full schedule, available on the Berry College website, has the entire schedule for Friday’s and Saturday’s events.