Mrs. Beth Yates
Ninety-Seven minus sixty-seven equals thirty. Even as I write this, I can hardly believe that this remarkable lady was thirty years older than I.
She kept her age to herself, and even when she had a birthday, she evaded the revelation of how many years she had lived. She did not get old in her spirit, but stayed
active in this community and was enthusiastic about everything worthwhile that went on here.
She died this week, but she will live on in the relationships that she made in this little town of 13,500 people, and in the long list of things she accomplished in her
lifetime. She taught the children of Sylacauga so much, especially social graces and how to dance.She worked in the Sylacauga Parks and Recreation program for some
fifty-five years, and she and her side-kick, Maxie Veazey, endeared themselves to class after class of young people who came through the Rec’s programs. The dancing
Ms. Beth taught was not the dancing with the stars risque dancing, but at the onset of rock and roll, it definitely was questionable; yet mothers and daddies (even Baptists) enthusiastically sent their daughters and sons to learn square dancing, the Bunny Hop, waltz, two-step, jitterbug, twist, the Bop, etc., depending on the current craze. This instruction started in sixth grade with a one afternoon a week club called “Tween Teens.” In the seventh grade instruction continued in “Lucky Sevens” and then “Eight Ball” in the eighth grade. When I think back about the throng of giggling, fun-loving, loud, children that descended on that quiet, cool auditorium, I ask, “Why? Why would they encourage this?” This was their work, their joy that did not appear to be work to them. Mrs. Yates and Maxie had some very creative ways of getting people involved. Of course there were not as many boys who attended as girls; Little League was starting in those years, too; and in the spring especially, the boys’ attendance waned. Most of the boys who did attend especially in the sixth grade year were several inches to a foot shorter than most of the girls. No matter! Girls just danced together. After all, the object was to learn some social graces. There were various ways to match-off with a partner; this was done so that not only the prettier and more developed girls, but the late bloomers as well, got a chance to dance with the small group of boys. My least favorite way to select a partner was “the shoe method.” Boys and girls took off their shoes, and the girls threw one shoe in the center of the floor; at the whistle the boys would go pick a shoe and find the girl to whom it belonged. She would be his partner for the next dance. I hated this activity because I had big feet and usually plain, practical shoes compared to some of my petite friends with tiny feet and expensive, pretty shoes.
Mrs. Yates and Maxie handled crowd control and the old record player with ease. They never had to raise their voices in anger, and the patience they had went largely unnoticed
then, but seems like a miracle to me now.All of this practice from September to December culminated in a ball for each age group, held in December. The parents were invited to this
of course because they had to drive kids too young to drive to the Rec. There we had lots of firsts: first real dance, first formal attire, first corsages, etc.This work with children was in
addition to other activities held at the recreation center for teenagers, adults, senior adults, and special events in athletics and the arts. Mrs. Yates and Maxie supervised a group of eight playgrounds with wonderful programs during the summer that included sports, movies, contests, and lots of fun. These parks were safe places to spend summer afternoons
supervised by capable college interns who developed wonderful friendships with the students who frequented the parks. These were special young supervisors who actually appeared to
enjoy these long hot afternoons with kids, people like Mollie Ogletree Wickersham at Memorial Park (now Beth Yates Park). These programs required great effort and planning. Chairs
were set up for the Friday night movies, and the old projectors had to be hauled to the parks. Creativity led to many special interest nights like: Tacky Night, Backwards Night, Bring Your Pet,
the Wild West extravaganza, etc. There were two swimming pools and lots of activities including swimming lessons and synchronized swim teams and programs that featured them.
Mrs. Yates had a special interest in older people, too. She tried to plan interesting things for them to do and places for them to go since many were unable or disliked to travel alone. It was
through her interest in older citizens at her church that my relationship with Mrs. Yates was renewed and strengthened. I grew up to be an elementary school teacher with storytelling as my
hobby. I often used that hobby when opportunities arose with children, and at my church began telling stories to adult groups. One day my phone rang, and it was Mrs. Beth. “Ginger,”
she said,“I hear you are a marvelous storyteller, and I want you to come to First Methodist and tell some of your stories to our group of senior citizens, the Hilltoppers. I am the program
director for this group, and I just can’t wait to hear your stories. We’ll serve you a good dinner and have a good time together.” It was one of those you can’t say no – requests, and
I told her that I would be happy to come. She was right. The dinner was wonderful, and Mrs. Yates was far too generous in her appraisal of my abilities and stories.
“I did not know you could do this,” she kept saying. “It was just wonderful,” and as she had the ability to do, she made me feel very special. She asked me about my friends who had been in
my class of silly sixth graders, and I got a sense that she was proud to have helped raise us.
This was the first of several times that I visited the Hilltoppers, and these experiences led to other calls from Mrs. Yates inviting me to be her guest at the Sylacauga Arts Council banquets
at the First Methodist Church. I really felt special to be Mrs. Yates special guest as she was usually honored by the Arts Council with some award or special recognition at each event.
It was at one of these events that I met Sammie, her faithful friend who took care of her when her husband died and age and infirmity began to take its toll. These imposters were not
welcome in Mrs. Yates’ life, and she kept her youthful look, that sparkle in her eyes, and the determination that she was getting better and would soon be back walking. We were told
at the funeral service for her yesterday that her exercise bike stood ready to aid this strengthening process even when others doubted that it was possible. Rev. Lewis Archer, a fairly
new-on-the-scene Methodist preacher knew Mrs. Yates well enough to be comfortable, mentioning that one of the attendees at the service felt that Mrs. Yates would approve if
we all lined up and did the Bunny Hop. Dr. Bob Gunn did a marvelous job of assessing Mrs. Beth Yate’s life in a way that she would have heartily approved. He gave credit to God
who gave Mrs. Beth some special talents that she used through and because of her relationship with Him. Then he surprised us all with a song he said expressed the spirit of the day
of Beth Yates’ home-going: “Zippity-de-do-dah , Zippity-de-ay, My oh my what a wonderful day, Plenty of sunshine headin’ my way, Zippity-de-do-dah , Zippity -de- ay.” It was
a wonderful day when God received His faithful servant, Mrs. Beth Yates, after a long, productive, and very fruitful life. I could only recall the Lord’s words, “Well done thy good
and faithful servant—-enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Matt. 25:21.