William and Frances Berryman came to Sylacauga High School in the fall of 1957. I was in the tenth grade and excited, but a little bit nervous about taking some new subjects, algebra, biology, and typing. Algebra I and the teacher had a reputation that made anyone going that route nervous. Biology and Typing I had brand new teachers, a couple from Town Creek, Alabama; and students were buzzing about how young they were: “He’s big with a smile to match his frame and a voice that makes you want to listen, and when he is not teaching, he plays guitar and sings. Mrs. Berryman is a real beauty, with pretty clothes, a soft voice, and together they just do not seem to be a matched pair.” The “young” part was repeated over and over. At that time there was very little turnover in the faculty at SHS, and many of the people who taught you had taught your older siblings or even your parents. The Berrymans were a breath of fresh air.
This was the beginning of the Berrymans capturing our hearts. They both were obviously not called to teach subjects, but called to teach students, and that always involved unique ways to help them “get it.” Immediately Mr. Berryman established a rapport with his songs, “When I was a boy, and old Shep was my dog…..” always brought tears to teenage eyes. He spotted talent and unusual capabilities that year in biology and the next in chemistry, but he always instigated teaching strategies so that those who did not catch-on to the subject matter so easily could be successful, too. He encouraged reading scientific books for the right brains like myself, but he challenged the bright left brains whose early strategies to get him engaged in off-the-subject matter failed. He established the Atom Crackers Science Club, and students flocked to join. When I see my face, Ginger George, in the yearbook as Librarian, I smile. I was one of those readers of scientific books, but in no way was I a scientist or wannabe. I liked science because I had a great teacher.
Mrs. Berryman was more reserved than her outgoing husband, but she tried hard to conduct a focused typing class despite the bad boys and a few mischievous girls who tried to start ahead of “go” in the timed tests. These were adolescents who misbehaved not because they disliked her but because they idolized her. I know it must have been hard, and she often judged herself too harshly, and tears would come close to the surface. She taught Bookkeeping also; and instead of Trig, I took that elective because of her. She was an encourager just like her husband, and solving problems in that class was something that I used many times in the years to come. She took an interest in me and saw in me a maturity that I did not know I had. I never forgot that encouragement.
He was principal at Sylacauga High from 1963-66. In 1966 Bill and Frances Berryman took a sabbatical and went to Gainesville to get his doctorate. They came back to Sylacauga in 1967 and he became the Director of Curriculum for the system here. Clemmie Hawkins remembers, “Dr. Berryman was amazing. I worked with him for a short time at East Highland School. He was the Director of Curriculum at that time. He was also an amazing principal.
It was in 1971 that Dr. Berryman joined the State Department of Education where he served as Special Assistant to the State Superintendent of Education. The Berrymans lived in Montgomery where they attended Whitfield United Methodist Church. They had a son, Bob and a daughter Terri. Dr. Berryman loved his country and was a Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, 375th Battalion.
Dr. Berryman came to my family’s rescue twice. In 1969 when the Shell Plant closed and my husband lost his job as Safety Director there, he found that he also needed surgery. I was not working, and we had a new baby less than a year old. Dr. Berryman reconnected with me at Grant’s where I had taken a part-time job as a cashier and offered me a job teaching kindergarten at Drew Court. He was right. I loved it and, subsequently, I began focusing on elementary education as I traveled to UAB for night classes at the end of the work day. Later at UAB there was a problem at the end of my course work, and the Dean of Elementary Education was unwilling to budge from the rules to help me solve it. Dr. Berryman came up the hall that day from Montgomery; and when he heard about the issues I was having, went into the Dean’s office and talked with her to make it possible for me to graduate as planned at the end of May, 1980. So this writing is personal to me because Dr. Bill Berryman took the time to help me pursue the calling on my life to teach (for a 38 year career).
Dr. William Berryman died August 19, 2005; but shortly before, in May 2005, he was honored by 25 of his former students with a foundation chair. Each of those students contributed $1,000 toward this Sylacauga City Schools Foundation, the 33rd chair at that time.
Mrs. Berryman continues to live in Montgomery, and according to former students Bob Green and Harry Brown, is still as sharp and lovely as ever. Jeannie and Jim Green remain connected through their long-term connection with the Berrymans and Alabama football.
In case you are wondering, teachers are not always loved by everyone, but this dynamic duo made an impression on Sylacauga that continues until this day. Their success was largely because of who they were, how they were raised, and how they encouraged others. They were both great teachers, patriotic citizens, and practiced servant-leadership, and it was not so long ago at that.