Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for January 21, 2007

From the Southern Illinoisan...

'One of our Greatest Living Alumni'


She's ridden on dirt roads in a covered wagon, worked in an airplane factory during World War II, taught grade school at the age of 17, lived through the terms of 18 presidents, and as she approaches her first birthday in her second century, she can still recite the Gettysburg Address from memory.

Meet Beulah Goodman Carney, a teacher, philosopher, avid fisherwoman, education enthusiast, full-time Southern Illinois University ambassador and centenarian extraordinaire.

Beulah, who celebrates her 101st birthday Monday, was on the SIUC campus last Sunday to meet with President Glenn Poshard and Chancellor John Dunn and receive a certificate of appreciation.

The meeting took place after Poshard received an e-mail from Beulah's daughters, Janet Carney-Schneider, of Nashville, Tenn., and Judy Carney-Brachear, of Gainesville, Fla. Beulah currently lives in a retirement home in Nashville, Tenn., near her daughter.

Poshard realized as he was reading Beulah's remarkable resume that hers was an extraordinary story.

"Beulah is without a doubt one of our greatest living alumni and she still has the ability to share how important this university was four generations ago. What is so impressive to me is that she can teach our younger generation so much, about the history of this university and how really great it has been in serving the needs of the kids of families like hers," Poshard said. "If you consider a generation every 25 years then you're talking about a span of four generations. What an incredible history lesson."

The inquiry by Beulah's daughters also noted she had never obtained a degree from SIU. While records are not available for the early 1920s when she attended, Poshard said there's the possibility of an honorary degree.

Poshard called Beulah "an ambassador for SIU" and said he plans to ask her back to the campus to speak to different student groups.

"Just think of all the folks she has come in contact with through the years and all the stories she has told," he said. "She loves this place and I can't think of anybody who could tell the story better than she can. What a mind she has - she's 101 years old and still trying to learn."

Birth of a teacher

Beulah was born in Marion on Jan. 22, 1906, when Theodore Roosevelt was president. She grew up on a farm in Johnson County, three miles west of Goreville.

During her first years of teaching she rode a horse five miles to school. And her job as teacher didn't stop there; she was also school nurse, basketball and softball coach, and directed all school plays, sewing every costume by hand.

Also in those days teachers were not allowed to marry and she was expected to spend the night with each child to get to know their families better.

If ever a person was destined to become a teacher, it was Beulah. The path to a 40-plus-year teaching career began during her junior year of high school. When a teacher in a one-room country school near Goreville failed a teacher's exam, the local school board approached Beulah and her parents about filling in for the remainder of the school year.

Of course, the school board had good reason to choose Beulah. Though she was only 17, she already had taken several college courses at SIU, then a teacher's college, and had earned a teacher's certificate.

Southern student

She started attending SIU classes in 1920 at the age of 14, only because her father did not want her older sister, Mamie, to go to Carbondale alone. Beulah still recalls the day-long ride in a horse-drawn covered wagon from the Goreville farm to Carbondale.

She fondly remembered that the wagon contained hams, chicken, sugar, lard and all other essentials for her and Mamie to live at a Carbondale boarding house for the entire summer. The sisters repeated that same process for three summers.

"We had a wagon with a spring seat and there was nothing but dirt roads from Goreville to Carbondale," Beulah said.

It was during those summers that Beulah fell in love with the campus.

"I just loved it here," said Beulah. "I just loved everything about it."

Dunn said in the era when Beulah attended SIU it was not uncommon for someone to obtain a teaching certificate without a degree. He called Beulah "an extraordinary person.

"During her life, she has touched the lives of hundreds and hundreds of students, enriching their minds and equally important, touching their hearts," Dunn said. "I'm confident that the monetary rewards have been small, but the satisfaction knowing that she has helped develop the lives of many students and helped them become valuable members of society is great."

Remarkably alert and with an uncanny memory, Beulah told story after story about her summers at SIU, a time she described as "magical."

She recalled that Henry William Shryock was the president of the college when she attended. He was a disciplinarian she described as "stern."

"Some people called him a bully," Beulah said. "And I heard him called other names I won't repeat."

She lived on University Avenue and walked to the campus every morning. Because there was no cafeteria on campus, she returned to the boarding house at lunchtime and then back to the campus in the afternoon.

She recalled the Allyn Building, Old Main and the auditorium, now named after the stern Shryock.

Life as teacher

After teaching students in first through eighth grades at a one-room school in Goreville, Beulah taught for more than 40 years in the Herrin school district.

The only years she didn't teach were in the early 1940s during World War II, when she took her father's advice and went to work to help the war effort. She moved to Detroit, where she worked in a factory that made airplanes.

The trip to Detroit also proved to be a turning point in Beulah's life.

She met John Joseph Carney and the couple was married in 1943. At the age of 43, Beulah gave birth to daughter Judy, and at age 45, had a second daughter, Janet. John Carney died in 1960 and Beulah never remarried.

She retired from teaching in 1970 at the age of 64 but continued to substitute teach until she was 87.

Beulah credits her love for teaching, education and the opportunity to attend college to her father.

"He never got to go very high in school and he was very interested in education," said Beulah. "When I was in grade school and high school and I would come home at night, he would want to know if I had learned a new word that day and what it meant.

"He was very interested in education and he was determined that my sisters and I were going to go to college. He didn't think my brother needed an education because he could make a living on the farm like he did."

She also proudly points out that her desire to learn didn't stop when she got that teaching certificate. Beulah took classes throughout the years at SIU to further her teaching skills.

Although she's past the century mark, Beulah said the desire to learn has not diminished. She offered as evidence that her favorite television show is "Jeopardy," because it challenges her mind.

Beulah credits her longevity to a number of personal choices including hard work, close family ties and being a teetotaler when it comes to tobacco and alcohol.

"I also go to bed early and get plenty of rest," she said.

Because of scheduling conflicts, the certificate was presented to Beulah on a recent Sunday morning in the SIU Student Center. While addressing those attending, Dunn made note of the unusual time slot.

"Earlier this morning my wife commented to me that I would be missing church because of this ceremony," Dunn said. "But, I assured her that I would be in the company of an angel."