Sent to The Frederick Leader and The Frederick Press, May 10, 2011
|Frederick Elementary students helped Clara Berry celebrate her 96th birthday in January 1989.|
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Clara Berry gave lasting gift to Frederick
The most special gifts are those that keep on giving.
That’s the kind of gift that Clara Berry gave to the citizens of Frederick in 1987.
|Gilbert and Clara Berry|
In the mid-1980s Frederick voters failed to pass a school bond issue that would have built a much-needed high school library. Mrs. Berry, then a resident of Pioneer Manor Nursing Home, offered to donate money to build the library. She was a former educator and she knew that libraries are important.
In stature, Mrs. Berry was a very small lady. She and her husband Gilbert had lived quietly in Frederick for about 60 years until his death in 1983. After his death, she had sold her home on North 12th Street and gone to the nursing home to live.
Mrs. Berry grew up south of Gillett, Arkansas, where her father, Dr. J.A. Hudson, was a prominent physician. Her mother died when she was very young. Clara was the oldest of four children.
She was educated at a private boarding school in Memphis and became a teacher and later a school principal in Arkansas.
In the early 1920s she came to southwest Oklahoma to teach at Randlett. At Randlett she met Gilbert Berry who worked at the First National Bank there.
|Clara Berry as a young woman|
Soon after their marriage the Berrys moved to Frederick. Mrs. Berry gave up her teaching career to be a housewife, and Mr. Berry worked as an accountant and bookkeeper for numerous Frederick businesses.
The Berrys lived simply, and they did so by choice. They never owned a car or a television. Their home was not air-conditioned. They ate simple, healthy foods and most days they went to the grocery store to buy just what they needed for that day.
At his death Mr. Berry, the careful accountant, left many pocket journals, each listing in careful detail their daily living expenses – what they bought and what each item cost. They spent their money carefully and wisely.
They had no children, although several nieces and nephews visited occasionally. Eventually, Mrs. Berry’s sister Ina Hudson came to Frederick from Arkansas to make her home with the Berrys.
Gilbert Berry died in November 1983 at age 94. Clara Berry’s sister Ina died in June 1985 at age 86.
Instead of being sad about her life at Pioneer Manor, Mrs. Berry viewed those years as a time of service. She was always positive and giving, and she liked to help other residents.
To structure Mrs. Berry’s donation to the Frederick Schools for construction of the library, the Frederick School Enrichment Foundation was created in 1987. Among the first Foundation trustees were Homer Tilley, a longtime Frederick insurance agent and Berry family friend; Howard McBee, longtime Frederick attorney; and Loyd Benson.
|Clara Berry with one of her classes|
Superintendent of Frederick Schools at that time was Tony Risinger. Mike Hagy served as high school principal.
Whenever Mrs. Berry discussed her donation for the library, she would often point out that it was not “her” money. It was primarily money that she had inherited from her father’s estate. She did not consider herself a wealthy woman.
Plans for the new high school library and computer lab were drawn by Oklahoma City architect Paul Meyer. During the building’s construction, Mrs. Berry was briefed on its progress and she was excited to see it slowly become a reality. During this time, she received countless cards and visits from Frederick students, thanking her for her generous gift. There is no doubt that it was a high point of her life. She loved every card and visit.
|Gilbert Berry worked at the Randlett bank in the 1920s|
As the library neared completion in May 1989, Mrs. Berry was very ill. She knew that she was dying.
During the days prior to the new library’s dedication, with the building not quite complete, Clara Berry was brought to the new building by ambulance. She was rolled through the building on a stretcher so that she could see the project that had brought her such joy – her gift to Frederick. She was pleased.
Fourth District Congressman Dave McCurdy was featured speaker at the building’s dedication later that week. Clara Berry was not able to attend.
She died on a Sunday morning, just days after the new library was dedicated. She was 96 years old.
The Berrys are buried at an old family cemetery south of Gillett, Arkansas, near the place where Clara Hudson Berry was raised.
Today one wall of the Gilbert and Clara Berry Library at Frederick High School contains photos and artifacts from the Berrys’ lives. Prominent is a wonderful portrait of the couple that was taken by Richard Tomlinson at their home on North 12th Street.
The display also contains photos of the Berrys from when they were young and from their careers in early education and banking.
In addition, the wall display contains plaques and awards that Mrs. Berry received from local and state organizations in recognition of her wonderful gift.
The Gift Keeps Giving
Mrs. Berry bequeathed part of her estate to the Frederick School Enrichment Foundation.
Each year at graduation, the Frederick School Enrichment Foundation gives the Clara Berry Twentieth Century Award and scholarship to one outstanding student. The award is the continuation of a tradition begun in 1918 by Frederick physician Dr. L.A. Mitchell and then assumed for decades by Frederick’s Twentieth Century Club.
The Frederick School Enrichment Foundation, established in 1987 by Clara Berry, is governed by a board of community trustees. It is not part of the Frederick Public School District, but works to supplement or enhance education for Frederick students.
It operates with donations from individuals and businesses, and interest from the Foundation endowment.
For more than two decades the Foundation has provided many thousands of dollars in grants to Frederick teachers for educational projects, enhancements to school facilities, and important educational supplies and equipment – things that the school would not have otherwise been able to provide.
Most recently the Foundation has provided funding for school libraries, science labs, and the Frederick School District’s artist-in-residence program.
Clara Berry’s gift keeps on giving.
NOTE: Donations to the Frederick School Enrichment Foundation can be made at Benson Law Firm, N. 9th and Floral, or mailed to P.O. Box 486, Frederick, OK 73542. The Frederick School Enrichment Foundation is a 501-C-3 organization. Contributions to the Foundation are tax-deductible.
Joe Wynn is a member of the Tillman County Historical Society’s board of directors. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.