With the majority of her teaching career in the Vilonia School District, one of Bronnie Rose’s favorite memories is when “the Smith boy” jumped out of the window on a dare.
Back in those days the school had no air conditioning, and windows were raised during the day to circulate air. There were no screens. At the time of the event, Rose was busy helping a student with business math. When she looked up, she said, “Fred Smith came walking in the door.” Just minutes before, he had been sitting at the back of the classroom. Getting to the bottom of it, she learned the youngster had jumped out the window with the promise from his peers he would be paid for his act.
“I made them pay up too,” Rose said, a smile on her face. “I told him if they didn’t pay him to tell me.”
Of course, Smith didn’t get off that easy. She took care of him at the end of the class. He was told to not do it again and warned of the impending dangers of such a stunt.
Rose’s life is an open book that she said she doesn’t mind sharing. “I think I have a beautiful story to tell. I love my family. Family is the most important people to me, but that does not exclude me loving other people.”
On that note, she also said, “God has orchestrated my life — every little piece of the puzzle.”
With a sense of humor, she began telling her life story by saying, “I started dyeing my hair when I was 70 and got my ears pierced. I thought Jerry Rose deserved a better looking woman.”
She has nothing but good to say about her late husband, who died in 2008. The last nine or so years of his life he suffered with Parkinson’s disease. Taking care of him during that battle really took a toll on her but she wouldn’t have had it any other way. They had been married 52 years when he died. The couple talked frankly about how they should handle his dying.
“We said if we are what we claim to be, we could handle it,” she said. “He was a trooper. He did a fine job. When he got his promotion, I didn’t get mine. God has more work for me to do and I’m busy doing it.”
He was a good provider for his family, a good father and husband. In his later years, he built houses for a living — including the one where she lives. Pointing to the many photos on the walls, she said they have three successful daughters Blyson (Kelso), Sherry (Loyd) and Melanie (Albat).
Rose was born in 1936 in Mount Vernon when “the Big Depression was letting up.” She was about 7 when her mother, Vera, died and her sister, Bonnie, was about 3. They also had two brothers, Calvin and Alvin. Alvin died when he was 21 in 1947. She was raised by her dad, Abraham Lincoln Hawkins, along with the help of others, including her Aunt Ollie and Uncle George, who she said were special.
She graduated from Mount Vernon High School — valedictorian of her class — in 1953 at the age of 16. By the 9th grade, she had made up her mind to become a teacher.
“I had such fine teachers; I wanted to be like them,” she said. She attended Arkansas State Teachers College, now the University of Central Arkansas, in Conway. After about two years, she was hired to teach at Big Flat. That’s where she met her soon-to-be husband. He caught her eye when they were both in a café drinking a soda. They were married on April Fool’s Day of the next year.
Of course, the two had a standing joke about the proposal. “He said he was just joking when he asked me and I took him up on it.”
While they were dating, he joined the U.S. Army. As soon as she could, she joined him where he was stationed in California. It wouldn’t be long afterwards until he received orders to go to Germany. Blyson was born while he was serving overseas. Rose said she took the opportunity while he was gone to go back to college.
Out of the military, the family moved to Nashville, Tenn., to allow him to go to school. While there, she worked as an executive secretary in a factory and he managed service stations. The couple also “ordered” their second child, Sherry.
In April 1963, they moved to Mount Vernon. Their third daughter, Melanie, was born the next year. Jerry began operating a store there and continued about four years. Bronnie took a job teaching business in the Mount Vernon School District under superintendent W.K. Manning. A short time later, her sister, Bonnie, began teaching home economics there.
Talking about her sister, Rose begins to tear up. Her sister, she said, is her rock. “I think our mother prayed hard for God to take care of her two little girls,” Rose said. Close-knit, she said her sister helped her take care of her husband, especially when he was very bad. And Bronnie knows her sister is always just a phone call away. Since 1970, they have lived within a mile of each other.
“The beautiful part of my story is how God has kept me and Bonnie together. And we are strong in our faith,” she said.
In 1968, Manning became superintendent at Vilonia and invited both Bronnie and Bonnie to join him in the Vilonia District. Both did just that — but not without some regrets. Bronnie said she loved teaching at Mount Vernon.
“I promised the kids, when there was a ballgame, I would not holler against them,” she said. “I didn’t until all the kids I taught graduated.”
Skipping a lot of the details regarding the decision to leave Mount Vernon, Bronnie said her husband tired of the store and was working in Conway at the Baldwin Piano Company at the time. A family move, she said, “I fell in love with Vilonia. I like everything about it.”
While teaching at Vilonia High School, she served in many capacities throughout the 31 years. She taught business math, served as the public information coordinator, served as sponsor of the Beta Club, served as FBLA sponsor and put out the Eagle Screams school newspaper monthly for about 15 years. She took students on state and national trips, and the students not only garnered recognition but she did as well. At one state Beta conference, she recalled, her students won the talent show for their dance to a rendition of the McDonald’s Big Mac song. “They changed the wording on it,” she said. “It was all the students doing. They worked hard.”
In those days, she said, there were very few sit-down lunches. Ed Sellers served as the principal and as her immediate boss. In addition to Manning, she served under two other superintendents, including Dr. Frank Mitchell.
“Dr. Frank Mitchell was good to Bronnie Rose,” she said, adding “I may not have always agreed with him though.”
She retired with a total of 37 years in teaching. She said she probably would have stayed longer but she wanted to help her siblings take care of her dad in his final years. He was 100 when she retired. He died in 2006 — living until he was 107 years old. “He was as sharp as a tack on Saturday and died on Sunday,” she said.
One of the most important things to Rose is her church involvement. She attends two almost every Sunday morning. She has been going to Second Baptist Church in Conway for 46 years. She also attends Point of Grace Church, where her son-in-law, Erich Albat, serves as the pastor. She leaves one church and hurries to the other for a second service.
Jokingly, she said, “I’m so mean it takes two churches to keep me in shape.”
Her calendar stays full. She has to “pick and choose” almost every day on what she will leave until the next. There’s just not enough time for her, she said, to do everything she wants to do. The list of organizations she is involved in is too long to mention. Naming a few, she is the facilitator of a Parkinson’s Disease Support Group. She is also involved in Soaring Wings Ranch, and she has been a member of Kappa, Kappa IOTA for about 40 years. She visits the sick. Last week, she made fudge for a visiting group of Nail Benders who were putting up a church in the area. She has begun taking painting lessons and works in her flowers. She also works out two or three days a week.
Yet the brightest spot in her life involves her five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren who frequent her house. With a smile on her face, she recites their names: Rose, Rachael, Amanda Rose, Michael, Joshua, Jace, Grace, Grady, Bristol and Harlee Rose.