Mary Lucille Birden White

White, Mary Lucille Birden

Mary was born in 1923 in Sevierville, Tennessee. Her father was a Brick Mason by trade and did farming on the side, and her mother was a schoolteacher prior to marriage. Her father also raised chickens for a hotel. Her parents had eight children, and Mary was the only girl in a family of seven boys.

During her early school years, no provision was made for the education of African-American children beyond the eighth grade. After graduating from the eighth grade, Mary stayed out of school for a year. Then, her parents sent her to another town, Greenville, TN, to live with her mother's brother to attend high school. There, she was active in school activities and graduated as valedictorian of the class from George Clem High School (Knoxville) in 1943.

Mary loved school dearly, but her parents could not afford to send her to college. So, for a year, she worked as a clerk in her uncle's grocery store until her parents reluctantly agreed to let her go to New York under the care of her sister-in-law, whose husband (Mary’s brother) was serving in the Army during World War II. In New York, Mary worked three years as a clerk in the Processing Division of the Internal Revenue Service. When the war ended, so did her job. Then, she worked one year as a Clerk-Typist for the National League of Nursing Education.

During World War II, she became a pen pal with a Navy buddy of one of my brothers, named John R. White. After the War and after a few visits, they were married in 1948 and lived in Peoria, Illinois, where he was attending Bradley University. Together, they had two daughters, both college graduates and successful in their chosen careers. This brought Mary much pride, as she was never able to complete college. She also has three grandsons who are also college graduates.

Mary’s thirst for an education led her to take courses at various places, including a business college in New York and later in Champaign. While she did not work outside the home for the first twelve years of marriage, she kept the children of friends so their mothers could work. She also did ironing for some University of Illinois students during the days of starched shirts and blouses, and typing for some University students. Thinking that she could go to the University of Illinois at night, Mary received a permit to enter the University. However, she then learned that night courses were not offered for under-graduates. So, she continued her quest for knowledge by taking a correspondence course from the University. Since then, she has taken several classes from Parkland College, as well as classes in the Adult Education Programs in the Champaign and Urbana School Systems.

Mary worked twenty-three years in the Superintendent's Office of the Urbana School District #116 and was Payroll Clerk for twenty-one of those years. After retiring in 1983, she became affiliated with Provena Covenant Medical Center, where she delivered Patient Mail for roughly fifteen years. She was also a member of the Salem Baptist Church.

After retiring, she became active in the Seniors Group at Douglass Center, became an avid bowler, and travelled extensively around the United States. At age 84, she travelled to Alaska with her daughters where she flew in a helicopter, landed on a lake in a pontoon plane, rode across a glacier in a dogsled, and watched bears catching salmon on the Kenai Peninsula.

Mary Lucille Birden White passed away in 2017 at age 93. She was preceded by her husband and one grandson, and is survived by her daughters, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and a wealth of family and friends.