Local News

February 9, 2014

Educator’s legacy lives on through literacy

Minnie Marsh didn’t expect to spend most of Sunday smiling.

But she did.

Sunday would have been her daughter’s birthday. Willisa Harriet Marsh would have been 36, but she died in April of last year following a lengthy illness with an undiagnosed neurological disorder.

Those who loved her, those who were influenced by her and those who influenced her, celebrated her birthday with a party where the theme was promoting literacy. Willisa, a 1996 Dalton High School graduate and a 2000 Berry College graduate, was an elementary school teacher at Varnell and Valley Point schools during her career.

“Laughter is good,” Marsh said. “It has really warmed me and warmed by heart. I know Willisa would be thrilled at her birthday party today. Thank you for holding us up and for praying for us.”

Marsh said Willisa was always excited about school and learning.

“Willisa went to first grade,” Marsh recalled. “She was so excited that morning. So when she got home, I was excited and asked her about it. She started crying.”

Marsh asked her daughter what was wrong.

“She said, ‘I stayed the whole day, but I didn’t learn how to read,’” Marsh said. “When she came out of first grade she could read, and she never stopped.”

Willisa’s father, Hubert Marsh, said his daughter had been a teacher since “day one.”

He thanked all her educators who were present.

“Thank you to the men and women who helped shape Willisa and make her an educator,” he said. “It has been a great day for us. We’re surprised it has been.”

Willisa loved books and encouraged others, especially her students, to read. A collection of her books that had been donated to the Emery Center was on display at the celebration. Each child who attended Sunday received a free book and there were several people who read stories aloud for the crowd.

Ansley Montgomery, who lives in Rome, read a book in Willisa’s memory to honor her family.

Montgomery described her as a big sister with an unforgettable smile. The two met while Willisa was attending Berry.

“I loved her,” Montgomery said. “She always loved kids.... Her love always showed everywhere she went.”

Joycelyn Willis Richards, Willisa’s cousin, had hoped to arrange a day for her to read at the Emery Center, but it didn’t happen before her death. So Richards decided to honor her cousin’s memory with the literacy day.

“It has superseded my expectations,” Richards said. “It’s overwhelming.”

Richards said her cousin loved to help other people, and even on her 30th birthday while the two were supposed to be celebrating, she was working on a program for her church.

“If she was involved, it was perfection,” she said. “If she was doing something, she would do it right. ... Everything turned out beautiful. I always needed Willisa’s encouragement and support.”

Willisa would open her home to others and loved having company, Richards said.

“All these people were affected one way or another by her,” she said, referring to the crowd of about 100 gathered at the Mack Gaston Community Center.

“Her legacy does live on,” Hubert Marsh said.

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