Local News

May 18, 2014

Historical society honors those with a 'love for history'

— Mother and daughter Louise and Nellena Smith weren’t looking for recognition.

They just think it’s important to help document history and pass the information along to others.

The Smiths were recognized by the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society on Sunday for all their contributions and donations of time and resources to preserving history in Whitfield County. They received the 2014 Historical Preservation Award. The Lt. Col. William M. Luffman Camp of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans were also recognized, as well as several others who have contributed to preserving history in the area.

“I didn’t expect anything like this,” Louise Smith said. “I’ve always loved history. It was my favorite subject in school. That’s the reason we’ve taken part, the reason I do history books about the families.”

The meeting was held at Whitfield-Murray History Center and Archives on Chattanooga Avenue.

Historical society member Jan McNeill, who presented them with their award, said the Smiths have spent many years helping with the historical society. They have written books chronicling their family history, spearheaded the rummage sale fundraiser for the society, and they have spent many hours at Prater’s Mill, a grist mill in Varnell that is still operational and a historical site. Nellena Smith, a retired fifth-grade school teacher at Tunnel Hill, developed the site’s Cultural Heritage Days where elementary students learn about the mill and tasks, such as making homemade kites and cooking cornbread.

“(Louise Smith) and I were both at Prater’s Mill for years,” Nellena Smith said. “We were out there one year and Judy (Alderman, president of the Prater’s Mill Foundation) came by and said, ‘What would you think about us bringing our fifth-graders out here?’ and that’s how it all started. We, as teachers, got together and called it Cultural Heritage Day. When we started it was all hands-on. They made cornbread.... Mom came out and quilted with them. One year we did hand-tufting. We did a variety of those type of things.”

The program started 15 years ago, and it has continued and grown so that other schools also attend the program annually.

“My hope was that it would continue and overflow to other schools,” Nellena Smith said. “I always emphasized historical preservation with the students, why we keep these buildings, preserve what we’ve got. Sometimes that kind of thing gets lost.”

She echoed her mother’s sentiment.

“I did it because I wanted to,” she said. “You don’t do it so you’ll get stuff.”

McNeill called her the “rummage sale queen” because of all her time dedicated to organizing it.

“Louise and Nellena are hard workers for the historical society,” she said. “Ellen Thompson (historical society member) once said, ‘You know when Nellena does something, it will be done right.’”

The Sons of the Confederate Veterans were recognized for the upkeep of many Confederate veteran graves in Murray County.

“They have tirelessly cleaned the grounds” of several cemeteries in Murray, McNeill said. “We have a lot over in Murray County, and it takes a lot of work and they have done a wonderful job.”

The organization’s members have placed markers in several cemeteries, planted flowers, improved driveways and markers, pressure washed above-ground vaults and done other maintenance. They have placed a monument for Confederate veterans at the Murray County Courthouse. They also sponsor the annual Confederate Memorial Day service and have hosted tours of cemeteries where they talk about the veterans buried there.

Also, recognized were the society’s scholarship winners.

They are:

• Stephanie Edwards from Murray County High School.

• Alexandria Wilbanks from Coahulla Creek High School.

• William Alderman from Dalton High School.

• Hunter Cox, Rachel Kepley and Timothy Southerland from North Murray High School.

“These are reward scholarships for work these young people have already done in local history,” said society member Tim Howard. “It’s not just about who wrote the best term paper. This is for work they have already done, some for years.”

Eagle Scouts Tracey Findley, Asa Hibbett and David Jewell were recognized and thanked for work they did with the society for their Eagle Scout projects. And the Murray County 4-H Club was thanked for helping at the Chief Vann House each year.

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