March 25, 2014

Winthrop exhibit honors SC Mother of the Year recipients

Winthrop University hosted on Tuesday an exhibit to honor South Carolina’s past recipients of the Mother of the Year Award. Several people in attendance had ties to the college and the York County area.

In a room full of great women – many of them past South Carolina Mothers of the Year – Winthrop University senior Corey Jones said he knew who mattered the most: his mom.

His mother, Jackie Jones, wasn’t the event’s guest speaker or sole special guest on Tuesday afternoon at Winthrop. But, as a mother, she was exactly the person that the university and others hoped to honor as it held an exhibit to showcase the state’s Mother of the Year Award archives.

And to Corey Jones, his mother may as well have been the only person in the room. He already knew what presenters pointed out during the exhibit: mothers have a great impact on society, through raising children, leading by example, and taking on multiple roles in the workplace and their communities.

One picture on display at Winthrop’s Louise Pettus archives was of Corey Jones as a child with his family and his grandmother Margie Mitchell, who received the state’s Mother of the Year Award in 2003. An active member of her church and community, Mitchell ran a day care in Beaufort for 50 years.

Some of the children she cared for through the years would have liked to have claimed her as their mother, but Margie Mitchell was officially mom to only six lucky children, said her daughter Margie Mitchell, who is named after her mother.

The state Mother of the Year Award was a tremendous honor, her daughter said, and especially timely for the family because Margie Mitchell died a year after receiving the award.

A human nutrition major at Winthrop, Corey Jones said he remembers his grandmother as a loving person and someone who was always busy but never appeared overwhelmed.

“She never showed sweat,” he said.

Margie Mitchell’s lasting impact on her family is similar to the legacy of all the other women named as mothers of the year in South Carolina.

Winthrop is now the custodian of the award’s archives, dating to 1942. Martha Cranford and Shirley Fishburne, both of Rock Hill, recently completed a book to honor the mothers of the year.

To write “Seventy Years of Remarkable Women: South Carolina Mothers of the Year,” Cranford and Fishburne worked with the university’s library archives and women’s studies program director, Jennifer Disney. Some Winthrop students, faculty and staff will begin this summer on a related oral history project to document the women Disney calls “powerful, dynamic, strong and devoted” South Carolina mothers.

Once an all-female college, best known for training South Carolina’s teachers, Winthrop has a rich history connected to many of the women named in the past as Mother of the Year.

Winthrop’s first student body president and a 1912 graduate, Sarah Jane Heriot Guess, was the 1953 state Mother of the Year. Caroline Dick McKissick Belser Dial, a 1921 graduate, was the South Carolina Mothers Committee’s first chair and founded the Mother of the Year Award in 1942 with The State newspaper in Columbia.

Disney listed several other special South Carolina mothers who had ties to Winthrop and many of them have descendants who have graduated from or are attending the university. The book, exhibit and upcoming oral history project are important, she said, to remind people that “all mothers are working mothers.”

The contributions of women, especially mothers, is sometimes overlooked, Disney said.

But, she said, “women’s domestic labor in the private sphere ... and their philanthropy, volunteerism and civic engagement in the community are essential to reproducing the relationships that form the very foundations of our society.”

Though the Mother of the Year Award is undoubtedly an honor, many of the women Winthrop on Tuesday said they were just being the best mom they could be to their children – regardless of any awards that may have been given.

“I often wondered, ‘Why me?’ ” said 83-year-old Betty Ulmer McGregor, who was named 2009 state and national Mother of the Year.

Her youngest child, Sam McGregor, is the pastor at York’s Allison Creek Presbyterian Church.

Betty and Sam McGregor raised their children on a dairy farm just outside Columbia. She also served as a church treasurer for nearly 20 years and kept the family business finances in order.

The key to raising her children well, she said on Tuesday, was giving them independence and “letting them develop their talents.”

Looking back, Sam McGregor Jr. says his mother never made comparisons between her five children. And, his parents’ marriage, he said, was a model one – one of equality and respect.

As the McGregors, the Joneses and the Mitchells gathered to honor the great women in their life on Tuesday, Disney said the event was fitting to be held during Winthrop’s inauguration week for its 10th president. President Jamie Comstock is Winthrop’s second female president.

As an “inspirational, collaborative leader,” Comstock shares many qualities with S.C. Mothers of the Year, Disney said, adding that she “manifests an unflappable commitment to diversity and gender equity.”

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