The Wall clan at a Christmas gathering. Many have followed the family tradition of careers involved with education. (Photo: contributed by family)

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Beverly Wall was a direct link between the one-room schools of a century ago to modern education practices of today.

Following her death March 31 at age 87, Beverly — Bev to family and friends — has been remembered as a consummate teacher, although she presided in a formal classroom for only a few years in the late 1950s.

“But when she was a mom, she was a teacher,” says daughter Judy Baker. “When she was a church librarian, she was a teacher. When she was a grandma, she was a teacher. She was a teacher whatever she was doing and wherever she went.”

A resident of Springfield the past 44 years, Bev was born in Sweet Springs, Mo., about 60 miles due east of Kansas City. Her mother, Edna Briggs, taught in rural one-room schools, and Bev witnessed firsthand her mom’s answering what she termed the “clarion call” to the teaching profession.

Beverly Lee Briggs Wall, 1936-2023 (Photo: contributed by family)

“When I was in the third grade,” Bev wrote in a memoir, “my (four) older sisters had left home, making it necessary for my mother to take me with her to her classroom. I went with her daily, boarding the school bus at 7 a.m., riding about seven miles from Sweet Springs to the school, and returning home in the evening after the bus route was ended. This I continued until I had completed the sixth grade.”

Bev marveled at the many roles her mother fulfilled in addition to organizing and imparting lessons for students who ranged in age from 6 to 16, some of whom arrived on horseback from surrounding farms: 

Bev saw that her mom cleaned the classroom and performed other janitorial duties. She built a fire in the furnace to heat the building in winter. She carried pails of water from the hand-pumped outside well. She purchased textbooks and other necessary supplies, and kept meticulous financial records for the school board. She was the recess and noontime monitor as the youngsters took breaks from their studies to burn off energy playing Andy Over and other outdoor games. She was the school nurse, counselor and disciplinarian.

“And she was the community’s social programmer,” Bev wrote of her mom. “She planned and held events at the school to promote community spirit among the parents and to raise money for school improvements. Among these were evenings of school-sponsored cake walks, plays given by students, box suppers and lively musical performances.”

Bev described those 1940s days as “dear to me, for with this foundation I endeavored to become a teacher.” 

She spent 1953-55 at Southwest Baptist College (now University) in Bolivar, earning an associate degree in elementary education. She then moved to Columbia to complete a full-fledged bachelor of science program in education at the University of Missouri.

While in Columbia, she met a medical student from Thayer, Norman Wall, at the Baptist Student Union on the Mizzou campus. 

“A buddy of mine and I were going someplace, and he said, ‘Why don’t you ask Bev to come along?’” Norman recounts. “I did, and it went on from there. We dated for close to a year, and then were married for 66 years.”

Bev Wall was the salutatorian of the Sweet Springs, Mo., High School Class of 1953. (Photo: contributed by family)

Bev received her Mizzou diploma in 1957 and, girded with “a head-full and heart-full of guiding principles,” she signed on as a sixth-grade teacher in the Columbia public school system while Norman completed his medical studies.

The Wall family in the late 1960s — Bev and Dr. Norman Wall, with children Debbie and twins John and Judy. (Photo: contributed by family)

Through the 1960s and ’70s, Norman served as a physician in the U.S. Navy, with assignments to military hospitals from coast to coast, including at San Diego, Calif., Pensacola, Fla., Portsmouth, Va., New York City and Boston. At the latter, son John recalls, “I could look out my bedroom window, across the John F. Kennedy Bridge, and see the tops of the masts of Old Ironsides in Boston Harbor.”

Judy — she and John are twins — says they and older sister Debbie benefited from Bev’s penchant for teaching as they moved around the country.

“Mom would take us to all the historical places in each locale. She took us to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall (in Philadelphia). I remember climbing the stairs of the Washington Monument — and she went up with us. We were like 13 at the time, so she wasn’t a youngster anymore. But up she went.”

John remembers Bev taking him and his sisters to Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts, where the Mayflower deposited the first pilgrims in 1620; to Revolutionary War sites such as Yorktown, Va.; and to places associated with the Civil War such as Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia and Gettysburg, Pa.

‘She wanted to expose us to as much of the good of this country as possible’

“She wanted to expose us to as much of the good of this country as possible,” says Judy. She and John recall trips to see plays on Broadway (“We saw ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ with Zero Mostel,” boasts John) and the Rockettes on Christmas Day in Radio City Music Hall. 

“We had the most rich upbringing that you could ever hope for,” says Judy. “She loved books, but it wasn’t just sitting and reading to us. It was taking us places and showing us the history.”

Indeed, Bev did love books.

“Mom was one of those people who had books all over the house,” says John. Topics included history, science, birds, geography, philosophy, and especially children’s literature.

“She loved ‘Sarah Plain and Tall’ — anything about the prairies and the plains and settlement of the West,” recalls Judy.

“And she really loved the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ books,” adds John. “I think it was because those kinds of stories reminded her of her own childhood.”

After mustering out of the Navy, Dr. Norman Wall settled the family in Springfield and went into private practice as a plastic surgeon. (Photo: contributed by family)

Bev’s collection of books grew from the hundreds into the thousands after Norman completed his Navy hitch in 1979 and the family settled in Springfield, where he had been recruited to join a plastic surgery practice and became instrumental in establishing the burn treatment unit at what was then St. John’s Hospital (now Mercy).

So it was natural that when the family joined First Baptist Church here and Bev sought to become involved with church operations, she became director of the church’s library. The library not only benefited from her managerial skills — it also received scores of books that she and Norman donated. 

Served as director of church library organizations

“What she would do if she found a book that she liked and that she thought was appropriate for the library, she’d buy one for herself and one for the church, too,” explains John. Norman taught Sunday school, and he bought books for his classes as well. “They donated lots and lots of books to the church library,” John adds. “Dad, of course, was the chief financier.”

Over time, Bev served as director of the Greene County Baptist Association’s church library organization and also as director of the statewide Baptist library group. She eventually moved from First Baptist to University Heights Baptist Church, along with friend Norma Jones, who says that Bev “was one of the sweetest people I ever met — and because she was born in Sweet Springs, I’ve wondered if there was something in the Sweet Springs water to account for that.” 

Bev (in foreground) was the youngest of five Briggs children who grew up in the small mid-Missouri community of Sweet Springs. (Photo: contributed by family)

After her return to her home state, Bev expanded her collection of books on Missouri history and geography. As always, she pursued those interests into the field, too.

“She liked to go hiking in interesting places — Greer Spring and Alley Spring, for example,” says Judy, “and she liked to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Mansfield, Precious Moments in Carthage, Eureka Springs and the Crystal Bridges museum in Arkansas. She used to go to Branson — she especially liked the Foggy River Boys and Shoji Tabuchi.”

Bev also was into crafting. Tole painting was a favorite, along with sewing, quilting and making intricate cross-stitch creations. She also was an inveterate scrapbooker, which aligned with her interest in teaching because the photos and accompanying explanations now serve as history textbooks for the family.

Bev’s passion for teaching rubbed off on those around her. 

Judy majored in education as an undergraduate at MU, then earned a master’s degree in health care administration. She lives in Columbia, where she was elected to two terms in the Missouri House of Representatives in 2005-2009, followed by service as regional director for the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Presently she remotely teaches health care policy courses for New York University.

Her brother John has worked as a newspaper photojournalist and served several years as Missouri State University’s director of photographic services and visual media.

Bev and Norman’s eldest daughter, Debbie, earned dual bachelor’s degrees in math and education from University of Missouri-Kansas City, then a master’s degree in library science from MU. She worked as a computer programmer and educator at UMKC for 24 years before her death in 2010.

The teaching legacy has been handed down to the next generation as well.

One of Judy’s daughters, Sarah Schondelmeyer, is a classroom teacher (third and fourth grades) in the St. Louis suburb of Richmond Heights. She credits grandmother Bev as a key inspiration.

‘I searched my soul and realized that I come from a line of teachers’

Sarah originally studied business in college — but, she says, “It didn’t fit my personality at all. And I started thinking about switching to an education degree. I remember calling my grandma and talking to her about it. She had been a teacher and, of course, she was very supportive.

“I searched my soul and realized that I come from a line of teachers. It was kind-of in my blood. I’d heard so much from Grandma as an educator — and her mom was an educator, and my mom has an education degree. It’s in the whole family.”

Another sign of Bev’s influence: Sarah estimates that she has between 2,000 and 3,000 books in her classroom.

Judy’s other two children also reflect Bev’s interests. Daughter Lauren is an artist and son David majored in geography and now works for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

John’s two daughters, Kathryn and Rebekkah, both are involved in education. Rebekkah is a career counselor at MSU and teaches courses in the psychology department there. Kathryn is a former newspaper reporter who led public information efforts for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department for seven years, including the COVID pandemic era, and now serves as director of community engagement for the Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks.

“Our grandmother was so influential with all her grandchildren in who we are as people,” says Kathryn. “She was the one who encouraged us to be creative and to express ourselves. She taught me how to sew. I remember a quilt that we made together when I was little.

‘I remember how much of the world was opened up to me’

“When we went to our grandparents’ house, it was always about drawing and crafts and creativity — and then, of course, books. She got me a library card when I was very young, and I remember how much of the world was opened up to me because of books and because of her encouragement and passion for how books can connect people to experiences.

“When I think of my sweet memories of my grandmother, I see her at the sewing machine, or at the big kitchen table where we’d make the most abhorrent messes with glitter or glue or whatever. It was always about just letting our creativity go. She was always looking for ways to do new things, to try new ways of expressing ourselves.”

Kathryn softly laughs as she admits that “I can’t imagine that anything I ever made was actually good — but you’d never know that walking into my grandmother’s house. Stuff that we made was prominently displayed right next to her paintings and other really fine art pieces. 

“Our stuff was in places of honor in her kitchen until the day she died. I cannot emphasize enough that the stuff I made was NOT good. But it was that important to her, it meant that much to her, because I had made it for her.

“She taught us to honor our family and our legacy.”

John says he learned “tenacity” from watching his mother. “She had stick-to-it-ness. Mom would start a project and stick with it until it was finished, and not ever give up on it.”

Judy adds: “Our mom saw her role as a shepherd instead of a shaper. We were free to do what was comfortable and meaningful to us. She encouraged us to find our own personal callings. She provided unconditional love. She let us be whoever we wanted to be, and let us know that she would support it.” 

Mike O'Brien

Mike O’Brien is a longtime newspaper reporter, editor and columnist who had a long career at the Springfield News-Leader. He also is a college journalism educator in Springfield and has produced the Lives Remembered series of feature obituaries for the Daily Citizen. Email him at More by Mike O’Brien