Mullins: Never too late to go to college
Now is her time, and she is chasing a dream. At LBW Community College, Betty Mullins of Opp is turning a lifetime goal into reality as she heads into the last two semesters of the child development program in Andalusia.
Her story is different from most students seen walking across campus with backpacks flung over a shoulder and smart phone in hand.
“I will turn 70 on the first day of December,” she said. “I always wanted to go to college but never knew how to obtain finances and we never had money.”
Her story is like many of her generation. One of 12 children born to sharecroppers in Coffee County, her youth was filled with hard work and sacrifice. The sixth child of seven girls and five boys, she said they all had to work the fields.
“Sharecroppers did the work on a farm,” Mullins said. “The owners of the land would supply the seeds and give us allowance to live on. We planted and gathered the crops, thinned the cotton, did all the work, and received half the proceeds in the fall of the year.”
From their half, she said, they had to pay back any advanced funds or living allowance.
“When it was time to gather the crop, everyone went to the field,” she said. “We always wore bonnets on our heads and long sleeves in the sun to protect our skin. Even when school was going, there were times we had to stay out and tend the crops.”
Each year, they would strive to get the first bale of cotton to the gin, she said.
“If your bale was the first to get to the gin, you got three cents more a pound for that bale,” she said. “That was a contest everyone wanted to win. It was a whole lot to people back in that time.”
For a penny, two giant cookies could be purchased from the rolling store that came by their house, she said.
“We looked forward to that rolling store,” she said. “You could buy anything off that truck that you could in a store.”
With no television in the home, the family gathered around the radio for entertainment.
“It was a different time. We would sit around and listen to Amos and Andy. Sometimes we would listen to Nashville, Tenn., when they played gospel music. It was always good to hear the comments that would make you laugh.”
It was also a time when everyone shared, Mullins said.
“If someone had a garden, they would share,” she said. “We had hogs and in the fall of the year we would slaughter two or three and make sausage. Other people had cows. A lot of stuff I didn’t like at the time, I look back and appreciate.
“Even though it was hard work and an honest living, it gave me character,” she said.
Books were treasured, she said, and not furnished by the school as they are today.
“We had to get them the best way we could,” she said. “It was a struggle. Books were so precious that when we got one, we kept it forever.”
A pastime for the children when it was too cold to play outside was to memorize poems, she said, then quickly recited two from memory.
“My parents were educated through the third grade. They wanted us to learn. My mother wanted us to read the Bible to her and she would learn words, which made her able to read better.”
Her formal education ended in the 10th grade when she dropped out of school. She married James Hines and they had five children, but one died at a young age. When she was 23, she got a job at the cotton mill where she worked for 45 years.
“During that time, I went back to school online and got my high school diploma on my own,” she said. “But something always took preference over my getting a college education.”
Her sons earned degrees while in the military and her daughters both attended college. Now, it is her time, she said.
“I didn’t realize there were programs out there to help you go to school. When the mill closed, I was told ‘you can go to school.’”
With the support and encouragement of instructors and fellow students, reaching her goal is within sight and she anticipates graduating in 2014.
“I never want to retire and sit in a rocking chair,” she said. “I always wanted to be a teacher and have enjoyed working with children in church. This program will allow me to go into a day care or head start and teach.”
What is her advice to others?
“Don’t give up on your dreams,” she said. “There is always a way to achieve your goals if you put forth the effort. So many people sit at home and think ‘I can’t do it,’ but they can. I’m living proof.”