A former teacher and volunteer, Margarette Stephens Berrisford, a resident at Haven of Our Lady of Peace in Pensacola, celebrated her 105th birthday on May 22. Margarette celebrated with a big party at the Haven that included some of her former students. She is the Haven’s oldest resident.
When Margarette was born in Wickliffe, Ky., in 1918, World War I was still underway. She recalls traveling with her family to Florida in a Model T Ford in 1924 and she has a vivid memory of World War II. “I remember we came home from church one day and our neighbors were waiting for us,” said Margarette. “They said, ‘war has been declared!’ I was teaching in a small town at the time. There were high school boys 17 and 18 years old who were drafted and others who quit jobs were drafted or chose to enlist. One of the boys got killed and I remember playing the piano at his funeral service.”
On Saturdays during WWII, teachers went to the school to help register people for food stamps and gas vouchers. “I remember we were asked to knit sweaters for soldiers, too. I knew how to crochet, but I didn’t know how to knit. I picked up a kit and mine came out about the size for a 6-year-old child! That was the end of my knitting career!”
Margarette’s 40-year teaching career was much more successful and included a variety of academic positions, from music teacher to working with international college students. Teaching led her to Florida, where she first taught music in River Junction. In Pensacola, the school system begged her to come teach. After three requests, she agreed and taught nine years at Blount Junior High School. Eventually, Margarette earned a master’s degree in English from the University of Florida and began teaching at Pensacola Junior College (PJC) when it first operated in the old Pensacola High School. Margarette proudly sports a Gators license plate on her wheelchair.
At PJC, Margarette taught for 27 years and also was employed as a counselor. During the last 10 years of her career, she worked as the college’s foreign student advisor. “There were widows in North Hill and East Hill who had big homes with lots of rooms and didn’t want to live alone. I kept a list of their names for these students who needed a place to live,” said Margarette.
Getting to know these students led her to visiting some of her new friends in countries including Brazil, Japan and Africa. She also has traveled to Europe and Russia. “One day I said to myself, ‘I’ve earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and now I gotta
go back and get a MRS degree!’” In 1956 at age 38, Margarette married Bert Berrisford, whom she met at First Baptist Church in Gainesville. “It was destined to be because his former boss in Illinois was hired as a plant manager at Air Products in Pensacola,” she recalls. Bert immediately got a job with Air Products.
After her husband passed away from cancer, Margarette became a Mother Seton Guild volunteer at the hospital and the Haven. In 2001, after becoming a Haven resident herself, Margarette created ways to continue volunteering there. She noticed that the mail and newspapers were being delivered late in the day, so she offered her services. She would push an antique wheelchair full of newspapers with Katie, the popular resident cat. “That cat would jump up on top of those newspapers and ride around with me all day! People were always telling me, ‘Bring that cat over here!’”
As a busy volunteer, Margarette credits her longevity to walking for 22 years. Margarette shares, “And I regularly saw my doctor, Dr. Amos Prevatt, for check-ups. He kept me healthy!”