Former school teacher Rowena Wyrick is still teaching by example a valuable lesson that the majority of Blount Countians could learn: Exercise your right to vote in every election.
“I always vote in every election,” the 101-year-old Wyrick said. “I didn’t want to miss an election.”
Wyrick, who taught in school systems throughout Blount County for more than 40 years, participated in early voting in August. Election Commission part-time employees Betty Dyer and Wilma Ward went to Asbury Healthcare Center and collected her ballot along with the ballots of more than 30 other residents.
According to Dyer, by state law, weeks prior to an election, letters are sent to the area nursing homes, retirement homes and assisted living facilities. Staff members from these facilities collect the names of residents who want to participate in early voting and then a schedule is sent out. Election commission workers go to each facility and collect ballots.
“The residents usually get real excited over the fact that we do this,” Dyer said. “This gives everyone a chance to have a voice.”
People who have come to know Ro, as she is affectionately called, know that Wyrick has a voice. Feisty and determined are words used to describe this woman who has touched the lives of so many Blount County residents.
According to Diane Hutchison, lifestyles coordinator at Asbury Healthcare Center, Wyrick helped the students she taught who needed an extra hand. “She made a lot of difference in a lot of children’s lives,” Hutchison said.
Some of the students she taught have become community leaders thanks to the love and discipline she provided, according Georgianna Thompson, Wyrick’s personal assistant.
“She treated them like they were her own,” Thompson said. She said Wyrick and Chester Wyrick, her husband of almost 49 years, did not have children of their own.
“I didn’t have kids of my own because I had everyone else’s kids,” Wyrick said.
According to Thompson, Wyrick had a soft spot in her heart for the rebellious students. “She stuck by those kids,” Thompson said. Thompson shared stories of the special things Wyrick did for her students. She provided them with treats or outings that they were not able to get from home. Thompson said she used a firm hand but also showed the love she had for each student.
Thompson said Wyrick felt it was important to help others since she was helped throughout her school years. When she attended college, her dormitory roommate was the daughter of a doctor. The girls became close friends, and the girl’s father helped Wyrick pay for her education. She received a teaching degree and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Tennessee.
Wyrick also felt that Americans should stand up for their country, according to Thompson.
“She believed that every vote counted,” Thompson said. She said Wyrick was active in politics by attending weekly Democratic Party luncheons and also by volunteering at the polls. She met President Franklin Roosevelt when he traveled to the area. She recalled the evening was bitter cold as she and her mother stood the frigid weather to shake the president’s hand.
“She is a very patriotic person,” Thompson said.
Her patriotism shows when it comes to voting. According to Libby Breeding, administrator of elections in Blount County, approximately 23 percent of registered voters exercised their voting rights in August’s election.
“If you don’t stand up for your country, who will?” Wyrick said.