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Bertha McGhee - Missionary from Kansas

Updated on February 20, 2015
Virginia Allain profile image

I'm carrying on my mother's research into our family history. I've self-published some family memoirs & learned a lot about different eras.

Bertha Olive McGhee
Bertha Olive McGhee | Source

Bertha McGhee - A Dedicated Woman

Bertha McGhee devoted her life to good works for the church. Tyro, Kansas was her hometown. She was my mother's aunt (my great-aunt).

Her life spanned the years 1903 to 1999. She was 96 when she died on Tuesday, November 30, 1999, at the Baldwin Care Center, Baldwin City, KS.

Early in her life, Bertha felt a calling to serve the church and dedicated her life to working in Indian schools and orphanages. She started new churches in isolated areas of Alaska. After retirement, she returned to Kansas. She never married.

I plan to start on a self-published book about Bertha McGhee's life (after finishing the one on my Civil War ancestor, who was Bertha's grandfather). If you have any memories of her, please contact me.

Photo from my mother's collection (Gail Lee Martin)

Bertha and Lealon McGhee are in this Tyro KS school photo - I believe Bertha is the girl on the end of the front row.

school children in Tyro KS early 1900s
school children in Tyro KS early 1900s

Photo from Gail Lee Martin's collection.

Born in 1903, she grew up in a small Kansas town. She went to college and traveled to remote places to live a life of faith. Remarkable woman, in an era when a woman's place was in the home.

The Story of the Photo Below

"Samuel Newton McGhee (11/28/1875) holding Elmer Lee McGhee (2/6/1910) in front of house he built for the family in Tyro, KS, spring 1910. We moved into the house in Jan., just after I was 7 years old. Elmer was born Feb. 6th. Later, that summer, papa added two rooms on the back with roof same height as front porch." by Bertha McGhee

Besides Sam and Viola Matilda McGhee and their children, the house also was home to Sam's mother and Viola Matilda's father. Bertha grew up with 2 grandparents in the home.

Bertha's father and brother, Sam and Elmer McGhee with their home in the background.
Bertha's father and brother, Sam and Elmer McGhee with their home in the background. | Source
Independence, Kansas 1918 - troops home from overseas
Independence, Kansas 1918 - troops home from overseas | Source

1918 Flu Epidemic

in the words of Bertha McGhee of Tyro, Kansas

"I had started my sophomore year of high school in Independence because Tyro could not get teachers for H.S. because of the War. I was living with a motherless family working for my room and board. The flu epidemic closed all schools in early November. I went home and soon came down with flu-pneumonia. The school reopened in Jan. but I did not go back as I did not feel strong enough to work for room and board and I couldn't afford to pay for it.

Three years later, Tyro High was opened again and I went back as a sophomore and graduated in 1924 at age 21.

The summer before Tyro H.S. reopened, the church gave Roy and me a week at Epworth League Institute at Baldwin. That was the turning point for me. I felt called to go back to school and prepare for full time service through the church to be a home missionary -- my particular concern -- Native Americans."

(photo of troops parading in Independence, Kansas in 1918 - from the family collection of Gail Lee Martin, not for use without permission)

Bertha McGhee's Memories - of the NYA (National Youth Administration) in 1937

Source

Places Where Bertha McGhee Lived and Worked - Google Maps

show route and directions
A markertyro KS -
tyro KS
get directions

B markerSeward Alaska -
Seward Alaska
get directions

C markerFarmington, NM -
Farmington, NM
get directions

D marker1934 WPA program -
Cottonwood Falls KS
get directions

Zazzle vintage graphic: Girls- Are You Interested In A Job? by monger

National Youth Administration, Zara, Kansas
National Youth Administration, Zara, Kansas | Source

Bertha McGhee in NYA Photo

She was a camp counselor and teacher of nature, English, math and social studies. She was with the NYA from 1934 to 1938, three years.

The NYA was at Zara, Kansas.

Bertha is in the center, back row, next to the girl in the letter jacket.

The Indian School Where Bertha First Taught

Source

Gathering Lots of Information and Photos

My mom, Gail Lee Martin, gave me Bertha's letters covering the years 1940 to 1983. She also had Bertha's photo album of 1929 to 1931 in the southwest.

A Photo Gallery of Bertha McGhee and Her Family - Click on each photo to see it larger and to read the caption

The McGhees and Vinings having a picnic (early 1900s).
The McGhees and Vinings having a picnic (early 1900s).
Bertha (on right) in 1924
Bertha (on right) in 1924
The Indian school in Farmington, NM where Bertha McGhee taught in 1929.
The Indian school in Farmington, NM where Bertha McGhee taught in 1929.
Bertha McGhee and "her boys" Seward, Alaska Jesse Lee Home 1940
Bertha McGhee and "her boys" Seward, Alaska Jesse Lee Home 1940
Bertha McGhee with nieces Gail and Carol McGhee.
Bertha McGhee with nieces Gail and Carol McGhee.
Bertha (in front) and her mother, who visited her in Alaska.
Bertha (in front) and her mother, who visited her in Alaska.

The Journal Kept by Bertha McGhee - This section covers the war years

Bertha McGhee's diary from the war - I need to transcribe this to include parts in the book about Bertha's life and work.
Bertha McGhee's diary from the war - I need to transcribe this to include parts in the book about Bertha's life and work.

Bertha McGhee - Pastor of Church in Hope, Alaska

Bertha McGhee - Pastor of Hope, Alaska
Bertha McGhee - Pastor of Hope, Alaska

This is the photo that may be used for the book cover.

Read about the Jesse Lee Home

Jesse Lee Home - My Home
Jesse Lee Home - My Home

I was delighted find this book about the Jesse Lee Home. It only has 3 mentions of my great-aunt in it, but lots of information about others and the home.

 

Read about Bertha's early life

Read about Bertha's early life
Read about Bertha's early life

Preview the book, My Flint Hills Childhood

It contains memories by Bertha McGhee about her childhood. Most of the book details the life of her brother, Clarence, his family and especially his daughter, Gail McGhee.

Collecting Family Memories of Bertha McGhee

My mom has been busy contacting family that knew Bertha or heard stories about her life.

"My biggest memory of Aunt Bertha is how she could look at anything and then make it - be it sewing, crocheting, knitting, you name she could make it without a pattern or she would make a pattern for it. Amazing to me because I have to have a pattern for anything I make!!"

Cheryl (Austin's daughter)

Bertha McGhee with her brother Roy McGhee. Return from fishing.

Bertha McGhee with her brother Roy McGhee. Return from fishing.
Bertha McGhee with her brother Roy McGhee. Return from fishing.

Old Photo of the Jesse Lee Home

Source

Zazzle graphic showing the Jesse Lee Home by dorenemlorenz

Videos about the Jesse Lee Home

This is where Bertha McGhee worked in Seward, Alaska. It closed after the earthquake.

My older cousin went to Alaska in 2010 and shared this information with me: "We were in Seward last week and it appears that there is some interest in refurbishing the Jesse Lee Home. Some scaffolding on one side. I will try to send a picture. I remember most the pictures Aunt Bertha showed of the large cabbages and other garden produce they raised. I also remember her telling of the 1964 earthquake and how they sat on the side of the mountain with the children and watched the fires that devasted much of Seward."

Tim Harlan

Greenleaf, KS

Here's an enjoyable video about the impact of the Jesse Lee Home and about the efforts to restore it.

The Jesse Lee Home

My cousin Tim was recently in Alaska and took photos of the Jessie Lee Home.

Jesse Lee Home in Anchorage, Alaska - Click on any photo to see it larger and to read the caption

2010 view of the Jesse Lee Home (taken by my cousin, Tim Harlan)
2010 view of the Jesse Lee Home (taken by my cousin, Tim Harlan)
Plaque at the Jesse Lee Home (2010)
Plaque at the Jesse Lee Home (2010) | Source
2010 - Jesse Lee Home (photo by Tim Harlan)
2010 - Jesse Lee Home (photo by Tim Harlan)

What My Cousin Observed

My older cousin went to Alaska in 2010 and shared this information with me:

"We were in Seward last week and it appears that there is some interest in refurbishing the Jesse Lee Home. Some scaffolding on one side. I will try to send a picture. I remember most the pictures Aunt Bertha showed of the large cabbages and other garden produce they raised. I also remember her telling of the 1964 earthquake and how they sat on the side of the mountain with the children and watched the fires that devasted much of Seward."

Tim Harlan

Greenleaf, KS

The History of the Jesse Lee Home in Alaska

Bertha McGhee Taught a Sunday School Class

Here's another memory shared with me from someone remembering Bertha McGhee:

"August 29, 2010 - I have memories of Bertha being my Sunday-school teacher in the 1950s. She was absolutely wonderful; always friendly, smiling, and outgoing. I was a young Alaska native youngster, attending the Methodist church in Seward. My very first Bible was given to me by Bertha in 1957, and it has her signature. I still have that Bible; worn, but still usable. My mother grew up in the Jesse Lee Home, which still stands today, but is sadly in need of repair."

Marshall Ronne Jr

Seward, Alaska

Today I discovered a blog called Growing Up Anchorage. It had some great memory pieces about the city. One was by Gene Brown who's parents worked at the Jesse Lee Home for a time and so he lived there also. I loved his stories and it gave me some insight into Bertha's experience with the boys.

Pioneer Missionaries in Alaska

© 2009 Virginia Allain

Did You Know Bertha McGhee?

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    • Virginia Allain profile image
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      Virginia Allain 3 years ago from Central Florida

      @tammie-wilson-503: I don't have any letters that Bertha received from people, only her letters to family. I bet Pearl had a fascinating life. Sorry I couldn't help.

    • profile image

      tammie-wilson-503 3 years ago

      Do you know if Bertha ever corresponded with Pearl Caldwell of Cherry Creek, MS? She was a missionary in China early 1900's. I was commissioned to sell her items on Ebay but still have a few things. This was the most interesting experience I ever had. Did lots of research on missionaries. She had a good friend named Bertha but can't remember her last name.

    • TransplantedSoul profile image

      TransplantedSoul 4 years ago

      Wow - she had quite the life - a real adventure!

    • Brandi Bush profile image

      Brandi 4 years ago from Maryland

      What an amazing tribute lens...I love the personal photos and video! :)

    • patinkc profile image

      patinkc 4 years ago from Midwest

      Thanks for this lens about an extraordinary woman! I would like to have met Bertha!

    • PastorCher profile image

      Pastor Cher 5 years ago from United States

      No, but I enjoyed reading about her life. Appreciate you sharing your memories and the life of your aunt.

    • RhondaAlbom profile image

      Rhonda Albom 6 years ago from New Zealand

      Thanks for introducing me to Bertha.

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 6 years ago from So Cal

      How great to have all this information. The pictures are wonderful too. Can't wait to read the entire story.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 6 years ago

      I loved reading about Bertha McGhee's life and work with Native Indians- beautiful tribute to a lovely lady.

    • dustytoes profile image

      dustytoes 6 years ago

      I have a feeling that Bertha would be thrilled to know what you are doing to keep her memory alive. What an amazing woman. All these old photos are wonderful and I really like the one for the book cover.

    • Virginia Allain profile image
      Author

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      @Joy Neasley: Thanks for visiting. My Mom and I are working on a book about her life. We will probably self-publish it using blurb.com.

    • TriviaChamp profile image

      TriviaChamp 6 years ago

      A remarkable woman for sure. You have put together a great tribute. Kudos.

    • Virginia Allain profile image
      Author

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      @resabi: Thank you, resabi, for blessing this lens. I do feel quite fortunate to have the pictures and family memories. That's why I'm trying to collect even more before it is too late.

    • profile image

      resabi 6 years ago

      What a nice tribute to your Aunt and how nice to have this much family history to cherish. Nice work. Blessed...

    • puzzlerpaige profile image

      puzzlerpaige 7 years ago

      I hope you are able to find out even more about your Great Aunt. I enjoyed reading about the fix for the burning tree when she was young. My grandmother and your Aunt are from the same "greatest generation". Thankfully my grandmother (who has just passed away) wrote down stuff for us too. Thanks for sharing the memories of your Aunt.