Martha Berry must have been something. She founded the Berry School for disadvantaged children in Mount Berry, Georgia. In 1932, she was recognized in a national poll as one of the 12 most outstanding women in America. People knew her as a person who could make something out of nothing. She just refused to be defeated.
She once asked Henry Ford, the automobile magnate, to donate $1 million for here school. He sent her a dime. She took the money and bought a bag of peanuts. She sent her mountain schoolboys to a field with those peanuts. The crop that resulted allowed her to plant an even bigger field.
Eventually, Martha Berry set up a roadside stand where she sold peanuts. She wrote a letter to Henry Ford: “Remember that dime? Well, sir, I invested it in peanuts and we made enough to buy a piano for our music students. How’s that for dividends.”
It all started with a Sunday School class. She met some boys near her father’s farm who were too poor to be able to go to school. She convinced her father to give her some land and she had a small building constructed so she could teach Bible stories to the children in the area.
She was good at convincing. Among her supporters were Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Carnegie, Ellen Axson Wilson (Woodrow Wilson’s wife), Emily Vanderbilt Hammond, and Ford.
She was invited to the Ford home in Detroit where a deeply-impressed industrialist presented that remarkable woman with a check for $1 million. Just for peanuts.
It’s amazing what one person can do with so little. Her motto is still the motto of Berry College: “Not to be ministered unto but to minister.” She was fond of saying, “Prayer changes things.”
I have heard and read about so-called celebrities who are “living large.” In their world, that means having the finest in clothes, automobiles, jewelry, and other treasures that Jesus warned would be subject to decay or loss. For Martha Berry, “living large” was a fierce determination to make life better for those who just needed someone to believe in them, to give them a chance.
How large are we living?