Originally created 02/26/02

Neighborhood raised success stories



The city manager of Albany, Ga., says Augusta's Cherry Avenue is a prime subject for a sociological study into the roots of success.

Janice Allen Jackson grew up on the short street of about two dozen houses in east Augusta's Hornsby subdivision in the 1950s and '60s. She remembers that there were no drugs, no crime, no unruly children and no single-parent households, and every household had a BMW.

"There's a saying among black people that all black families want a BMW, and we don't mean a car," Mrs. Jackson said. "It means a black male working. Every household on Cherry Avenue had a black male working. We had incredible stability."

Almost all of the children graduated from high school. Most went to college, and many received advanced degrees in engineering, mathematics, physics or education.

"As far as the children, there were no stragglers," said Catherine Parker, who moved to Cherry Avenue in 1955 with her husband, James. Their daughter, Sandra Parker Nesbitt, is a teacher at John Milledge Elementary School.

Willie Ojeta and Josh Collier moved to Cherry Avenue in 1952 and reared five sons there.

The oldest, Gregory, is a munitions quality controller for the federal government in Clinton, Iowa. Their second son, Henri, is an inhalation therapist. Clifford Collier is a food manager at Gracewood State School and Hospital in Augusta. Josh Collier Jr. is an architect in Chantilly, Va., and his brother Cranston is an electrical engineer in Oglethorpe, Ga.

"We just instilled in our children they had to do something," said Josh Collier Sr., who retired from Fort Gordon after 42 years as a chef.

"We didn't say they could just go to high school," he said. "They had to go on to college and make something of themselves."

IRENE CLARK WARD, 89, and Enoch Ward, now deceased, raised 10 children on Cherry Avenue, five of whom received advanced degrees in mathematics, physics, engineering or English.

The oldest, Charles Ward, earned a master's degree in mathematics. Grace Ward Gray is a retired administrator and educator. Irene Ward Sua retired as a Blue Cross and Blue Shield executive in New York, and Katherine Ward Brown, a teacher, lives in Brownsmill, N.J.

The Rev. Enoch Ward Jr., the valedictorian of Lucy C. Laney High School at 16, was the first black chemical engineer to graduate from Georgia Tech. He is now the pastor of First Metropolitan Baptist Church in Augusta.

Dr. Bennie Franklin Leon Ward earned a dual math and physics degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in four years and a doctorate in theoretical physics from Princeton University.

He is on the faculty at the University of Tennessee and conducts nuclear research at Stanford University and at CERN in Switzerland. He is currently at the Maxplank Institute in Heidelberg, Germany, working on research with other international physicists in pursuit of a Nobel prize.

The Ward's fourth daughter, Joann Ward Ogburn, helped develop the guidance systems for the shuttle program at NASA and is now an engineering manager for Boeing. She received the 2001 Woman of the Year award from Women in Technology, the Rev. Ward said.

The youngest, Peggy Ward Koon, holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a master's degree in industrial and systems engineering. She is working on a doctorate degree in management informations systems.

Mrs. Koon is the plant systems manager for all of the process control and process automation computer systems at Avondale Mills in Graniteville.

Two of the Ward sons, both now deceased, did not go to college, but got jobs and helped support the family so the others could go to college, Mrs. Koon said.

Lee Mark Ward was a postal worker and James Earl Ward was a construction worker.

"We owe them a lot," she said.

The Ward siblings agreed they owe the most to their mother.

"She was there all the time and knew what we were doing, and we knew she knew what we were doing," Mrs. Koon said.

ON CHERRY AVENUE, parents looked out for their neighbors' children.

"We obeyed the other parents," Mrs. Koon said. "If they told us to do something, we did it. We were all one large extended family. We played together and cried together. We shared everything. There was no reluctance to borrow a cup of sugar."

In those days, Mrs. Jackson, the only daughter of Sophia and Calloway Allen, didn't fully appreciate that lifestyle, she said.

"I took a lot of things for granted," she said. "I was an adult before I appreciated being in a place like that with two-parent families in practically every home and full employment. After I grew up, I realized not everybody lived like that.

"There was stability, hard work, strong families and church going. I think all that contributed to the success of the children. I think those same factors would bring success in any neighborhood. I think it shows that in a black neighborhood everybody can succeed if we have the right type of environment."

Thelma and McDonald Williams are in their 46th year on Cherry Avenue. They, like most of their neighbors, could have moved to a bigger house in a more affluent subdivision but have remained because they love their neighbors.

"When you go out of town, you can give your key to a neighbor, and they'll open your house up and turn on the lights at night," said Mrs. Williams, a former principal at Hornsby Elementary School. "That's why I remain here."

The Williams' son, Donald J. Williams, retired as a major from the U.S. Air Force. Daughter Patricia Johnson works at Psychological Services in Augusta.

WILLIE MAE and John Gunter's daughter Cordelia Martin Gunter is a teacher at John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School, and their son, Randy Gunter, is the dean of students at Georgia Southern College in Statesboro.

"All the children are fine around here," Mrs. Gunter said.

"I've been a deacon at Galilee Baptist Church, 931 Cedar Street, since I was 33 years old, and I'm 74 years old now," Mr. Gunter said. "And I get around real good."

Mr. Gunter worked at Fort Gordon for 32 years as a meat cutter. Before that, he worked at Hildebrandt's Super Market on Laney-Walker Boulevard for 11 years.

Mrs. Gunter worked at Gracewood State School and Hospital for 31 years and retired as director of housekeeping.

Mr. Gunter described Cherry Avenue as "neighborly," a place where people help one another out.

"We're sort of like the old time," he said. "If strangers come around, we let them know we're looking out. Only had to call the police a few times down here."

BEN CAIL, a chemical operator at Savannah River Site for 40 years, moved to Cherry Avenue in 1954, and he and wife, Arlisher, have reared three children. Daughter Melinda Hicks of Anniston, Ala., works at Regions Bank; son Timothy Green works at SRS as a pipefitter; and daughter Alice Hickman teaches English at Glenn Hills High School.

The couple thought about moving after their children left home, but didn't.

"I'm glad I stayed," Mr. Cail said. "There's a lot of nice people out here, believe it or not. We may not have the large home like some places, but we've got good citizens."

Virginia Williamson and her husband Anthony Clarence, now deceased, moved to Cherry Avenue in 1955. He was a produce manager at A&P at Seventh and Broad streets for 46 years. She worked at NationsBank for 23 years before retiring in 1992.

"The neighbors are really very compassionate toward each other, loving and kind," Mrs. Williamson said. "It's beautiful. All the children turned out so fine."

Her daughter Patricia Price lives in Chicago, where she is a public school nurse.

Her daughter Vonteice Davis works for the Georgia Department of Labor. Her son Anthony Clarence Williamson III lives in Golden Valley, Minn. He graduated from the University of Minnesota on a basketball scholarship. He now works for the Federal Reserve as a computer programmer and has a business of his own.

"TIGHT AND QUIET" is how Jackie Wilson, the associate director of student support services and an education instructor at Paine College, describes Cherry Avenue, where she still lives with her mother, Elizabeth. Her father, Colston, died in October. Her brother Reginald is a color mixologist for the Toyota Corp. in Jacksonville, Fla.

Anna Mae Roberts Hampton, who remarried after her husband James Roberts died in 1980, said Cherry Avenue hasn't changed much since the days when she was raising her daughter, Jeanette Spencer, who now works in the Richmond County Tax Assessors Office.

"Everybody just got older," she said. "A few new people moved in, and they were kind of noisy, but they didn't linger long. They moved out. We've still got good neighbors down here."

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.