(Written by Jake Mabe on Jan. 3, 2011)
Ask Elizabeth Deyoung how she’s lived a happy, long life and she’ll smile and tell you, “Maybe because I loved everybody. I love people. People. People.”
Much of her nearly 100 years (her birthday is Friday, Jan. 7) have been spent serving others, as both an educator and as a home economics agent for the University of Tennessee. She’s sharp as a tack, keeps up with politics and even plays the piano for the choir at her place of residence, Elmcroft Assisted Living in Halls.
Growing up at the Hill homeplace (Hill Road in Halls is named for her ancestors), Deyoung attended Hills grammar school and graduated from Central High School.
“There were four of us (children),” she says. “Three girls and one boy. I was the last one. We all loved each other. We were the kind that stuck together.”
Longtimers might remember her brother, Edward G. Hill, who was Knox County’s property assessor from 1946 to 1970.
“We were a musical family,” she says. “My mother was a music teacher. The older two (sisters) advanced quite a bit under her and I copied all of them and tried to do what they did.”
Deyoung earned a degree from East Tennessee State Teachers College (now ETSU).
She worked as a home economics agent, first in Anderson County and later out of the UT Ag Campus, responsible for a five-county area.
“While the men worked on the farms, I worked with the women indoors. Oh, yes. That’s the No. 1 thing in my life. You work with people and all kinds of families, some of whom needed us very much.”
Deyoung worked that job for 15 years. It was then, during World War II, she began to hear about a place called Oak Ridge, working to help residents relocate when they were forced from their homes as the “Secret City” was being built.
“They were trying to get (natives) moved out of there quickly. It was a sad time. The government did not give them good wages to go somewhere else.”
Deyoung later taught second grade, both at Smithwood and Brickey grammar schools.
“Brickey was the most wonderful school and we had the most wonderful group of teachers. We called the principal (John R. McCloud) ‘John,’ and he was a good leader.”
Deyoung loved teaching second graders because “that’s the age they are most interesting and eager to learn. It’s just ideal.”
She also at one point served as supervisor of music for the Ocala, Fla., school system. Her daughter, Margaret Joiner, and two grandsons live in Florida. Another grandson lives in Madison, Wis. Nephew John and wife Wanza Hill live in Halls.
Deyoung says she “thought I’d travel” after her retirement but says, “You get busy doing many things. When you’re retired, people get busier than when they were working!”
She spent some time remodeling her house, dabbling in interior design and says that her favorite place was in the backyard. She was a longtime member of the Republican National Committee and took an active role in the campaigns of George Herbert Walker Bush and George W. Bush.
Deyoung watches Fox News every night and says, “What bothers me is what I don’t know!” She also takes in an episode or two of “Judge Judy” and loves cooking shows, especially Paula Deen and Rachael Ray.
Wanza Hill says that Deyoung keeps a perfect, neat appearance every day. She enjoys socializing at Elmcroft, where she’s lived for five years. She loves appearances by a popular quartet and by an organist that plays the Big Band music that is her favorite.
Told that she’s lived her life helping people, Deyoung smiles and says, “I hope so. Yes. I loved every one of them.”
Mrs. Deyoung held that birthday party on Jan. 8 and she made a wish. She had always wanted to play the organ. In March 2011, her dream came true as Bill Snyder coached her in playing the Mighty Wurlitzer on stage at the Tennessee Theatre. The audience held many of her friends, and this reporter was there snapping pictures. Mrs. Deyoung died on Sunday afternoon, May 15, 2011, at Elmcroft in Halls. Graveside services were held on May 18 at the Hill Family Cemetery on Hill Road.