A beautiful life came to a close on Thursday, January 19, 2012, as Bethel Burnell King, quietly and peacefully, answered the call of her heavenly Father into eternal rest.
Bethel was born on November 25, 1911, in Chidester, Arkansas to the late John Lily Burnell and Elvira Mills-Burnell. She was raised in Nevada County, Arkansas. She was married to the late James Fears and the late Earnest King. Cherishing her memory and mourning her passing are loving and caring daughters: Vira Hopson, Pensacola, FL, Ivory Young, Waldo, AR, Sister-in-law, Lou Ellen Carter, Waldo, AR, twelve grandchildren, forty great grandchildren, and twenty-three great great grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins and other relatives and friends. She was preceded in death by her daughter, Helen Fears, Sisters and brothers: Clinton, & Garland Burnell, Augusta Burnell Alexander, Birdie Burnell Joshua, Arrie Burnell McKinney, Lizzie Burnell McKinney, Nathaniel, Dan, John, Willie, & Edmond Burnell, Odessie Burnell Zackery, and Thelma Burnell Dennis. For her, after God, family and friends were the most important things in her life. Thankfully, God provided her with an abundant of both family and friends.
She received her early education in Redhill School in the community of Glenville—a school which graduated students after the eighth grade. She completed all requirements needed for graduation from Redhill School at that time. She only had two jobs her entire life an inspector at a sewing factory in California in 1954 and a domestic worker until she retired in the 60’s.
When asked on her 100 birthday that “if given the chance, would she change anything in her life,” she replied: “I don’t think I would change anything about my life. I was born and raised in the country, and I am still country at heart”. She was a life-long resident of Waldo. She loved this small town because of the people that lived there, and the people that lived in the surrounding communities. Throughout her life, she visited many other cities and states, but she always returned to Waldo. Even after she graduated to the assisted-living phase of her life, and was presented with the opportunity to live this phase of her life in the sunshine state of Florida with her oldest daughter, Vira, she chose to remain in Waldo. She was a permanent fixture in Waldo, and one of its celebrated citizens. On her 100th birthday, she was presented with a key to the City of Waldo as one of its oldest citizens.
Bethel admired many, but admitted that Dr. Martin, Rose Parks, and Daisy Bates had the most influence on her life. She often spoke of how blessed she was able to witness a historical moment in this country when she cast her vote for our current President of the United States, a black man. She knew that a change in human relations had been made—she had witness them—but she knew much more was needed before we reached earthly harmony among all races and nations.
Bethel King was a sweet friendly person. She treated everyone with the utmost respect. She prided herself in not being judgmental, and, thus, she gave everyone the chance to prove that they were not worthy of her respect. In other words, on the respect scale, everyone started at a ten and had to work their way down, as oppose to starting at zero and having to work themselves up! That is just who she was. Patenting herself after Jesus, EVERYONE began equally with her.
She was always like a mother to all who took the time to get to know her. She was a born conversationalist, and a beautiful public speaker. She also understood the importance of making the best first impresssion, and therefore, prided herself in “putting her best face forward” each time she met someone new.
After retiring and before becoming disabled, she spent most of her time babysitting and teaching her great grandchildren; however, she still found time for her duties as the President of Chapel #97 Order Eastern Star in McNeil, AR, President of the Stewardess Board #1 New Bethel A.M.E. Church, and Vice-President of the Missionary Society. She gave credit for her successes, as well as her failures , to the Lord. She made it a point to thank Him daily for he most precious gift—her longevity.
Her Philosphy for life was to “Live and let live”. Big Mama believed that each person is entitled, exclusively, to his or her own life’s decision, and that they should live that life according to what they deem acceptable, as long as it does not fringe upon other people’s right to do the same. She was diligent in overseeing and looking out for the well-being of her family, neighbors, and friends, but allowed them to live their lives as they saw fit. She understood the difference between sharing her life experiences with others, and dictating how others should live. She also believed in “Everything in moderation.” Her lesson to her grandchildren and the fourth and fifth generation grandchildren was from an old song—“too much of ANYTHING ain’t good for nobody.” Those were not her words, but it was her lesson as a key to their own longevity. Her lesson for them was to relax and resist trying to live all of life in one day.
After 100 years here on earth, Big Mama is now with our family who went before her. How happy they all must be to welcome her home! Goodnight Big Mama, we'll see you soon, but we miss you already.