This Saturday morning, January 19, 2013, in a beautiful log house at the end of Cherry Hollow Drive in Edmond, Oklahoma, my 95-year-old maternal grandmother went home to be with the Lord. Virginia Pearl Salyer Cherry, born November 30, 1917 in a small house just outside Anadarko, Oklahoma, was the daughter of an East Texas oil field worker who had come to Oklahoma during World War I to work the new Anardarko oil play in southwestern Oklahoma.
After her father "Pop" Salyer was severely burned in an oil field accident in Davenport, Oklahoma, Virginia's father moved the family to a farm just north of Minco, Oklahoma where Virginia Salyer lived with her parents and two younger siblings from 1928-1931-- the beginning of the Great Depression. When the farm failed, Pop went back into oil field work and moved his family to East Texas where Virginia would graduate from Leverett's Chapel High School, Kilgore, Texas in May of 1935 at the age of 17. My grandmother attended Kilgore Junior College the fall of 1935 in Kilgore, Texas, majoring in English Literature. It was the summer of 1936, while at home with her parents, who by then had moved to a little petroleum community called New London, Texas, that Virginia Salyer met the man who would be her future husband.
Frederick Tinsley Donne Cherry (1912-1970) had been a star football player for the University of Oklahoma from 1929-1931. Fred had graduated from OU with a petroleum engineering degree and was working as an engineer for the British American Oil Company. He had been invited by "Pop" Salyer, Virginia's father, to the Salyer family home for breakfast. When Virginia got out of bed and saw her family had company, she promptly decided she better make herself a little more presentable. According to grandmother, "I quickly brushed my hair and threw on a dress. I had seen this young man walking around the lease with my father and thought to myself, 'Hmm... I really want to meet him. He is a really handsome fella." The courtship that began that August morning in 1936 around the breakfast table would last for five months, and on January 27, 1937, Virginia Salyer would marry Fred Cherry in a ceremony held at the Turner Town Baptist Church, just outside New London, Texas.
Though Virginia had attended the Methodist church by herself as a young person in Minco, it wasn't until Fred Cherry entered the Salyer family that the Salyers, including Virginia, came to faith in Christ. Fred, an evangelist at heart, led Virginia, Virginia's parents and her siblings to faith in Christ. Fred baptized Pop and Basil, Virginia's father and brother, at the Turner Town Baptist Church just a month after he married into the family. Basil would die one month later on March 18, 1937 in the New London School explosion. Eleven year old Basil would be one of nearly three hundred people who died that day when a bubble of natural gas that had formed beneath the foundation of the school ignited, causing a horrific explosion and the largest school disaster in terms of deaths in the history of America. A young reporter named Walter Cronkite covered the New London explosion and toward the end of his illustrious career with CBS he called it the story that impacted him the most during his professional reporting. The conversion of Basil Salyer and his sudden and tragic death a month later gave both Fred and Virginia a measure of eternal perspective and the importance of Christian evangelism.
Virginia's husband, Fred Cherry, was drafted to fight in World War II and had a distinguished career as an Army officer in Europe, enduring the London blitz and fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. Virginia would give birth to four children prior to Fred's war service, children that included my mother, Mary Cherry, and would then give birth to seven additional children after Fred returned from Europe. In 1950, just a few years after returning from the battle field, Fred gave up a career in oil and business and entered full-time Christian evangelism. In the summer of 1950 the Cherrys purchased a log home in Edmond, Oklahoma, just north of Oklahoma City, and for the past sixty-two years plus, my grandmother has called this her home. For two decades, Virginia Cherry cared for the Cherry children as her husband traversed the United States holding two-week, and sometimes three-week revival meetings. She held down the fort, disciplined the kids, stretched the scarce dollars to make sure enough food was on the table, and was a pillar of faith and courage to her children and the growing numbers of grand-children. When Fred suddenly died of a heart attack in 1970, Virginia Cherry remained in the log house and her eleven children and their families all gathered for holidays with "Grandma Cherry."
For the past few years I have made it a point to drive to Edmond to spend time with my grandmother. With the help of my mother, a professional editor, we were able to write Virginia Cherry's story. At our 2012 Thanksgiving gather, I gave a power-point presentation tracing Grandma Cherry's lineage from her parents side (the Salyers and the Chapmans) back to England and Geoffrey Chaucer, the father of English Literature. I gave her a hard back copy of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales for her birthday, and tried to express how much she meant to our family. Most of Virginia's life was overshadowed by her well-known husband, but in my estimation, Virginia was the strength, the backbone, the character, and the heart of the Cherry family.A few months ago, Logan and I made a video of Grandma Cherry. I include the video here as a closing tribute to one of the most remarkable women I've ever known. Goodbye Grandma Cherry. We'll join you soon! Thanks for leaving such a wonderful legacy of faith for 11 children, 42 grandchildren, 108 great-grandchildren and 6 great-great children!