Saturday, January 19, 2013

Goodbye Grandma: We'll Join You Soon

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!


Jason Sampler said...


Thanks for the post and the video. I cried as I watched it, as it reminds me of my grandmother. Like yours, she also loves the Lord and has been faithful in all things while being a widow for 35 years. Christ is honored by the faithfulness of those like your grandmother.

Garen Martens said...

As you will quickly find Wade, grandmas and grandpas can have an influence over kids that cannot be found in any other relationship. I drive by my grandparents grave site every day and every day something happens to remind me of the life lessons they taught me. A godly grandparent can make a huge difference in the life of a kid and we must not be too busy to make use of that opportunity. I love the video of your grandma and look forward to meeting her in heaven.

Wade Burleson said...

Thanks, Jason and Garen, for your very special comments.

Tanya Kennedy said...

That was incredible..well done my good and faithful servant..thank you for sharing Wade

Wade Burleson said...

You're welcome, Tanya! Thank you for taking the time to read and watch.

Aussie John said...

Thank you for a very special article.

You are most blessed to have had such a long time of spending time with a grandmother who was a member of God's family. What great conversations you must have had.

Wade Burleson said...

Aussie John,

Yes, they were some great conversations! Not too many in my generation appreciate history as much as my grandmother. We loved visiting about the past!

Ginger said...

What a sweet Grandma. I loved her story and her smile. You were there when I lost my Grandma Jessie and I know how special they are. I'm sorry for your loss.
Ginger Engler

Wade Burleson said...

Thank you Ginger.

Christiane said...

What a beautiful tribute to a loved grandmother . . . may she rest in the peace of Our Lord until you see her again

And you will see her again, this we know.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely Grandma and Wade you are so awesome to share this with us!!! Thank you so much and I know you have such wonderful memories of her. God Bless you and your family. You are all in my prayers.
I know we will meet her in heaven soon.
Sandra Werner

Anonymous said...

Wade, I will never forget the first time your Mom and I traveled to your Grandma Cherry's home. She made me feel so welcomed. I remember thinking I wished I had her for a grandmother. She truly was an amazing lady. Thank you for sharing a small portion of her wonderful journey. God bless all the Cherry Families. Lynda Blythe

stevenstarkmusic said...

Wade, I am sorry for you and your family's loss - but what a wonderful life!!

All the best, Steven

R.A. said...

What a lovely story. Thank you for sharing. Very inspiring.

Wade Burleson said...

Thank you all for your thoughful comments!

Anonymous said...

There are no words.....only heaven knows the impace that this dear lady had on so many souls. Fred and Virginia Cherry hold a special place in our families heart - especially my father, Harry Boydstun. He dearly, dearly loved Fred and Virginia. My thoughts and prayers are with your entire family. As dad would say...."heaven is a little sweeter.." Marsha Boydstun Chitwood

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for you loss.

My family's moves were the same, including Levertt's Chapel.

Mom graduated New London 4 years after the explosion.

Hope they are all swapping stories today!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing!!
Prayers for your family!

Also congrads on your new grandson! c-:


Anonymous said...


Currently listening to your Sunday message (1/20/2013) you mentioned about your new grandson.


Anonymous said...

Hey you should consider sharing all this on (if you haven't already considered it.) It has the option to add video, stories and the like.

Currently working on my own family tree.


Victorious said...

I'm so sorry for the loss of your Grandma, Wade. The title of your post reminds me of an old hymn:

When we all get to heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus
We'll sing and shout the victory!

Blessings to you.

Chuck Andrews said...


I first met your grandmother about 18 years ago and since then have been privilege to spend time with her on several occasions. It was always a blessing to visit with her as she was always gracious.

Your words and video are a beautiful tribute to a great woman of faith and family. Thank you for sharing.

The Burleson/Cherry family will continue in our prayers as you all navigate the waves of grief in the sea of God's grace.

Nathaniel Schmidt said...

This didn't post yesterday, so I'll try again:
Wade, loved the video and the post! Sounds like your grandmother was a very godly woman. I'm sure she will be greatly missed but glad to know she's with the Lord now.

P.S. How did you cope being one of 42 grandchildren... especially at family reunions??! it's chaotic enough being the oldest of my mother's mother's 10 grandchildrn!

Dr. J said...

Wade you are privileged to have a rich heritage. What a moving tribute to your grandmother. I wish I could have known her. I have heard from many of the powerful evangelist your grandfather was. He couldn't miss with a praying wife like your grandmother. He like your dad, you, and me married over our heads. Blessings, Dr.J

Anonymous said...

Pastor Wade--I would imagine you've already thought of this, but if you do have a Londana from pre-or immediately after the explosion years, I'm sure the museum would love to at least see it.

Also, I hope you post your family's story at the New London website. There are many from surviving family members and would be invaluable.

Your grandmother was about the same age as my aunt in Tulsa is. I grew up only knowing "a few children and teachers" died, as my family shielded us from the full horror that had taken place so near their home.

You and your family are in our prayers.


Eagle said...

Wade...I am sorry for your loss. Really I am. I'll be thinking of you and your family.

R. L. Vaughn said...

I'd first like to offer my condolences on the loss of your grandmother. Second, I'd like to say that I really enjoyed reading about her. Her story is endearing on its own, but I felt another connection to it -- she lived where I live, Rusk County, Texas. I even recognize the name Fred Cherry, though I didn't know him.

My wife's paternal grandparents lived in that part of the county, attended Turnertown Baptist Church, and her grandfather once owned a store in Turnertown. I'm sure they were acquainted with the Cherrys. The video was very nice.

Rex Ray said...

I hope your grandmother got her wish..."I'll fly away".

My wife got hers: "In the Garden".

Anonymous said...

Wow--maybe we should have a Rusk County Reunion!

I'm amazed at the effect Turnertown Baptist Church has had on so many across the country.

Not at all a bad legacy for a small church!

And I have to wonder, given some of the stories I know, how many souls have been saved because of the terribly tragedy that was the New London explosion?

To R.L. Vaughn: I've been trying to figure out where the "Kirby lease camp" used to be. Any ideas?


Rex Ray said...

I hope your grandmother got her wish: “I’ll Fly Away”.

My wife did: “In The Garden”.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Maybe someday my wife will say, “My husband thinks the world of your grandson.

Wade Burleson said...


The entire auditorium stood at the end, just as she requested, and clapped while they sang "I'll Fly Away." Pretty special.