An extraordinary life

August 2, 2022

By Jeff Becraft


The more I find out about my Mom, the more impressed I am about who she was as a person.

Mom grew up in deep, southwest Virginia in a little coal-mining community named Appalachia. She was named by her Dad after June Tolliver in the book, Trail of the Lonesome Pine.

Mom had four brothers and her dad worked as an engineer on the railroad. She would often tear up as she would tell how she didn’t know how her parents put all of the children through college.  I mentioned this years ago but my Mom and her brothers would walk one mile to school, walk one mile home for lunch (probably corn bread and soup beans), walk another mile back to go school, and finish off the school day with yet another mile walk home. Four miles every day to go to school.

She went to Emory & Henry College where she was the drum major and Miss Emory & Henry. She went on to become a school teacher and started teaching in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.  She then moved up to Maryland, 450 miles away from small-town Appalachia, and took a job at Clarksburg Elementary School eventually winding up at Laytonsville Elementary School where she spent most of her 30-year teaching career.

Mom was an incredible and highly-respected teacher.  A fellow teacher said of her, “She was like a sister to me.”  She would always give her best for her students and would go the extra mile for each one of them, even if they required extra attention. We could often be out in public and someone would come up to us thanking her and saying, “Mrs. Becraft… you were my 3rd grade teacher.”

One story that reveals her heart is when she was still teaching in Big Stone Gap (a hop, skip, and a jump from Appalachia), where going to the 5 cent movie show on Saturday mornings was a big deal for kids.  There was one of her students who was extremely poor and didn’t have the 5 cents.  Mom, in her great wisdom, rather than simply giving him the 5 cents, she guarded his dignity (such an important principle when helping people), and hired him by having him stay later and clean the chalkboards.  She paid him the 5 cents for his work… and he went to the picture show.  That student went on to have a career in the Navy.  Years and years later, he and his wife came all the way from Indiana to see my Mom and thank her.

Growing up, I didn’t really recognize what a great person my Mom was. After all, she was just my Mom. There is no “just” anything in this life.  Each one of us is a valuable part of what is going on… especially our parents.  It wasn’t until I got older and looked backwards that I saw all who Mom was and all that she did. She made tremendous sacrifices for her family, especially for my brother and me.

Mom was a person who gave her best… whether it was to her family or her students.  Her family meant a lot to her.  As one grandchild commented, “She was our #1 fan.”

So… this is to honor my Mom… an extraordinary life. And it is also to encourage us – the people in our lives are there right now.  Let us make the most of it, and of them.  And recognize how truly valuable they are.


Jeff Becraft is the Director Emeritus for Youth Corps and has dedicated much of his life to helping shift the vision of people’s lives. Youth Corps is a life-changing leadership development experience that inspires high school students to be leaders in the Midlands and beyond. You can connect with Jeff at [email protected].