Lifetime devoted to teaching, learning

By Lisa Burnett Originally Published February 17, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated February 15, 2013 at 1:54 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

While the book she wrote about her life — Adversity Builds Character — is already in print, Bertina Blair is still active writing the story of her 92 years on this planet through her church’s prison ministry, prayer lists, birthday cards for members and more.

For Bertina Blair of Benton, the road to success has been far from easy, but it has transformed her into the woman she is today.

Her journey has been written in her book Adversity Builds Character, which she completed about three years ago.

“I had 50 books printed, and I gave them to friends and relatives to get an impression,” Blair said. “Everybody that read it said it would make a bestseller.”

Blair, 92, was born in Rose City, Mich., in 1920 and moved to Alpena, Mich., when she was 4 years old. Blair had 11 siblings, but only eight of them lived to adulthood.

She stayed in Alpena until she was married when she was 21 years old, then moved back to Rose City.

Before she was married, Blair was an elementary-school teacher for three years, but soon after that, she became a full-time housewife because her husband said he didn’t want his wife to have to work.

Although she finds joy in every day she’s given to live, Blair has faced

tragedy in her life.

Three of her six children have died, she has been widowed twice, but she has never, ever given up.

After her first husband died in 1967, to keep her family financially stable, Blair wrote for the local newspaper and cared for a woman in the community who was an invalid.

“It would have been so easy to give up,” Blair said.

She said her mother instilled into the entire family the persistence that Blair has today.

In 1970, she went back to teaching.

She was chosen as Outstanding Elementary School Teacher of the Year in 1974 and was also nominated as a National Outstanding Elementary School Teacher.

“I was a slow learner, and I think that’s why I was a good teacher,” Blair said. “I understood the problems children had.”

Aside from having a Master of Arts in Teaching degree, Blair has had home-health training, has been instructed on how to do taxes and has taught other teachers how to teach.

“I’ve accomplished everything I’ve wanted to do, and I’m still accomplishing,” Blair said. “The Lord’s got something in store for me.”

Her desire to teach developed at a young age before she went to school. She said her older brothers would come home and tell her stories of what happened at school, and she knew from that moment that she wanted to be a teacher.

Since she came from a poor family, Blair said, she feared she wouldn’t be able

to attend college. She started baby-sitting around her neighborhood when she

was just 8 years old to earn money to buy her books for school.

“Back when I went to high school, we had to buy all of our own books,” Blair said. “I cleaned houses on the weekends for 25 cents an hour.”

Blair needed to attend the county’s “normal school” in order to become a teacher. She was chosen with just a bit of luck.

“There was room for 20 people to go to county normal to go to school to be a teacher,” Blair said. “They had already selected 19 of the students to go to school, and I was chosen as the 20th one.”

Blair taught until 1985. After retiring from teaching, Blair bought a motor home and traveled across the United States.

“I have been to every state in the United States except for New Jersey, North and South Carolina and three or four states on the East Coast,” Blair said.

She didn’t limit herself to traveling in the states; Blair has also been to Europe, Israel and Austria.

Blair moved to Arkansas in 1992 after her oldest son married and moved to Benton.

Every day Blair wakes up, she says, “Lord, you let me live another day. What is it you want me to do today?”

In high school, Blair was a figure skater, played volleyball and was a pitcher on a baseball team in college. Years later, she didn’t let her age get in the way of staying active, either.

“I climbed Pinnacle Mountain when I was 80,” Blair said. Since then, her health has started to deteriorate, but she finds ways to stay active within her home.

Blair stays busy doing work for her church. She corrects Bible lessons for the church’s prisoner ministry, makes the prayer list, sends birthday cards to church members and writes letters to members who miss church.

In addition to this, she calls a group of shut-ins from her church.

She has an extensive background in Christianity and is still very involved in her church, the Benton Seventh-day Adventist Church.

“I got my Christian training in The Salvation Army,” Blair said.

She enjoyed the fellow-ship so much, she went to church every chance she was given.

“I went to three Sunday Schools every Sunday,” Blair said. As a child, she walked a mile and a half to church because her teacher from school taught Sunday School at the congregational church in Alpena. Blair was raised

as a churchgoer and completed a six-month course in Christianity from The Salvation Army.

She has 14 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Blair said five of her siblings are still living, and they talk at least once a week.

“We’re still a close-knit group,” Blair said. “One sister lives in Oregon, one in Utah, one in Michigan, and I live in Arkansas, and my [twin] brother lives in Florida.”

All of her siblings are

older than 80.

The 92-year-old still keeps a journal to remember how each day plays out. She said she intends to live every day to the fullest as long as she lives. So, while the book of her journeys is written, the real-life ending is yet to be penned.

Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501)244-4307 or

Online News Editor Lisa Burnett can be reached at

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