New DAR state regent promotes historic preservation, education, patriotism

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Published August 3, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

Mary Helen Love Deere, newly installed as regent of the Arkansas Society Daughters of the American Revolution, stands in front of the American flag that flies at her home in Benton. Patriotism is one of the platforms of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.

Mary Helen Love Deere recently returned home to Benton from Washington, D.C., and hit the road running as the new regent of the Arkansas Society Daughters of the American Revolution.

She was among several new state regents who were installed June 29 during the conclusion of the 123rd Continental Congress of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, held in Constitution Hall at the National DAR Headquarters and at the Grand Hyatt Washington hotel. Approximately 50 members and guests from Arkansas attended the national conference.

“It was humbling, to say the least,” Deere said when asked how she felt about the installation, or “sashing,” ceremony. Each state regent wears a blue-and-white ribbon sash that denotes her office.

“When I got up there on the stage, I kept telling myself that I knew what was going to happen. I was one of 50 state regents onstage; 14 of us were new incoming state regents. But when I heard my name called, I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness.’

“You think of the enormous honor that your state society has bestowed on you, and you think, ‘Don’t let me fall flat on my face.’”

Deere said she is “very thankful” for Jo Ann Cooper of Cabot, the outgoing state regent.

“You couldn’t ask for anybody more helpful,” Deere said. “She included me in her emails. She took me to district meetings, to teas and chapter meetings. It was a great learning experience. She allowed me to see how things work. Now, I have to pay it forward.”

The new state vice regent is Jerrie Townsend of Stuttgart.

“I am so glad to have her,” Deere said. “She is such a delight.”

As the state regent, Deere will promote DAR projects such as historic preservation, education and patriotism. Upon request, she will visit all of Arkansas’ 44 DAR chapters during her two-year term as state regent. As of April, state membership was reported at 2,497.

Deere will also attend district meetings, board of management meetings and the state conference, which is held annually in March in Little Rock. She will travel to Washington at least four times a year, including to the annual Continental Congress that is held each June.

Deere was honored Saturday at a tea hosted by her home DAR chapter, Provincia de la Sal, at First United Methodist Church in Benton. She will preside over the state Board of Management meeting Aug. 23 at Harding University in Searcy.

Deere’s theme as state regent is “Respect the Past, Live Today, Hope for Tomorrow.”

Her symbol is an angel and will be available as a pin, which Arkansas Daughters named “Mary Love” on the bus trip to Washington.

“Be one (an angel), help a vet,” Deere said.

Her Scripture verse is “Each of you has received a gift to serve others” (1 Peter 4:10).

Her project is the Arkansas Freedom Fund, which is a 501(3)(c) organization that benefits Arkansas veterans.

“The Arkansas Freedom Fund helps all veterans, not just the wounded warriors,” Deere said.

Proceeds from the sale of items, including the Mary Love angel pin, tote bags, umbrellas and mugs, will be donated to this organization.

Deere said that when she speaks to members of the community about DAR, she tells them the national motto is “God, Home and Country.

“We have committees — working committees — that work to support this motto,” she said. “When we meet, we don’t just sit and talk. The work we do is very relevant, such as our work in historic preservation, conservation and Project Patriot, which helps American troops by sending them care packages, and veterans by supporting the local VA hospitals and clinics.

“We also do a lot of work in education,” Deere said. “NSDAR financially supports several schools. And on the local level, we sponsor essay contests in American history, we recognize good citizens in the schools, we give medals to ROTC cadets, and we give scholarships to graduating high school seniors.

“We are not just little old ladies who do genealogy,” Deere said with a laugh. “Genealogy is just a part of DAR.”

Deere joined the Provincia de la Sal DAR chapter in Benton in 1988. She served that chapter as regent, secretary, treasurer and registrar before being elected state vice regent in 2012 and assuming duties as state regent this year.

In order to join DAR, Deere was able to prove her lineage to John Mileham Sr. (the name was later changed to Milam), who, as a patriot, served in Virginia during the American Revolution. DAR defines a “patriot” as “one who provided service or direct assistance in achieving America’s independence.”

She has since proven her lineal descent to Mileham’s son, John Mileham Jr. — both are on her father’s side of the family — and to two patriots on her mother’s side of the family, Joseph Love and Jeremiah Dungan, who both served in North Carolina.

“I’ve hit a brick wall on my mother’s side,” Deere said, “but I’m still looking. No one ever quits looking.”

Mary and her husband, Jay, have two sons.

Their son Ron Deere, 56, and his wife, Luann, live in Conway. They have three children: Brad Norwood, 32; Jason Deere, 30; and Michael Deere, 22. Brad and his wife, Christy, live in Springdale with their three children: son Brycen, 6; and 2-year-old twins — a son and daughter, Braxton and Blair. Jason and his wife, Luci, live in Little Rock with their 5-month-old daughter, Vivian. Michael lives in Conway.

Son Steve Deer, 54, and his wife, Vicki, live in Benton. They have two children — Judd, 28, who lives in Little Rock with his wife, Meagan; and Clara, 24, who lives in Benton and is a member of DAR.

Most of Deere’s family attended the installation ceremony.

“I think they were a little proud of their mama,” she said with a smile. “I was certainly proud to have them there to share that occasion with them.”

Deere, 79, was born in Greenbrier, the daughter of the late James O. “Buck” Love and Clara Nixon Love.

“I only lived there for six weeks,” she said. “My parents moved to Benton after I was born, and that is where I grew up. Benton is home.”

Deere has one brother, Jim Love, and two sisters, Jackie Sample and Judy Drennan, who all live in Benton. Sample is a member of DAR.

Deere graduated from Benton High School in 1952 and from St. Vincent Infirmary School of Nursing in Little Rock in 1955. She worked as a registered nurse for 25 years.

“I spent most of that time in the operating theater at Saline Memorial Hospital in Benton,” she said.

She and Jay have been married for 58 years. They are active members of First United Methodist Church of Benton.

Jay, who is from Malvern, is retired from Alcoa in Benton. He was an engineer and retired as production manager in 1994.

“We spent two tours of duty in Suriname, [South America],” she said. The first tour of duty was from 1981 to 1985, and the second from 1991 to 1994.

“We first went there in 1981, and when we came back, I was so far behind [in nursing practices] that I just retired,” Mary said. “I would have had to go back to school, and I just didn’t want to do that.”

One of Deere’s genealogical treasures is an old family Bible, dating to the 1800s.

“I got on the GenForum website one day and saw a message, ‘Looking for descendants of John D. and Sarah Wilcox Love of Cherokee, Ala.’ I thought, ‘Those are my great-grandparents,’” Deere said, adding that she rarely used the GenForum genealogy service, but for some reason, she had that day.

“I answered the email, and she answered me immediately,” Deere said. “She wanted more information and asked me for my phone number so she could call me.”

Deere said she received a call from her email correspondent, Eva Shea of San Antonio, Texas.

“She said, ‘I have something of your family’s that you might like to have. I have a Bible that belonged to someone in your family,’” Deere said.

Deere said Shea’s mother liked to visit flea markets in Modesto, California, where she lived. She saw a Bible at one of the flea markets and bought it because she loved history. Shea said her mother made her children promise, upon her death, that they would try to find the family that the Bible belonged to.

“I have no idea how that Bible got to Modesto, California,” Deere said. “All of my relatives lived in Faulkner County, except for maybe one or two. Most of them — Nixons, Loves, Harkriders, DeBerrys, Milams — are buried in Faulkner County at Spring Hill Cemetery and Pleasant Valley Cemetery at Wooster.”

Deere said Shea mailed her the Bible and “didn’t ask me for a penny for the postage.

“I emailed her, thanking her, and I never heard from her again. That was in 2001.”

Deere said the Bible does list the marriage of John D. Love and Sarah Wilcox in 1854, as well as births and deaths of some family members. There are also several tintype photographs in the back of the Bible, all without names.

“I wish someone had written the names on them,” Deere said. “I don’t know who any of them are. I have had a cousin or two look at them, but they don’t know, either.

“To me, it’s a miracle that this happened this way. It was meant to be.”

Deere said she does have a photograph of John and Sarah’s house in Greenbrier. “It had a red roof,” she said, adding that the house is no longer there.

According to the DAR website, membership in DAR is open to “any women, 18 and older, who can prove lineal, bloodline descent from an ancestor who aided in achieving American independence.” For more information, visit www.dar.org.

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