True to her heritage
Genevieve Bartholomew was a child of solid American tradition, a strong commitment to serving other people, and an impulsive spirit of adventure. At age 95, she is still living true to that heritage.
Both of her parents, (Phillip) Elmer Bartholomew and Glennie McCullough, were born in Mercer County to families whose roots go back to the beginnings of this country. The Bartholomew name is carved in a Revolutionary War monument at the Old Stone Church near Kreidersville, PA. Another ancestor, Joseph Houston, is honored on the Pennsylvania monument at Gettysburg.
When Elmer and Glennie decided to get married, they couldn’t wait for a traditional wedding. They hopped a train and eloped to Cleveland on August 12, 1909. They came back and settled on the farm near Greenfield to which Elmer’s great-grandparents had migrated from eastern Pennsylvania during the 19th century. That’s where Genevieve was born on July 27, 1911, followed by her brothers Phillip, nicknamed Phip (1913), and Francis, nicknamed Trig (1916), and sister Temple (1918).
Genevieve went to the one-room school in Frogtown for grades one and two. In 1919, her father sold the farm and bought a general store in Greenfield, so she completed grades three through eight at the two-room school in Greenfield. Then she attended Sharon High School. She loved music, and took piano lessons until she was about 15.
After graduating from high school in 1929, she got a teaching degree from Edinboro State Teachers College. In the fall of 1931 she was hired to teach in the same one-room school in Frogtown where she had started her education. She taught 52 students in grades one through eight – with a passion. To continue their education beyond eighth grade, students at that time had to pass a test given at the high school. About ten of her students were in the eighth grade. Several of them were repeaters who had failed the test at least once.
“I was determined to do my best at getting each of them through that test,” Miss Bartholomew said. “All ten were anxious to pass. We worked very hard during the day at school, and they agreed with me to hold night school once a week in the various homes. We did this for several months during the winter of 1931-32. The extra work paid off in the end, because they all passed. The students, their parents, and the teacher were all very happy.”
Miss Bartholomew taught one more year at Frogtown, then two years at the one-room school in Bethel, near Greenfield.
“Again there were several eighth grade students who had failed the high school test,” she said. “This time we managed to get them all through during the regular school days.”
At Bethel, Miss Bartholomew and her students had to deal with a situation reminiscent of Mary and her little lamb. But in their case, it was a goat.
“A man we called Big John lived near the school. He had a billy goat that he didn’t keep penned up. Every recess it came to visit the kids. It got to be a great bother. I talked with Big John and asked him to keep the goat away, but he didn’t. So one day I told the boys to lock the goat in the coal house and sent word to Big John to come and fetch him. He came almost immediately. He put the goat on his shoulders and carried him away. I don’t know what he did with the goat after that, but it never returned.”
Her excellent work in the one-room schools, combined with her musical skills, landed Miss Bartholomew a position as fifth grade teacher at Robinson School in Sharpsville. It was the beginning of a long and glorious career. She continued to teach fifth grade in Sharpsville for 38 years, until she retired in 1973. Over the years, she taught more than one generation of a number of families.
“There were four teachers who shared the load,” she said. “My portions were music and geography.”
Music and geography weren’t just subjects Miss Bartholomew taught in school; they were a vital part of her life. Since she was just fourteen years old, she played piano at the Unity Presbyterian Church, where she worshiped with her parents. She was active in the music department there for 62 years, playing not only the piano but also the Baldwin Organ. She formed a choir of about 30 teenaged boys and girls that traveled around to sing Christian music.
She also played piano for other Christian groups, including Christian Endeavor, an interdenominational youth ministry. She was very active in that ministry, attending many of its state, national, and international conventions.
Miss Bartholomew taught Sunday School at Unity Church for 62 years, including several years with teenagers and 55 years with her own age group.
“That was a great experience,” she said. “During that time there were about 60 young women attending my class.”
Perhaps it was teaching geography that whetted her appetite for travel. She has traveled to all 50 states, including Hawaii and Alaska.
“In 1956 I drove to Alaska with three other women,” she said. “In one 1500 mile stretch there was only one mile of blacktop. All the rest were unimproved gravel roads. We drove from Montana into Canada on July 4th. We were the first car to cross the border there that summer. The snow was still six feet deep.”
While in Alaska, they took a plane trip into the Arctic Circle.
“We saw many moose. It was interesting to watch their activity in the water. They spent a lot of time with their heads under water.”
In 1976, Genevieve went to the Holy Land with Westminster College professor Dr. Joseph Hopkins as tour director. She went on three trips to Europe, including one to the famous Passion Play at Oberammergau, Germany. She toured England, Scotland, and Wales, and in 1987 spent a month in London with a traveling companion, Ruth Creighton.
Even with all the teaching, travel, and church activities, Miss Bartholomew found time to accomplish many other services to her community. She served several years as Republican Committeewoman for Lackawannock Township, and is very proud of the fact that she was honored for never having missed voting in an election since she was 21 years old.
She was on the Mercer County Historical Society Board of Directors for many years. She assisted Mae Berringer in writing “The Mercer County One-Room School Story, 1800-1960.” She wrote a book, “The History of Lackawannock Township,” which, she likes to point out, is still available for purchase. And she compiled a book of more than 40 annual Christmas poems she wrote since the mid-1950s.
She has been good friends with several members of the local Amish community, especially Mr. and Mrs. Mose Byler. She served as an informal adviser to some of the teachers in Amish schools.
Genevieve is a member of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society, an organization of women who have been teachers for five or more years. She is also active in the Red Hat Society.
Although she has never been married, “Aunt Genevieve” is at the center of a very large clan. Her 11 nieces and nephews and their families love and honor her as their matriarch. There are five branches of the Bartholomew clan, all descendents of William and Sarah (Bortz) Bartholomew and their five children. The members of each branch wear a different colored t-shirt at their reunions. In 2001, more than 100 members of the “green shirts” gathered together for a reunion at the Lackawannock Township building and grounds. They ranged in age from Aunt Genevieve’s 90 years to infants less than a year old. In July, 2006, more than 200 members of the whole clan will come together from all over the country.
Since Genevieve suffered a stroke in December, 2000, she has been a resident of Shenango Presbyterian SeniorCare in New Wilmington.
“Several of my former students, including Sharpsville Mayor Kenneth Robertson, have continued their friendship with me and have visited me here,” she said. “This place is a wonderful substitute for home.”
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 1, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2007