Nettie Burks Wynn walked into the den of her Northwest Decatur home and picked up a lantern her father-in-law used when he worked for L&N Railroad.
Other treasured family keepsakes sat on the floor, including her parents’ milk churn, a container for making sauerkraut and her grandparents’ spittoons.
Wynn, 81, who leads the monthly community meeting at Turner-Surles Community Resource Center, spent part of Wednesday morning talking about her past, core values and the love she has for the River City.
Well known and well respected in the community, Wynn and her husband, Steve, lost their only child in 1993.
Two years later, Steve died. But mementos spread throughout the sprawling house, and the love of so many in the city to whom she devoted her life assures her she will never be alone.
“I’ve known her all my life,” said Lynn Herring, pastor of Macedonia Cumberland Presbyterian Church. “We attended the same church as I grew up, and Ms. Wynn provided transportation for the youth.
“She’d drive by and pick us up and take us to all sorts of events at the church, from practicing the Easter pageant to vacation Bible school. She had a great influence on me.”
So, too, on longtime Decatur City Councilman Billy Jackson.
Wynn “has always been there. As a child, I knew her, too,” Jackson said.
“She became involved in our community meeting in November 1996 and became a mainstay, a constant. She is actually a great ambassador for the city. If only we had more like her.”
One of 14 children, Wynn was born in a house on Cedar Lake Road. She grew up helping her parents and siblings farm then-unsettled land.
“I picked a lot of cotton out there,” she said. “That’s how I know that work doesn’t hurt anybody.”
Wynn commuted to Hartselle and graduated from Morgan County Training School in 1952. She attended Alabama State in Montgomery for almost two years before enrolling in a government-sponsored nursing class at Lakeside High School.
“I worked during the day and attended class three nights a week for almost three years,” she said. “Decatur General Hospital had an opening, and I was chosen because of my grades and perfect attendance.”
The selection, which came in 1959, put Wynn on the path to a 49-year career at the hospital, where she worked as a technologist in radiology.
“I got laid off in January 2008. Otherwise, I would have still been working,” she said. “I still feel the same. But when changes are made, you have to change.”
Wynn, who joined St. James Cumberland Presbyterian Church of America in 1955, served as a deacon and has been an elder for the past seven years.
While she doesn’t transport children anymore, she assists others who need a helping hand. She was at the bedside of Pansy Trammell, known for her beautiful flower garden, when Trammell died a year ago at age 96.
“She was still gardening almost right up to her passing,” Wynn said. Wynn’s late daughter, Vickie Turner, who taught first and second grades at Leon Sheffield Elementary School, left two children for Wynn to cherish. Jessica Turner, 22, earned a degree at the University of Alabama-Birmingham and is in graduate school to become a pharmacist. Roderick Turner, 19, lives in Huntsville with his father.
Wynn and five of her siblings are still living and a sister, Ann Edmonds, also resides in Decatur.
“The others live in different parts of the country, but Ann and I talk every day,” Wynn said. “What helps me the most now is the love that extended to the family as we were kids growing up.”
Wynn said she would like to be remembered for “having a heart” to help people.
“I tried to make a difference in the community by the way I live in the community,” she said. “You don’t look down on anyone, and you speak to everybody. Everybody is entitled to the time of day.”
Ronnie Thomas can be reached at 256-340-2438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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