Early Settlers of Union
Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
Family in Union County, GA (part 5):
The Family of Byron Herbert Reece, Poet and Novelist
Wellborn Reece and Hannah Emma Lou Lance Reece Family, about 1925. On Emma's lap is Emma Jean Reece (b. March
29, 1923). Standing, left to right, are
Eva Mae Reece (b. August 25, 1911); Byron Herbert Reece (b. September
1917); Thomas James "T. J." Reece (b. July 30, 1915); Nina Kate Reece
(b. June 15, 1914.) The youngest child
in the Reece family, Alwayne Reece (May 16, 1908-June 15, 1909) died at
months from miningitis.
compliments of Pauline Bryan, Cleveland, GA, widow of Jimmy Bryan,
of the poet. Jimmy was a son of Mrs. Emma Lance Reece's sister,
Lance Bryan. This and other valuable Reece family pictures were
Eula Bryan's collection, and passed on to her son, Jimmy.)
By brief recapitulation from
column, and continuing the saga of the Reece family in Union County,
let me review by listing again the seven known generations in America
poet/novelist Byron Herbert Reece (1917-1958):
William Reece (wife Mary, maiden name unknown)
Valentine (called “Fella”) Reece (wife Christina Harmon Reece)
Jacob Reece (wife Susannah “Hannah” Silvers Reece)
John Reece (wife Mary Anderson Reece)
Simpson Reece (wife Emmaline Sampson Reece)
Juan Wellborn Reece (wife Hannah Emma Lou Lance Reece)
Byron Herbert Reece (poet and novelist, never married)
Since our place of birth and time of
birth are out of our hands, we become a “citizen,” (as Byron Herbert
liked to refer in his poetry to persons in residence here upon earth)
wherever we are when our earthly parents welcome us into their
household. And this baby was born in a log
had been on his maternal side of the family—the Lances—for a long time. The cabin in 1917 stood about in the middle
of where Lake Trahlyta at Vogel State Park, in the shadow of Blood
now located. The baby’s great grandfather, John Reece, was an early
the county and had been listed in the 1834 Union County
Byron Herbert Reece was born September 14, 1917 into the
household of Juan Wellborn Reece and Emma Lance Reece.
Already born into the Reece household were
these siblings of the future poet:
Sister Alwayne Reece, born May 16, 1908, died of meningitis June 15, 1909 at age thirteen
months. Her gravestone in the Old Salem
cemetery in Union
her nickname. She was buried near her maternal great grandparents, the
John H. Lance (1834-1888, killed by moonshiners) and his wife, her
great grandmother, Caroline T. Lance (1842-1916). So the poet never met
older sister, “Waynie,” who died eight years before he was born.
Sister Eva Mae Reece, born August 25, 1911, grew up to
become a teacher; she never married. She
lived at home and taught mainly at local schools near the Reece home. She was present to assist poet Reece later in
the care of their parents (and the poet himself), all of whom
tuberculosis, a disease that seemed to plague this particular family of
Sister Nina Kate Reece, born June 15, 1914, married in
1934 and moved away to North
writer needs to do more research on
Kate’s family and learn the name of her husband and children, for I
recall that she did have a family.
Kate’s family was not listed in the Reece sources I’m using for
The poet’s brother, Thomas James,
known by his initials, T. J., was born July 30, 1915 and died November 11, 1989. He married a neighbor young lady, Lorena
Duckworth, in 1939. T. J. joined the
Civilian Conservation Corps when that work group was formed by
Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After T. J.
and Lorena married, they lived in various places in the United States
as T. J. followed jobs. But then they
came back to Union
County and settled
Lorena’s family homeplace and reared their family near her aging
his aging parents. T. J. and Lorena had
four children, Tommy, (named after his father, T. J.), June, Terry and
Byron Herbert Reece was next in line
of the five Reece siblings. When asked if he was named for the famous
poets, Lord Byron and George Herbert, he laughingly told his inquirer
was named for Byron Mitchell, a hog-trader from Gainesville, Georgia,
who stopped by the Reece farm to dicker about hog sales, and for
an insurance salesman, who also was an acquaintance of the Reece
The youngest of the Reece siblings,
the poet’s sister, Emma Jean Reece, was born March 19, 1923.
She grew up to be a beauty, and met a young man in the Civilian
Conservation Corps who was stationed at the present Goose Creek location when a CCC Camp operated there.
His name was Thomas Daniel Rispoli and his
home state was New York. Jean and Thomas Daniel were married in a
lovely ceremony in New York. He served our country admirably during World
War II and lost his life in that conflict.
Jean Reece Rispoli and Thomas Daniel Rispoli had one child,
Katherine Rispoli. After Thomas’s death,
Jean and her baby, called “Patti,” returned to Blairsville, where they
lived. Existing pictures of Juan and
Emma Reece welcoming their little granddaughter “Patti,” and her
daughter Jean, after the soldier’s death, are touching, indeed.
Life proceeded as it did in most every
farm home in Choestoe as Byron Herbert Reece was growing up. There were not a lot of this world’s goods to
enjoy, but the Reece’s well knew how to “make do,” and live frugally on
the narrow patches of their farm along Wolf Creek
yielded. Though poor in property and
money, they had a super-abundance of love.
The five surviving Reece children were tutored from an early age
their mother Emma, even before they were old enough to walk the four
nearby Choestoe school where they were instructed in grades Primer
Seventh Grade before going on to Union County High School at
county seat town some ten miles north of the Reece home.
Mrs. Emma and Mr. Juan, well-grounded in the
Christian faith, had daily devotionals, reading to their children from
James Version of the Bible. They didn’t
have many books in their household, but those they owned, and the local
newspaper and “The Progressive Farmer”
magazine were read avidly. It is said
that young Byron Herbert, by now called “Hub” for short, could read
Bible and John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress before he
School in the
class. It was from this home training
that he began to fall in love with the rhythms of the English language
would later use so effectively in his ballads, in particular, and in
sonnets and lyrical poetry.
I grew up Baptist, going to Choestoe Baptist
Church. The Reece family was Methodists, members of Salem Methodist Church
in the same
community. Each of these churches was
what we called “part-time.” That is, we
only had preaching two Sundays each month, but Sunday School every
Sunday. It was our habit for members of
congregation to go to the other church, for in that way, we could
“preaching” every Sunday. It was at Salem Church
that I heard Byron Herbert Reece, an approved lay preacher in the Methodist Church, teach and preach some
inclement weather prevented his own pastor from getting to Salem.
So I was privileged, too, to hear the poet as preacher at times. And I treasure those memories of him as well.
The space for this account does not
allow all the remembrances, as a neighbor to the Reece family, that I
recount of his life and times, and of his beloved family. But in the
this humble, unassuming, hard-working, God-fearing potential poet were
established many of the characteristics Reece portrayed in his life and
work. He had a strong work ethic, borne
of hard times and emulated by him in what he saw in his parents.
His poems began to be published in the
1930’s. Then his book, Ballad of the
Bones and Other Poems was released in 1945 by E. P. Dutton, New York. Reviews and news frequently published in “The Atlanta Constitution” that came
daily to my house when I was growing up in the same community with
us, his neighbors (at least in the Dyer household) to be amazed that
neighbor farmer/teacher had turned poet and was recognized on a
When the poet met death at his own
hand June 3, 1958,
after much illness from tuberculosis and deep depression, I was
I heard the news. For months I thought
that if I had been able just to talk with him before the tragedy,
could have said something to turn the tide of his intentions to take
life. His death certainly diminished
me. I have been his admirer, a student
of his inimitable prose and lofty verse, and a pursuer of “all things
since, when I was 15, my teacher, Mrs.
Grapelle Mock, took me to interview Reece for a column I wrote then for
school page in the local paper. I began
to really aspire to follow in his footsteps as a writer.
I had neither the inherent talent, expertise
with language, nor ability to capture thoughts “from airy nothingness”
did. But he was then and is, even to
this day, my mentor, my literary hero, and my one-time mountain
friend. And I am richer, much richer,
because of this association with Byron Herbert Reece (1917-1958), poet.
Jones; published Feb. 11, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville,
Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian.
She may be reached at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org;
phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708
Updated February 14, 2010
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