Freed-Hardeman Basketball Alumna Reflects on 100 Years

Alumni // June 21, 2016

Four months into her second century (as she puts it) Bertha DeHoff Smith looks back at a life filled with hard work and hard times; however, thanks to friends and a family filled with love, she can say, “It all worked out just fine.” In an autobiography written for her family, she uses those words to conclude her accounts of various struggles.

Born Dec. 28, 1915, in Vanndale, Arkansas, the centenarian has lived in several states. She now makes her home at Saint Bernards Village in Jonesboro, Arkansas, where she lives independently.

Her life’s journey took her from a small school in Black Oak, Arkansas, a two-mile walk from her home, to many places in the United States and abroad. She remembers being unhappy at school and feeling “very inferior to others.” Her attitude changed the next year when she had “a very loving, caring teacher.” That teacher ignited within Smith a desire to be a teacher herself.

Several years later, at the urging of her brother, George DeHoff, she enrolled at Freed-Hardeman College. A former FHC student himself, he even paid her tuition, so she could study in Henderson, Tennessee. “He swept floors and shined shoes to do that,” she said.

She arrived at school in 1935 with a limited wardrobe. She lived in Oakland Hall (now Hall-Roland Hall), which housed the home economics department in the basement. Handy with a sewing machine, she enrolled in a home ec class. The teacher allowed her to use the machine to do extra sewing to improve her wardrobe.

Smith remembers her time in the dormitory fondly. Having lived a somewhat isolated life on the farm, she thoroughly enjoyed living with all of the other girls. Like all students who have some rules discussions with their dorm moms, she recalled making toast in the dorm room, which was against the rules. Her dorm supervisor made a special visit to see her when she smelled the evidence.

W. Claude Hall was her English teacher. “He walked in and asked if you had read the lesson,” she said, “and if you raised your hand that you had, he began to ask you questions about some of the words that were in the assignment.” Some students were caught when they couldn’t define the words. Smith said she escaped that misfortune by never saying she had read the lesson. She remembers other FHU teachers, including C.P. Roland, who taught Bible, and Joe T. Rivenbark, who taught her social studies class.

All, however, was not study. Smith joined the Glee Club under the direction of Mrs. N. B. Hardeman and a social club. She also joined the basketball team, a sport she had played since elementary school. (As a sixth grader, she played with the high school girls.) Dick Stewart coached the team, which she said played everywhere. She added that they “had a really good team that won most of our games. ”The team wore red and black uniforms, part of which they had to furnish themselves. In the student newspaper, the team is referred to as Lionesses or Lassies.

Women’s basketball in 1935-36 was played by six-person teams, two guards, two forwards and two centers, who were restricted to either the offensive or defensive end of the court. Smith was a guard on the FHC team; her job was to prevent the opponents from scoring, get the ball to half-court and pass to a forward on her team.

At age 100, Smith remains active and says she has no health problems that are not controlled. She even assists with the direction of an exercise class at Saint Bernards. She participates in many activities there and attends the Southwest Church of Christ.

Although she said she has no advice for living to be 100 “other than the good Lord,” she concluded her autobiography with a few tips: You might live to be 100 if…

  1. You have good genetics.
  2. You exercise all your life.
  3. You have a great sense of humor.
  4. You stay interested in your fellow man.
  5. You appreciate the contributions of others.
  6. You continue to learn.
  7. You try new activities.
  8. You improve yourself.
  9. You maintain an attitude of love and gratitude for the blessings God has given you, including salvation.