Donna Perry Netherland
2003 Outstanding Alumni
"I've come a long way, baby!" are the words that Donna Perry Netherland uses to describe her progression from a first grader in Elizabethton in 1910, to an entering freshman student at East Tennessee State Normal School in 1921, to active adult learner at East Tennessee State University today.
Netherland received her teaching certificate in 1923 from "the normal school" and in 1949 graduated from East Tennessee State College with her Bachelor of Science degree in English. She remembers that as a student her allowance was $2 per week, but she does not recall how she used it since there were no snack or soft drink machines. She drank water from faucets, not bottles.
A native of Elizabethton, she is one of six children of the late Nat T. and Mary J. Perry. At the time Netherland graduated from high school, women were either supposed to get married or teach school. She decided she would rather become a teacher.
In 1923 at the age of 18, Miss Perry began her career as the teacher of grades 4, 5, and 6 in a small, rural school in Montezuma, N.C., midway between Newland and Linville. In 1928 she decided that teaching need not exclude marriage, and became the wife of Houston Netherland, an avid sportsman who, at that time, worked for the Clinchfield Railroad. They met in Johnson City, but were married in New York City while she was attending a summer study program at Columbia University. They celebrated 47 anniversaries before his death in 1976.
She retired from teaching in 1970 at the age of 65. Teaching had been a wise choice for her. Netherland recalls she would not have taught for 46 years had she not enjoyed her work and loved children. Most of those career years were spent at West Side School, where she taught first grade to three generations of children from the Elizabethton area.
Netherland has traveled the world, touring Russia and the Scandinavian countries, England, Greece, Yugoslavia (before it was a divided country), Egypt, and the Holy Land. She made her first trip to Europe by ship in 1927, the same year Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. Netherland says she much prefers ships to planes.
She is an active member of First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton where she served as pianist for many years and is described as 'renowned' for her culinary skills exhibited during several church-sponsored progressive dinners. Netherland is also a member of the Elizabethton Book Club and the Franklin Garden Club.
Netherland has a zest for life unparalleled even by the present generation. Always a student, she is a charter member of ETSU's Institute for Continued Learning. In 1998 she was named ETSU's Adult Learner of the Year, and in December of that year, having been associated with her alma mater for 77 years, Netherland was honored by being chosen as the keynote speaker for ETSU's fall commencement. Yes, she has come a long way.