Gaston & Catawba

Lincolnton great-grandmother, gets GED, pursues career plans

RoseMarie Beer’s December 1997 car accident is mostly a painful blur. She does remember it was sleeting and raining, and that she was at a stop sign.

“It was the first time I ever had a Christmas weekend off,” said the Lincolnton mother of four and grandmother of 11. “I was going to get my grandson. We were going to see the Christmas play at church but didn’t realize they had canceled it.

“I was coming off (U.S.) 321 down by the bypass, and the next thing I knew I was hit from behind. I couldn’t even tell you what kind of truck it was that hit me. The only thing I remember was unbuckling my seat belt, I looked up and felt the side of my head and I said, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to die.’ And I remember a person saying, ‘Not if I can help it.’ ”

Beer suffered a concussion and other injuries that resulted in physical therapy, speech therapy and her being sent to a chiropractor. It took her years to recover – the latest in a series of interruptions in her lifelong quest to complete her GED.

But when peers and acquaintances suggested she give up her dream, the 66-year-old great-grandmother of five had a quick reply: Not if I can help it.

When Beer joined more than 120 students who received their GED at a Gaston College ceremony in September, she thought of all the naysayers. She thought of all the life changes and tragedies she has survived. She thought of all the family and teachers who have supported her along the way.

But her late husband came to mind first.

“That was my first thought,” she said recently. She paused, her voice shaking. “I looked up and I said, ‘I did it!’ ”

Steve Beer was always supportive of RoseMarie. The two married in April 1971. By then she was a young divorced mother of two sons who had dropped out of high school in Camden, N.J., in 1967 and moved to Charlotte, where she had decided to begin work on her GED in 1969. When she became pregnant again, she dropped out to avoid climbing the three flights of steps to classes in the Conner Furniture building in Lincolnton.

She eventually decided to take another go at her GED, but the demands of a growing family became too great and she had to postpone her plans again. She knew she would resume her pursuit.

“I know without an education you cannot get a decent job making good money, and if you want to be somebody in this world, you have to get a good education,” Beer said. Though she worked in a mill for 22 years and was grateful for the work, she wanted to be a writer.

She had resumed her quest again when her husband’s failing health became an issue. “When a doctor said he didn’t know how many years we had left together, I just thought that he was more important than my education,” she said. Steve Beer died on Sept. 21, 1995.

She had returned to the classroom when the 1997 accident changed the course of her life again. “I thank the Lord that it wasn’t my time,” she said. Even as she struggled through her long recovery and ultimately began taking college courses – including classes in Early Childhood Education – in 2008, there were skeptics.

“A lot of people told me, ‘Why didn’t you give it up, hang it up? You’re too old. You’ll never pass it.’ I looked at ’em and I shook my head. I said, ‘I’m not giving up. I’m not doing what people want me to do.’ ”

She celebrated the Sept. 12 ceremony, in Gaston College’s Myers Center Multipurpose Auditorium on the Dallas campus, with close and extended family. “My sisters came down from Jersey and Myrtle Beach and surprised me,” she said. “Most of the teachers who were part of my life were there. It was a very exciting time.”

She thought of her mom. “My parents were very disappointed when I quit school my senior year. I also did this for them, by the grace of God.”

Beer said there are so many staff members and teachers at Gaston College to thank that she can’t name them all. But she tried: Delores Payseur, Becky Black, Tonya Propst, Wayne Richards, Maggie Bost and Matt Edwards – “my teacher for four or five years in my worst subject, math.”

With GED in pocket, she’s moving on to the tech arena. Beer plans to take computer classes for seniors with an eye on becoming a writer, in the footsteps of her grandfather and cousin. She’s also staying active by helping with family.

She’s grateful for those who supported her but said she doesn’t need any pats on the back: “My main purpose is, if I can help one person through my lifetime to stay in school, get their education, make something of their life. … You’ve got to put God first, and then all this other stuff will fall into place. It’s hard work, but it pays off.”