Everyone leaves behind a legacy of one sort or another, but few people can claim the recognition that Dr. Bill Berry has achieved. His long career of leadership in education and community service has earned him an enduring place in the history of Mentone.
Raised in that scenic town atop Lookout Mountain, he comes from a family that values public service. His father Jim served for 30 years on Sand Mountain Electric Cooperative’s board of directors; his mother Marjorie worked for 25 years as a nurse at the hospital in Fort Payne.
Berry began his long career of working with young people at Camp Laney in Mentone. After completing undergraduate degrees in education at Samford University, he took a teaching position at Moon Lake Elementary School. Founded in 1911, the school had long been more than just an educational facility – it was the hub of community activities for many Mentone residents.
After 13 years in the classroom at Moon Lake, Berry then served for 13 years as the school’s principal. After retiring from school administration, he spent the next 15 years as office manager at nearby Camp DeSoto.
When Moon Lake was closed in 2021 by the DeKalb County Board of Education, Berry was commissioned by the Mentone Town Council to lead a study group to develop recommendations for the best possible uses of the campus and its facilities. It was a great opportunity to think creatively about how to turn what would otherwise become a depreciating liability into a vibrant, viable asset for the community. A sound plan would also enable the preservation and maintenance of Mentone’s historic landmark.
After several months of the study group’s research and deliberation, it was decided that former classrooms would be leased to artists and craftspeople, the school’s cafeteria would be converted into a restaurant, and outdoor spaces would be developed for public use. Moon Lake Elementary became Moon Lake Village in July of 2021, and all available spaces were quickly occupied.
At the core of the main building, a partition was removed joining a classroom to a small auditorium. The newly created space is available for group meetings and local events. Aptly named the “Bill Berry Community Room,” his legacy will remain at the heart of Moon Lake Elementary School. – Richard Rybka
What made the Moon Lake campus unique?
The incredibly high level of parental involvement and community support was a hallmark of the school across the decades, always providing for the school’s needs and ensuring its remarkable academic successes. I always thought of Moon Lake as “the little school that could,” and I was never wrong! Now this same can-do spirit lives on in the successful evolution from school to village, allowing the campus to continue touching the lives of Mentone’s people in a unique way.
Mentone has a reputation as an artist’s community. How did this impact the school?
Moon Lake drew from the skills of a wide variety of creative citizens, ranging from the creation of a butterfly garden designed by Mentone’s Rhododendron Garden Club to the provision of an art and music teacher funded by the nonprofit Mentone Educational Resources Foundation. Extensive hand-painted murals sponsored by Camp DeSoto adorned all four cafeteria walls from floor to ceiling, and local artisans and musicians frequently shared their talents for classes and events.
What were the biggest challenges and rewards of leading Moon Lake?
The biggest challenge was maintaining the vintage main building, but this challenge was far outweighed by the reward of working alongside the community to double the campus acreage and then to add numerous new buildings, including a long-awaited library that has been designated as a public library since the school’s closing.
What is your passion outside of your work in education?
My greatest personal passion is independent international travel, and so far I’ve been blessed to visit 123 different countries. It was such a thrill to complete all the countries of the European continent a few years ago (Andorra was the last), followed closely by my final South American country (Suriname) and my final North American country (Cuba). It was such fun sharing my pictures and stories with my Moon Lake students, and it has been wonderfully gratifying to see many of them pursue their own foreign travels as adults!