“A Clean, Beautiful Life” – the June Saylor interview

June Saylor in front of Old Main

June Edith Saylor passed away in April of 2009 at the Hillcrest Nursing Home, Knoxville, TN. Her enthusiasm for life’s small victories, eternal optimism, and daily devotions are sorely missed by her church family at Sevier Heights Baptist Church, her many orphanage brothers and sisters from Eliada, and the rest of us who knew her during a long and blessed life.

One of her closest friends, Clem McDaniels, wrote me the following note after we first met: “June’s story is truly one of God’s amazing grace. He alone can take a simple life and make it a masterpiece. After she asked Jesus Christ to come into her heart she was no longer a ‘bastard.” She now had a heavenly father and was part of God’s family.”  – Clifford B. Davids


The Early Years

“I was a month old when I came to Eliada in 1923. My mother, she…I was born out of wedlock. I was born out of wedlock, and then my mother took me right to Eliada Orphanage. She came to Knoxville, Tennessee and went to a home for unwed mothers. And then when I was a month old she came back to Asheville and dropped me off at Eliada. And from there she went back to where she lived. And that was all I knew growing up.”

“I lived at Eliada all those years! I mean I was at Eliada until I graduated from high school, then I left and went on my own. And I traveled, job-hopped here and there. Then I came to Knoxville, Tennessee. And I got a job at the Standard Knitting Mills, and loved it, and worked there thirty-five years.”

“The nursery in the Old Main Building? I can’t remember that far back, sweetie, but I can tell you a little more about the little girls’ building. I remember sitting on the sand pile. There was a little sand thing out there, and us girls sat out there and watched them build the building. I never will forget that. We watched it go up and everything. And it was amazing. I think I was one of the first ones to move in there, and I remember that because we were so proud.”

“There were thirty of us little girls from six to twelve years old. There were ten of us in each room, and we had metal lockers for our clothing. Each one of us girls had a locker. And it seems like, if I remember right, there could have been two of us in a locker because there were so many kids. We didn’t have nice closets–those old metal lockers were plenty good enough, though.”

Playing in front of the Little Girls Building

“And we had the whole building. But we never did have to sleep together. Each child had their own bed, which I am very thankful for. Each one had their own bed, and you took care of it. Everything had to stay nice and neat. Our bedroom, which was way at top of the little girls’ building, was right next to the Chapel, see. And we all met for Sunday School and church up in the Chapel.”

“We had one house mother, and a school teacher. Two people, ok? They took care of us and we were well organized, because you better mind, you better be good or else, you know, and it wasn’t a…anyway, you minded, you behaved yourself. We just made it like we had to.”

“You got up in the morning. You put your clothes on. You got yourself cleaned up. You washed, you looked nice for the day. The breakfast bell would ring at 6:30 a.m. and then at 7:00 a.m. it was breakfast time. We all went over to the Old Main. We all went there and the whole Eliada was served breakfast in the dining hall. You go get breakfast, go back and make your bed, straighten up your room, leave everything in good shape.”


“The Eliada Sunbeams” enjoy a cup of tea


“And if you went to school, you hurried up and got ready, and then went to school. First to third grade in the little girls’ dorm, then fourth to seventh grade in the older boy’s dormitory. And there were two teachers. One for the first to third grade, and than another teacher for the fourth to seventh grade.”

“After supper, if we had homework we had to study. If it was pretty weather and still daylight, we played outside. But you had to play at a certain time, and then you had to come in at a certain time. You had to be ready for this or that. In other words, everything was well organized, which is great, because to me, I’m an organizer to this day! But it helped you.”

“We just sort of all took care of each other, you know. But then we had our housemother Mrs. Cole-she was very good, and she saw that everything was done right. Her daughter Miss Cole was our school teacher from the first to the third grade. So Mrs. Cole is the one that took care of us thirty girls.”


The swingset behind “Old Main.” The Older Boys’ Dorm is in the background.


Older Girls’ Dormitory

“Then I moved into the Old Main building. Yeah, got promoted to the Main building, buddy! And then us older girls, like when we were about thirteen or fourteen, we started to help the younger girls get ready, you know, get up and get them ready for breakfast. Then the bell would ring and we’d all go to breakfast together. And we had our chores.”

“We had to wash the boys’ clothes. We had to do washing and cleaning and ironing, things like that. Hang the clothes out, and we didn’t have a dryer. I never will forget those big clotheslines out there. We had work to do, which was good.”

“We had to keep our bedrooms straightened up. We had to keep our rooms–we had to keep everything straightened up. And then we’d have jobs mopping the halls, and cleaning up, keeping the dining room clean. And you had turns doing things helping in the kitchen, or maybe helping with the cooking. We had a regular routine, but you knew what your jobs were, and you had to do it, or else. And you didn’t want the ‘or else!’ (laughs). So anyway, it was quite a good thing, quite a good thing. No complaints.”


The older girls coming back from the vegetable garden


“Oh, and this I am going to include too. Mr. and Mrs. Holland, they were super people. Mr. Holland would come to Eliada and cut our hair. Just whack it off at the end, you know? He’d give us all a haircut. Mr. Holland did that, Dewey Holland, and he was super. But the haircuts…I wasn’t too crazy about the haircuts! He’d just cut that hair and that was it, you know, like the way I cut mine now (laughs)! But anyway, the Hollands were just super people.”

High School Years

“After you finished seventh grade, you went to high school. Boy, you were really grown up when you started going to Emma High School. Really something! Now when you went to high school you had to get up really early. Yes! Get up at 4:30 in the morning and go down and work in the Creamery. Wash bottles. Cause they had the dairy, see, and they had the milk route, and they had to get the bottles and milk and everything ready for the milk route. I still wish I had saved one of those little half-pints that had “Eliada Dairy” written on the glass.”

“Now I’d go down there and go work when it was cold as whizzes. You put every rag on you could find to keep you warm. And it was quite a little walk to the dairy barn from the Main building where we lived. Put them big ‘ol white overalls on and just clunker on down there and work in that creamery, even though you almost froze to death. So it worked out real good, And then, after you got through washing bottles, you rushed to catch the bus and go to Emma High School. And one or two days I worked too hard or worked late, so then I had to walk to school. Now the walk was about four or five miles, and somebody I know was scared to death—me! Anyway, on my walk to school, I never will forget this, there was a great big dog. I was scared to death of that thing. It followed me a long ways.”

“Then I finally made it to school. And the teacher asked, ‘Why were you late?’ and I told her. The teachers at Emma were understanding and real good to us kids, so I didn’t have to do too much explaining why I was late.”

“But other students would say something about us poor little kids from Eliada. Kids are mean, aren’t they? Still mean, aren’t they? (laughs). But I know now that we were better off than most of those Emma kids.”

“You ate three good meals a day. You had plenty of good golden Guernsey milk. (Had to put that in, you know.) You had plenty of milk. And just things like that. You didn’t go hungry, you had plenty of food, you had nice clothes to wear, and we even made some of our dresses and everything.”


After a heavy snow in front of the Little Girls Dormitory. “Old Main” is in the background.


“They had a seamstress there at Eliada that taught us to sew. And I kinda liked sewing, but I just put it off, you know, that kind of deal. But I made one dress, and I was so proud of that dress. Oh, I was proud of that dress.”

“I can tell you a good one. Somebody, people would send clothing in. And us girls would get that and make some of the prettiest dresses out of those big ‘ol things. And you started from scratch. You just cut those dresses down, which is the hardest thing in the world to do. You just cut it down to your size. The easiest thing is just getting the material and making it, but making something over is something else.”

“And back then we didn’t wear slacks, or blue jeans, or anything like that. You wore dresses, even when you were working in the garden! See, folks, this is way back (laughs). But then I graduated from Emma High School in 1944. So it was pretty good.”

“Oh, and when I worked in the dairy in 1942, that was when North Carolina first started pasteurizing the milk. I’d drink that good ‘ol hot milk like it was going out of style. And I love hot milk to this day.”

Dad Compton

“I never really did get close to Dad and Mama Edith. Yeah, well now, lets put it this way. We saw them all the time, yes. But Dad was gone a lot of times preaching, you know, supporting the orphanage. So then when we’d see her, it was just like a real treat. ‘Hello Mama Edith, and how are you?’ And we always called her that. We never did call her anything but Mama Edith.”

Dad Compton

“Now Dad, he was a big handsome man, and I always remember him with his little mustache. We called him Dad. But we were really scared of him (laughs) …cause he was a big man, and he always walked with a cane. Up the hills and down the hills, he needed a cane. But when he spoke, boy, you listened. And we had the fear of God in us when Dad Compton was around. And when he would sometimes come down to eat meals with us, boy I mean everything was nice and quiet then, buddy!” (laughs)

“There were two or three girls that stayed with Mama Edith in the cottage up there when he would be gone. I just wasn’t in that circle. I was one of those ugly ducklings (laughs). Beth and Louise and them, they were real nice and pretty, they were pretty girls. I was just one of the kids. And I look back at it now, and I’m glad because I felt a whole lot more comfortable being with the other kids. And if I had stayed up there, why I’d have to have been nice…nice and pretty all the time. And who wants to be nice and pretty all the time!” (laughs)

“Now Miss Green? Oh yeah, she was everything. She just had a room in the little girls’ building, by the way. Well now, she was sharp as a tack. She had to be. She could do anything under the sun; she could cook, she could sew. She was one of those, well–qualified. And she knew financial stuff, she knew figures, she knew everything. Smart as a tack! And of course she was Dad’s secretary…anyway, be that as it may, but she was super.”

“But after Dad died, when they had the changes and everything like that, she thought it was time to get out. And she did it real gracefully, I might say, because work was getting hard on her. And then of course, when she left Eliada, she eventually went back to Canada to be with her sister and family.”

(L-R) Miss Mabel, Miss Green, and Mrs. Cole dressed for Sunday church

“And later on, can I tell you this? Miss Green lived with her sister in Simkoe, Ontario. Lela and I – I went up to see Lela in Grand Rapids. From Grand Rapids we went up to Toronto, Canada. Lela drove up there, and we went to see Miss Green, and I never enjoyed anything so much. I never will forget that. And that was the first and last time I’ve ever been outside of the U.S. of A.”

“On that trip Miss Green was a different person than she was when we were kids growing up, because back then we had to mind. And this way, I was just relaxed about her, just relaxed with her. So it was super!”

“We went to church, by the way, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. I felt so big sitting next to her. She never did get married; we always called her Miss Green. I remember one time her cousin came down from Canada, and her name was Mabel Green. So we called them Miss Mabel and Miss Green (laughs). But it was a super trip we had. And Miss Green, she just thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Camp Meetings

“The Tabernacle was huge, it was a monstrosity it was just a huge open thing. It was gorgeous! You’ve never seen anything like it since. And when Dad would preach, I mean he’d preach so hard and everything, he’d stomp on that platform, and somebody would say, I bet those slats are going to fall through the platform!”

“He was a good preacher, though. You sat and listened. Of course, he was one of those hour-long preachers. And our pastor, he just preaches 15 minutes and that’s it. But this was good, it was very good, and we were taught respect. You sat there and you listened—you didn’t wiggle around. You just sat there like a lady.”


The Eliada Choir–June is standing in the back row, second from the left


“And then when he was done we’d go up there and sing, and loved it! And Dad would say, ‘Now my children are going to sing.’ There were a bunch of us kids, thirty or more of us—and we’d stand on that platform all dressed up in our nice pretty dresses, and the boys would be all dressed up in their suits and everything, and we’d sing at Eliada. We’d sing at the camp meeting and people just loved it! And it was a thrill for us.”

Homer Rodeheaver, music director for Billy Sunday

“But somebody I know wasn’t talented at all. Just got up there and sang and made a joyful noise. Oh, now one time in Asheville…Homer Rodeheaver came to Asheville. He was in a tent revival in Asheville. I forget who the preacher was, But Homer Rodeheaver led the singing. And they had us kids from Eliada singing, had us standing up there on the stage, singing with Homer Rodeheaver. We were going to sing the books of the Bible. And somebody said, our director, whoever it was, said, ‘Now the children are going to sing the books of the Bible backwards.’ So we just turned our backs to the audience and sang the books of the Bible. You know things like that, isn’t that strange, things like that stick with you?”

“But we were proud as peacocks. Homer Rodeheaver would just brag on us. And then he came out to Eliada and would visit, and we had to sing for him there, too. That’s all we could do was sing, cause it didn’t cost anything.” (laughs)

“We girls just loved to work in the dining room up there during camp meeting time…back then they had thousands of people for ten days out at the camp grounds. And us girls…before camp started we’d go in and clean up the cabins, and then we cleaned up the main dining room, helped in the kitchen, stuff like that. We’d go in…and that was a thrill, cause people would just see you and hug you. These people would make over us, and we loved it!”

“And then once we cleaned it up for them, then they took care of it the rest of the time. They had their cooks, but we would just help, you know. Just getting away from Eliada, getting away from the house, go up and work at the camp. We’d almost fight for the job.”

Louise in front of the Coke truck during camp meeting. The dining hall is to her left.

“Hey listen, any kid loves attention, but there were so many of us, our teacher and the others didn’t have time to give each one of us much attention. You know, hug your neck once in a while, or something like that. And at my church, I do that every once in a while for a lil ol’ kid, and they just love it. But that’s the only thing, there were so many of us they didn’t have time for that. But then they were good to us, let’s put it that way. They made up for it in other ways.”

“And especially Mrs. Holland, she just loved us kids from Eliada. And Mr. Holland…they were just super good to us. But now she would come out, she was kinda over the dining room area and stuff like that during camp time, and us kids we just loved her. We’d always hunt Mrs. Holland.”

“Oh, I never will…can I tell you this? I never will forget when I was saved at one of those camp meetings when I was twelve years old. Dad preached one of his big ol’ sermons, and then some of us kids went down to the altar. And they always had straw down at the front.”

“We had the altar, thank you, and some of us kids went down to the altar…and Mrs. Holland came down and prayed with us. And I never will forget that, as long as I live, that the camp meeting time was when I was saved.”

“And I’ve got a habit now, since I have more time here at home, that I have my devotions. And I’m real glad I’ve got that habit. It makes your day, even though you are by yourself, it makes your day better!”

The Holidays

“The stockings were hung…”

“Christmas at Eliada? Well, let me see…oh, you hung your stocking up, by the way! And when I was in the little girls’ building, we would hang our stockings up on the chimney there. And each girl had her name on a stocking, see? And you got an orange, and an apple, and a banana. No…you didn’t get no bananas, it was an orange and an apple. And a candy cane. That was in your stocking, and that was your Christmas. Candy cane, an orange and an apple. Boy, we were thrilled with that, though! Then I think eventually we got promoted to a washcloth.” (laughs)

“And there were different churches from all over that would send things to Eliada. And sometimes they would hold back, see? You had to give presents to a hundred kids, so I can see why they held back on a lot. And every child would get two presents, one or two presents. Now it wasn’t a big fine wagon, or anything like that. It was a toy for yourself. I think one year I got the prettiest little doll, and I held onto that doll for ages. And I made her clothes with my own hands…sewed her little doll clothes.”

Grace Green on left, getting ready to pass out the Christmas presents in 1954

“Well now, we did get to go Christmas shopping. Yes! I think I had a whole quarter. They gave each one of us a quarter, and we went Christmas shopping. I forget what I got for that quarter. Seems like I bought my house-mother something for a nickel. You always thought about your house-mother. Most of us did, you know. You got her something whether you got anyone else anything or not.”

“Oh, and when you went Christmas shopping you had to hold hands so you wouldn’t get lost, or anything like that. And I never will forget going to Newberry’s and Kress’ in Asheville, and all of us held hands. That was our biggest place to go, Newberry’s and Kress’. Dime store, five and dime, you know.”

“So it wasn’t over-flourished, but we had enough. And then we always got plenty of oranges and apples in our stocking too. So it was super. You had just enough, you didn’t have too much, and you said thank you for what you had. Very thankful.”

Leaving Eliada

June, with her orphanage sister Louise, in front of Compton’s cottage

“Somebody I know was nineteen years old when they graduated from high school in 1944. I stayed there twenty years. I saw a lot of comings and goings, you might say. The main thing I starting thinking about was getting on my own. Let’s see, if I remember right, I was job hopping here and there for a couple of months. It took me a while to settle down.”

“I remember this family would come to camp meeting, and the man worked at a textile mill. He said, ‘Come to Knoxville and I’ll get you a job.’ So I thought, Oh boy, go to the big city and get on my own. That’s one of the main things. Don’t depend on somebody all the time.”

“So I got me that job in Knoxville. Happiest kid in the country! And I never will forget, the first thing I bought when I left Eliada, my first pay day, I bought a big ‘ol Jergens jar of hand lotion, and a radio (laughs). And then I bought an electric iron, cause we didn’t have any electric irons, and that iron weighed five pounds. That was the heaviest iron you ever saw!”

“And then it seems like I found a good church to go to. To me that was real important. And one of the first things I started doing was going to Sevier Heights Baptist Church in Knoxville, and just loved it, and everything was just hunky-dory.”

“Next, I got an apartment close to where I worked, and close to church. And then I bought a car! So here I was just doing one thing and then another; paying rent, buying groceries, making car payments. I got me a little pay-day, got that old apartment fixed up. I think my first check was about $25. Twenty-five dollars! Boy! And that wasn’t for a week–that was for a month. And it was a pretty good.”

“I worked as an inspector at Standard Knitting Mills. We made underwear, men’s briefs and t-shirts. And I liked it. I mean, hey listen, I was a rich girl, boy! That paycheck took care of all my needs. And my lil’ ol’ car, it just ran right on. And I would go to my church.”

“I worked there for thirty-five years, and then I retired. After that, I worked at the church. Filling in here and there. Got a little payday for that too, and I was as happy as a lark. I worked with the three and four year olds, and the poor little dolls, they didn’t know anything. So I always think back to Eliada. We learned so much. We learned how to take care of ourselves, and we learned how to love people. No selfishness or anything. Had it not been for Eliada, where would I be today?”


The orphanage sisters chatting on the front lawn at the big 1955 reunion


Orphanage Sisters

“Now us girls, we keep up. This is funny—we keep in touch with each other now more than we did when we were younger. I think I was so busy trying to settle down, trying to grow up, you know, trying to make my way, that we just didn’t have time. So now folks, we’re talking about the 1940’s. Back then you could hardly afford to make a long distance call. You could hardly even afford a telephone. It was a long time before I ever even got a telephone.”

“Now Beth Fisher in Landrum, she and I still call each other. When I don’t call her, she calls me. And we just delight. She is just so precious. Beth is such a good person, and she encourages me. So we sort of encourage each other when we talk, you know. Cause when you get to 75 years old, you need somebody to say hello to once in a while, as well as your friends here. And when I told her you were coming, she says, June, you’ll love him! She said, He is such an easy person to talk to. I said, Good! So she encouraged me there, and that helped.”

“Then Katherine and Connie–they’re sisters, and Lela…they live up north, like in Michigan and Ohio, and they come down and stop here. Knoxville is on the way to Asheville, okay? They always stop here. And I’ve had as high as six or seven girls here at one time in this little house. We have a ball! Sleeping everywhere. We just have a ball. Us crazy girls get out and talk ninety miles an hour. And we have the best times telling things what we did when we were kids growing up.”

The “sisters” visit Beth in Landrum, South Carolina (L-R) Lela, June, Beth, and Doris.

“And then I fix breakfast, and everybody gets up and goes to Eliada, and I go with them. And then they come back by here to drop me off, and after that they go back home to Michigan and Ohio.”

“See, Connie lives by herself. She’s a widow, and Katherine’s a widow, Beth’s a widow, so everybody is sorta’ single. Katherine is one of those real quiet girls that you meet…smart as a tack. Doesn’t miss a thing. She and Connie both, they don’t say much, but they don’t miss a thing. But now somebody I know just rattles on and on!” (laughs)


“I’ve often thought about, since I left Eliada, that anybody who would take care of thirty little girls ages six to twelve, in one building…they are certainly great people. And that’s what I got. But you think of those things after you leave, when it’s too late. Too late for you to tell them, ‘Thank you.’ I really appreciate Eliada being good to me, and taking care of me from the time I was a month old until I finished high school.”

“I’ve been real fortunate, though. I had a good job, pretty good job, at a textile mill, and back in those days that was really the thing. And I made good…hey listen, had bread on the table, had the cutest house you ever saw, and just did great! And it worked out real well. Even to this day I’ll send a little bit to Eliada every once in a while, you know.”

“So, thank you for this interview, buddy!”

–June Saylor (January 2000)


(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length).

This entry was posted in Inside Eliada Orphanage and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to “A Clean, Beautiful Life” – the June Saylor interview

  1. Brenda Brown says:

    I will always remember June. She was pleasant and right to the point, always doing for other people and helping any way she could. One day at the old church, I was coming down and she was coming up the steps in the Educational building. She was elderly at that time, and I asked her where she was off to. She said, “I’m just going upstairs to cook for the old people.” I’ve never forgotten that–she got around like a teenager, laughing and just happy to be doing something.

    –Brenda Zimmer-Brown.

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