Scholarship to benefit first-generation students at South Plains College
LEVELLAND – Education was especially important in the Jessie and Lorena Wood family home because the matriarch planted a seed within them early on. Even though she was unable to complete her own education, Lorena made sure that all her children graduated from high school.
The Wood family traces its roots to the 1920s when James Levi and Alice Wood of Geronimo, Okla., traveled to West Texas with their children, Jessie, Boone and Retha. The father purchased 117 acres of land located one mile west of Sundown out of the Slaughter Land Grant. They stayed in a hotel in Levelland for a few days while they built a one-room house on the land. Jessie stayed to work the land.
Retha and her husband, Z.O. Lincoln, purchased a farm one mile north of Jessie’s place. The couple farmed and Retha taught school. Zack went on to serve on the school board. Later, they moved to Levelland where he served as the county judge for several years.
With two of their children putting down roots in Texas, the remaining Wood family members moved back to Oklahoma. In December 1929, Elva Lorena Bentley and her family left their dairy and farm in Oklahoma and moved to Sundown. Jessie met Lorena and the family had three children – Betty Jo (Judah), Sandra (Burton) and Clarence. All three of the children grew up and graduated from Sundown High School.
According to Betty, their father was a good farmer and he supplemented the family’s income by working as a carpenter where he remodeled homes. Their mother sold milk and eggs to many of the new oil field people and used the proceeds to buy her first refrigerator. The family enjoyed their upbringing in Sundown but after graduation, Sandra and Clarence remained in Levelland. Betty moved to Dallas. It was during her time in Dallas that she took a trip with friends to New Mexico. As fate would have it, Betty ran into a former school mate Jimmy Judah who had left Sundown and joined the U.S. Air Force. The pair later married and moved to DeSoto.
Jimmy and Betty wanted to become parents. After several unsuccessful experiences, the couple had a son, John.
“John was my miracle baby,” she said. “He chose to pursue education as a profession. He wanted to teach at DeSoto, Duncanville and Cedar Hill. But in all of the interviews, they asked him what sport could he coach?”
Betty said that experience disappointed John. Even though his athletic stature made him appear as a sports enthusiast, she said John was not interested in sports. He accepted a position at South Oak Cliff, a school with a somewhat rowdy reputation. John taught at the school for seven years, and Betty said, he never had any issues. He then accepted a position at Booker T. Washington in downtown Dallas where he continued to teach until his health failed. John was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s.
“John continued to teach until his doctor told him he had to retire early,” she said. “But when the other teachers found out about his pending departure, they went to the principal and asked him to create a job so that John could remain at the school.”
He continued working as a repairman and audio visual assistant. After an 18 year career, John finally retired. Now, it was his turn to give something back.
Betty Jo Judah and John Judah pledged to give $11,500 to the Board of Directors of the South Plains College Foundation to create the Lorena Wood Memorial Scholarship to assist first generation SPC students. Betty said the gift will honor her mother’s memory and help students continue their own education.
For more information about ways to support scholarships and students at South Plains College, contact Julie Gerstenberger, Director of Development and Alumni Relations, at (806) 716-2020.