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From Bishops to Queens: The Story of Irene and Wilene

Great Awakenings Coffee Company

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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On June 26, 2017, Asher and Bishop Burdick came into the world like countless babies before them…but with a high degree of rarity. Both twins topped the scales at nearly 6 lbs apiece and were healthy baby boys, but the rare factor with these twins comes from the fact that they have a great grandfather who is a twin. Actually, they have a great grandmother who is also a twin. In fact, their great grandfather, who is a twin, married a twin… whose twins married each other as well! To top it off, their paternal great grandfather is also… a twin.

Robert and Orson Burdick

Asher and Bishop, both named after their twin great grandparents, have a truly unique story that ties them tightly to their family and to their home. And that story begins over 80 years ago, sometime in…

December 13, 1934 was a chilly Thursday morning in the area between Lyerly and Menlo, when the Brooks family welcomed two additions to their home. Beautiful twin girls, each barely 3 pounds. The girls were named Wilene and Irene and the local doctor who delivered them urged the family to place the twins on buttermilk to speed their growth. Their mother did just that so the ladies still give credit to the buttermilk for saving their lives some 80 years later.

It wasn’t long before the twins, forever to be called “Twin” by their father, began making the mile and a half walk to the three-room school house known as Pine Grove. The girls were local favorites at Pine Grove and in 7thgrade, when the school merged with Lyerly and the bus route expanded to include Brooks Road, the girls became a hit at their new school as well.

Irene and Wilene Brooks

Lyerly of the 1940’s was a bustling town center with every store front neatly decorated and a bustling post office and restaurant. A town where residents knew every face they passed. And everyone knew the smiling faces of Wilene and Irene. But the Brooks girls weren’t the only twins in Lyerly.

Ralph and Roy Bishop

A few years prior, a set of twins graced the basketball court at Lyerly School enroute to a fairytale season that culminated in a state title and the Bishop Twins, Roy and Ralph, becoming local celebrities. After school, Roy and Ralph were swept up in the call to war. While serving their country in the United States Coast Guard, the Bishop twins were stationed on the same ship and engaged in combat against a German U-boat off the coast of New Jersey.

Ralph and Roy Bishop WWII

Born July 15th, 1925, Roy and Ralph lived a life of adventure by any standard, but coming from the small town of Lyerly, the state champions and war heroes could well have ended up anywhere on the globe. But, there is no place like home, and it was the call of Chattooga County that lured the boys back to Lyerly to take up the family trade.

As brick masons, the Bishop twins were highly skilled craftsmen. The Bishop family is still known, decades later, as some of the best masonry workers in Georgia. As deacons at Lyerly First Baptist Church in their 20s, the young men were popular and respected. Ralph and Roy’s mother, Lena Bishop, was good friends with Pluma Woods who had two beautiful granddaughters. Enter Wilene and Irene Brooks. It was fate, it seems, that the two sets of twins living just four miles apart would eventually meet up.

When Ralph Bishop met Wilene Brooks… the rest, as they say, is history.

In that era, it wasn’t acceptable for a young lady to go on a date unsupervised so Irene tagged along with Wilene and Ralph as their chaperone.  They were given a ride home later that evening by Ralph’s charming brother, Roy, and thus began a whirlwind courtship that ended just a few months later in February of 1952. With a twin marrying twin engagement, the Bishop brothers plotted to walk down the aisle together on Leap Day, February 29th so they would only have to remember an anniversary every fourth year!

Twins marrying Twins…

As brick masons, the Bishops had built a house on the outskirts of downtown Lyerly and it was here that they all moved in together. Paying $10 per chimney, the foursome would tear down local chimneys brick by brick. Together they would chip away the old mortar from the bricks and slowly built a second home just 30 feet away.

Irene and Wilene were country girls with country grit and strength. When they both obtained jobs as school bus drivers in the early 1970s, they brought along their country style and firm discipline. With children of their own in the school system, Wilene and Irene Bishop treated every child as if they were their own. And this led to some classic stories that, due to the changing times, will likely remain part of Chattooga legend.

Wilene remembers a time when two boys fought almost daily on the back of the bus. Their constant disruption and rough housing finally crossed the line so one day, at the end of her route, Wilene had the boys climb off the back of the bus and end their dispute once and for all. Obviously this method of conflict resolution would no longer be accepted, however, Wilene, along with all other bus drivers, didn’t have the benefit of cameras, cell phones or any other tool to use while out on the job. Eventually a problem would arise that the driver had to address and deal with. And the Bishop twins were made for handling problems. The two middle school scrappers did their best on the dirt road behind Wilene’s bus and, after a solid three minutes of tussling, the boys shook off the dirt and, at Wilene’s order, climbed up into the rear of the bus with their quarrel settled. The very next day, one of the boys saved a seat beside him for his one-time rival. He admitted later to Wilene that he had wanted to do that all year.

The bus driving stories piled up as quickly as the years and the Bishop ladies became part of local lore for more than one generation of students. From Billy goats climbing on the bus to facing the complex struggles of integration, the Bishop twins never shied away from controversy or adversity and many former students still reach out to them today to share a memory or give thanks for the stern but loving attention bestowed upon them years ago.

When they weren’t driving the bus, they were substitute teaching in various schools around the county. As hardened veterans of student management, Irene and Wilene took on any challenge and never backed down from an unruly student, a disgruntled parent or an administrator just trying to keep the boat from rocking. In the Bishop household, discipline was not to be taken lightly and they were passionate about holding the county students to the same high levels of expectation. Both twins believe that the single biggest change in the school system over the years has been the difference in parent involvement.

They both recount the stories of former parents who were involved with their children but didn’t shelter them from punishment. Parents who didn’t question a teacher’s message, but instead piled on additional punishment of their own. As society buckled under the pressure to go lightly on students, to be more patient and understanding of bad behavior, and to consistently reduce the consequences for one’s actions, Irene and Wilene never bowed. They were a force to be reckoned with and their children and relatives all developed a healthy respect for the immeasurable demand for high quality education. Today, no less than 11 members of the Bishop family have found their way into the education field. All credit the influence of Irene and Wilene for shaping their perspective and their desire to serve their community.

This week, as students return to schools across the nation, many things will be business as usual. The same buses, the same classrooms, the same papers sent home to be signed. But in Chattooga County Schools, there will be something very different. There will be two precious things missing. After 47 years of service and dedication to the education field and to students in their priceless hometown, the Bishop Twins have retired. “We’ve been in it long enough,” they said almost in unison.

Their family doesn’t see Irene and Wilene slowing down much during retirement, as they will be chasing around Bishop and Asher and their brood of other great grandchildren. Another generation of kids to blossom under the Bishop twins. Roy and Ralph would be proud of the legacy they left and the women who shared their life. The stern eye, the firm words and and the loving embrace that all started in Lyerly, Georgia.

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Casie Bryant is the NW Georgia Regional Manager for AllOnGeorgia.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Helen Buffington

    August 4, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    Love the story about the Bishop twins! Such fine folks. Went to school with Roy and Ralph. Thanks for sharing the pix and story.

  2. Susan Daffron

    August 4, 2017 at 10:26 pm

    Great article!

  3. Charlene Koonce

    August 6, 2017 at 12:14 am

    Wonderful writing about a wonderful pair of ladies! I love the Bishop twins.

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