HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - This is a news release from The University of Southern Mississippi.
Very few families have put down roots – both literally and figuratively – anywhere like the Berry family has at The University of Southern Mississippi.
Recently several family members celebrated three generations of Berry's attending the University with a ceremony on the grounds of the Hattiesburg campus. The unique occasion saw them plant four magnolia trees to symbolize both the family's three generations of attendance at Southern Miss and the four children of James and Virginia Berry – Jim Jr., Gigi, Louis, and Barbara – who did not just attend Southern Miss, but actually grew up living on the campus.
Virginia (Berry) Dolder was the driving force behind getting the trees planted. "The efforts that I made to have the four magnolia trees planted were so that our family could be grounded in something meaningful," she said. "Planting a tree [was] the most meaningful gesture I could think of."
The Berry family tradition at Southern Miss first started more than 50 years ago with James Berry, a three-year football letterman who played quarterback and defensive back for the 1962 UPI National Championship football team and served as a team captain for the 1964 squad. Today, Berry is a member of the Southern Miss Sports Hall of Fame.
After finishing up his highly successful playing career, Berry accepted a position on the staff of legendary Southern Miss Coach Pie Vann's staff, where he would serve as the coach for the defensive backs.
Described by Vann as "one of the finest football minds we had on our squad in a number of years, in addition to being a fine leader and competitor," Berry was instrumental to much of the University's football successes, and it was his expertly coached defensive backfield that picked off Archie Manning twice in the legendary 1970 upset victory against Ole Miss.
When he wasn't coaching, Berry also served as the supervisor of Vann Hall, which had opened as the athletics dorm in 1970 and where he and his wife Virginia served as the dorm parents for its first few years of operation. The family actually resided in an apartment in the dorm that was specifically designed as a space for a coach and his family. Their children would spend the next few years living in these athletic dorms, being babysat by the football players and enjoying the run of the campus.
Eventually the children would move away, but Southern Miss stayed on their minds and in their hearts. James Jr. followed in his father's footsteps, returning to Southern Miss for his own college education and graduating with a degree in Hotel Management in 1984. Jim was also named as "The University of Southern Mississippi's Number One Fan" in 2003. James and Virginia's granddaughters, Jessica and Christy, round out the third generation of the Berry family who have been in attendance at Southern Miss.
The tree planting ceremony occurred on April 24, 2015 and was attended by most of the Berry family (almost all of whom reside in Hattiesburg). The planting site behind the Natatorium was selected because future construction would least likely occur in that location. The site also provided ease of access for family visitation, according to Loren Erickson, superintendent of campus landscapes. "There is good soil, irrigation, and room to grow for these trees here," he said.
Erickson also noted that this type of request is fairly common, and that they peaked following the devastating tornado that hit the Hattiesburg campus in 2013.
"Unfortunately, we can't accept most requests due to the chance that we will build soon on the desired site," he said. Erickson added that most trees people want to donate are transplants with a very low survival rate and, consequently, are typically not accepted by the University.
The Berry family donated hardy saplings and chose an excellent location. The young trees will serve as a lasting memorial and strong testament to a venerable Southern Miss family.