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Liberty community leader turning 100

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POSTED: July 19, 2010 1:43 p.m.
Photo by Amy Johstono/

Mary Baggs

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Mary LeCounte Baggs will join the century club July 23, when she will officially celebrate 100 years of a full and active life. Having lived in Riceboro all her life, Baggs has seen the dirt roads of early 20th century Liberty County paved over with change. And she has left her mark on the community.
Baggs said she grew up in an area known as Treesa Hill. She enjoyed life in the country and helped out on her family’s farm as a child.
The centenarian-to-be and her cousin Rhina Brunson, who will turn 101 in August, have been inseparable since they were young. “Between us, we have 200 years of life experience,” Baggs said with a smile.
Their grandmother, Rhina LeCounte, was born into slavery and didn’t know much about education, but she knew the value of knowledge and saw to it that Baggs and her cousin began their education early in life.
LeCounte enrolled her two grandchildren in kindergarten at the Presbyterian church in Riceboro, said Baggs, who still can recall a few memories from that time. 
“I remember being read ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and sleeping,” she said.
When she was old enough, Baggs said, she walked to elementary school, a trek that usually required dodging cows that wandered into the road. 
Although she liked school, Baggs put her education on hold at a young age to care for her sick grandmother. After LeCounte died, Baggs resumed her studies at Dorchester Academy in Midway.
She said the emphasis her grandmother placed on education was ingrained in Baggs and ultimately led her to choose a career as an educator.
She earned a master’s degree in lower elementary education from New York University in 1955 and returned to Riceboro to teach. Baggs taught at Pine Hill School, Riceboro Elementary and Jordye Bacon Elementary. She retired in 1971 after about 40 years in the education field and was named Liberty County’s Teacher of the Year.
Baggs and her late husband, Earl M. Baggs, who was the first black elected official in Liberty County since the post-Civil War reconstruction era, met at Dorchester Academy in the 1920s. The couple married and had two children, James Stanley and Edytha “Dottie” Baggs Mountain. Both are deceased. Baggs has five grandchildren, Jacquet, Rakael and Marcus Mountain, and Blythe and Charla Baggs; and three great-grandchildren, Dai, Tye and Eric Mountain.
“I’m really proud of my family and love them all,” Baggs said. 
However, she’s quick to add that her family includes more than just immediate relatives. The former educator also considers other longtime Treesa Hill residents and community members as family. She said the group’s motto is “It takes a village to be a family,” and they live by it.
Some Treesa Hill natives Baggs said she remembers from her childhood moved away when they reached adulthood, but now they’re coming back. This, Baggs thinks, is because Treesa Hill instills feelings of hometown pride and support in residents.
Having worked hard for many years and raised a family, Baggs has a few indulgences these days. She still enjoys staying up late to catch The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and loves to watch Ultimate Fighting Championship matches and baseball. Baggs’ favorite sport, however, is basketball. As a youth, she said, she played basketball and later coached teams. Now the former athlete spends her spare time watching games on television. Her favorite team is the Los Angeles Lakers, but Baggs said she prefers to follow the progress of her favorite players. “I like following Kobe or Shaq, but Shaq moves around a lot,” she said.  
Baggs said she stays current on news and issues and always makes time to read area newspapers.
She is active in her church, First Zion Baptist in Riceboro, and many other civic organizations. Members of First Zion’s congregation know her as Mother Baggs, and they’re all familiar with the work she’s done over the years. Baggs started the church’s vacation Bible school program and implemented an Easter sunrise service. She also established a scholarship fund in her husband’s name.
Baggs, who always has been an active community member, is well-known throughout Liberty County for her willingness to get involved and serve others.
“Mrs. Baggs’ popularity in our community is because she has a way of making everyone feel special,” said Betty McCrary, who attends First Zion with Baggs. “She has the uncanny ability to find the best in everyone.”
Baggs has held many positions with area organizations, including president of the Dorchester Improvement Association; charter member, president and vice president of the Liberty Retired Teachers Association; charter member and president of the Cosmopolitan Club; charter member and president of the Liberty County chapter of the NAACP; member of the Silver Haired Legislature for five years; member of the Emancipation Proclamation Observance Committee; and member of the Limerick Chapter No. 336 Order of the Eastern Stars.
Baggs was on the frontlines of the civil rights movement in Liberty County. She helped organize the first black voter registration drive in the county. Convincing fellow African-Americans to vote was a hard task, she said, but one the activist was dedicated to for more than a decade and a half. Baggs said she considers the years she spent registering black voters the most exciting time in her life.
“They never had the opportunity to vote, and didn’t acknowledge the power of voting,” she said. “It took 16 years to get people ready to vote. That period was the biggest thrill in my life.”
Baggs said she is now happy to see people of all races working together and respecting one another. “Now everyone knows the power of voting,” she said.  “I’m glad to see that blacks and whites can work together to vote for what’s good for everyone.”

 

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