Your Neighbor: Meet Merrikay Brown

Published 12:05 am Thursday, August 10, 2023

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By Mandy Haggerson

For the Clemmons Courier

When you are born into a military family that moves every three years, it’s tough to establish roots. However, Merrikay Brown wound up appreciating history and genealogy from a young age because of her many adventures.

“Because my father was in the United States Marine Corps, we moved around frequently,” Brown said. “We really saw a lot of the country and knew different types of people. As someone who loved academics, it was a good way to supplement our education to visit places like Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore National Park in the Black Hills in South Dakota.”

The importance of family was evident during those times. Brown and her two younger brothers, Mike and Keith, entertained each other as they made cross-country moves.

“I even remember fondly when we got on a floater plan and went over Hawaii before it was a state,” Brown said. “When my father was overseas for the Vietnam War, we stayed near my grandparents in New York. He decided to retire in 1968 when he was in his 40s. By that time, my brother, Mike, and I were in high school. Because of the G.I. Bill, my father wanted to go to North Carolina State University (NCSU) and earn his degree. We moved to the Fuquay-Varina area to finish up our high school years.”

When she graduated from high school, Brown decided to join her dad at NCSU.

“My brother, who was just a year younger, made the same decision for college,” Brown said. “During that time frame, we had a Volkswagen bus that my dad, brother, and I would pile into for class every day. Our neighbors and friends would say, ‘There goes the Everetts off to college again,’ when they saw us driving down the road.”

Every once in a while, the bus wouldn’t start.

“Whoever’s job it was to get it going again would have to run and jump in once it did,” Brown said. “It took us about 20-30 minutes from our home to get to NCSU. After we finished our classes, we would meet up at a designated spot and head back. Those were some fun times.”

Brown focused her undergraduate degree on education and Spanish and minored in French.

“I had planned to become a teacher,” Brown said. “Having loved languages and history all of my life, I wanted to teach middle and high schoolers in those subject matters.”

During the summers, Brown worked at the State Archives in Raleigh to help pay for her college education.

“I worked in the archeology department and was able to take some tremendous field trips,” Brown said. “The director wanted us to see all of the historic sites in the state. We did projects as well, like taking old wine bottles and gluing them together. It cemented my appreciation for history and learning.”

After Brown graduated from NCSU, she taught middle school for several years in Pembroke and elementary students in Maxton. During that time, she began to think about library work and became the media specialist at the elementary school in Maxton.

“I realized how much I enjoyed it pretty quickly,” Brown said.

She earned a master of science in library science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which took two years.

“I was then offered a job in Winston-Salem at the Central Library in 1982 in the Adult Continuing Education (ACE) department,” Brown said. “It was focused on helping people gain employment and improve their opportunities.”

During her time away from the library, Brown enjoyed English country dancing.

“I had taken it up during my time in Chapel Hill,” Brown said. “It’s very similar to the Virginia reel where you go down and up the line with Celtic music. I met my husband, Tom, through events with the Winston-Salem group, the Fiddle and Bow Society, at the old Rose and Thistle restaurant. We enjoyed going to dances together up in the mountains.”

Other positive changes were happening in Brown’s life. She began her 31-year commitment to the Lewisville Library branch in October 1984.

“I had the opportunity to interact with a lot of children during my time through story time and conversations,” Brown said. “It was also wonderful seeing everyone come together for the new facility in 2007. A lot of hard work and effort was put into it by a community that really has pride in its library.”

With Brown’s appreciation of history and literacy, it was a natural fit for her to start the Lewisville Historical Society.

“It was refreshing how many people were interested in the history of the town,” Brown said. “I put a sign-up sheet in the library, and 30 people signed up. The people I have been able to meet who have shared similar interests have been so enriching.

“For a town like Lewisville, they want to know where they are going, but also where they are they have been. They take pride in their historical sites.” One of those sites, the George Elias Nissen House, has recently been opened up for events to be hosted to the public. “It’s wonderful to be able to share that with our community,” reveals Brown.

Although Brown has retired from her duties at the Lewisville Library, she still can be found utilizing it. In addition, Brown enjoys continuing to learn more about her family’s genealogy.

“From my first searches at the State Library of North Carolina, it was intriguing to trace my family back to the 1600s,” Brown said. “Interviewing relatives has allowed me to learn so much about both sides of my family. As a child, I missed having relatives around, and this was a nice way to find out where I came from.

“Now, I can say that I finally have my own roots in a community. I encourage anyone with an interest in learning more about their families to give it a try. It’s never too late to learn about your ancestors, and you’ll find a lot of your family members enjoy sharing their stories and tales.”