Editor's note: The following column by Montgomery County Arts Council member Elizabeth Eldridge discusses how the community theater in Winona came to produce its upcoming fall Hill Fire play, "A Gift of Hope," about Tutwiler Clinic founder and longtime physician, Sister Anne Brooks.
Earlier this year, I saw an article about a group of ladies in Tutwiler who had won the Arts in Community award from the Mississippi Arts Commission.
I thought, there’s a story there somewhere. So in early June of this year, I contacted the director of the Tutwiler Community Education Center to set up a meeting. We met on a Saturday morning in Greenwood at the Turnrow Bookstore. Sadly, I didn’t come away with enough information to write a play.
I came back home after that meeting and started searching for more information. That’s when I found the real story. The story was not with the quilters themselves. The story was with the person who was initially responsible for empowering the small Delta town. That person was Sister Anne Brooks.
Sister Anne Brooks is a Roman Catholic nun. She entered the convent at the age of 17 where she was to study to become a teacher.
During this time, she developed severe rheumatoid arthritis. It was so bad that Sister Anne couldn’t climb the stairs to her classrooms, however, she pushed through the pain and finished school in two years.
After taking her final vows, she was assigned to a school for girls in Tampa, Florida. She spent most of her time at school in a wheelchair or on crutches. Sister Anne not only taught, but she also continued her own education. She studied for 12 years before receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education in 1970.
Sister Anne saw many doctors over the years who tried to ease the pain of her ailment. It wasn’t until she volunteered at a free medical clinic that she was finally able to find some answers.
Dr. John Upledger introduced Sister Anne to osteopathic medicine. Even though she was reluctant at first, Sister Anne eventually let Dr. Upledger treat her. Her years of suffering were over. After months of treatment, she was able to remove the restricting brace the last doctor she saw had put her in. She put away her crutches and her wheelchair. She was now able to live a normal life.
It was this encounter that prompted Sister Anne to attend medical school at the age of 40. She studied for four years for her medical degree. Upon graduation, Dr Anne Brooks went in search of the place where she would be needed the most. She sought the bottom of the barrel and found it in Tutwiler. That is where our story begins.
Hill Fire’s production of “A Gift of Hope” will be presented on Oct. 2, 3, 7 and 9 at the Performing Arts Center, 208 Summit Street, in Winona. Evening shows begin at 7 and the Sunday matinee begins at 2. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students 18 and under. As always, this show is not for young children.
As a final note, please tell your friends, family or just people on the street about the wonderful community theater in Winona. You would be surprised how many people have no idea we even exist. After this past year, the theater is hurting just like other businesses. With your help, we can get back on our feet. So talk about us. Let people know we are here and we are telling stories.