June 30, 2017
By Marlee Moore
Beatrice Crow has a sweet tooth, the kind where no day — or meal — is complete without a fix of pie, cake or cobbler.
For some, that’d raise a red flag taller than Lookout Mountain, but Crow is content. After all, the white-haired matriarch has already lived a century. A sliver or two of homemade key lime pie topped with fresh whipped cream won’t hurt a thing.
Crow was born Beatrice Kerby Oct. 18, 1916, the third of six children on a farm near Ider in DeKalb County.
In 1935, the 19-year-old future Mrs. Crow and another girl walked near 20 miles to interview for work at Alpine Camp for Boys in Mentone atop Lookout Mountain.
“I got the job, and she didn’t,” said Crow, who met husband L.C. when he was selling vegetables to Alpine.
That first summer cooking in the camp kitchen set the stage for 67 more years making up menus for hungry campers and counselors.
“The boys would go in the woods and pick blueberries,” said Crow’s daughter Karen Tate, 66. “She would make muffins just for their cabin out of the blueberries they picked.”
Her tenure serving up Alpine stew, blueberry cobbler and her signature thin, crispy biscuits ended in 2003 following heart surgery in 2002. Her doctors were, of course, former campers.
But her time-tested, camper-approved recipes live on at Alpine, as oldest daughter Gail Collins now cooks for over 300 campers. The Crow daughters (granddaughters and a couple great-grands, too) grew up in the Alpine kitchen, whipping up food for boys who evolved from camper to kitchen help, to counselor, to father dropping his son off for an Alpine adventure.
With her flawless makeup, spitfire personality and stellar culinary skills, Crow had every wholesale distributor, farmer and Alfa Insurance agent in the palm of her hand.
“They came to Alpine at mealtime,” said Collins, 75. “Mother started that, and we’d give them a plate. The Alfa agents would always laugh about going to Bea’s to eat.”
During those visits, Crow purchased life insurance policies to protect her family. She didn’t expect, at age 100, to see those policies mature, giving her and the family added financial security during retirement.
Alfa’s Rob Robison, senior vice president of life insurance, said Crow’s story is unusual.
“It’s always an honor to deliver on the promise of life insurance by writing a check to a grieving family,” Robison said. “But it’s even more satisfying to bless a family while they’re able to enjoy spending time with their loved one.”
Like Alfa’s promise to its customers, Crow remained dedicated to Alpine. When its original lodge, kitchen and dining area burned almost 50 years ago during counselor training, Crow’s approach to dinner was simple — dish up meals from her house less than a mile away.
Changing clothes up to six times daily was normal during summer, necessitated by trips between Alpine, helping neighbors, working in the garden, running a country store and tending cattle.
“She always had something for us to do,” Collins said. “And the neighbors, too.”
L.C., a boilermaker in Chattanooga, also built chicken houses — with 90,000 laying hens — for his wife in the ‘70s.
“She said it was a vacation to come here,” said camp owner Dick O’Ferrall.
The Crows were married just 37 years before L.C. died in 1976.
“She was like a buzz saw, and he was like a turtle,” said Collins, whose mother was back at camp two days after L.C.’s death in July.
In near seven decades filling the bellies of thousands of campers, Crow left her mark. Last October, hundreds of cards streamed in from places like Australia, New York, the Carolinas, Mississippi and Colombia to congratulate her on a century of life.
Campers’ memories are peppered with songs harkening the glories of Mrs. Crow and her chow, the classic opening day meal of chicken potpie and dough ball fights while making those unforgettable biscuits.
“She didn’t ask any of them to do anything she wouldn’t do herself,” said Tate.
Collins added, “And she’d do it twice as fast as them.”
Crow’s work ethic was even highlighted in a World magazine story, the editor of which had two sons at Alpine.
Before Alpine and after high school, she lived with Berry College founder Martha Berry, helping the family, working in the bakery, taking classes and meeting Model T inventor Henry Ford.
She and L.C. also lived a stint in Baltimore, where Crow worked for the family who owned Proctor & Gamble.
Today, the matriarch of five children, 11 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren still lives less than a mile from camp, with cattle across the road, a garden out back, and remnants of poultry houses, which burned in the ‘90s, behind her house.
O’Farrell remembers Crow’s words after the inferno.
“That night, she came down to camp and said, ‘We’re having chicken for supper tonight.”