Mrs. Bessie Skinner Gerst answered the Master's call peacefully on Saturday, August 4, 2012, in Consulate Health Care of Williamsburg. Her long and fruitful journey began Feb. 13, 1909. She was the second oldest daughter of the late Ellen E. and Lawrence L. Skinner, of Williamsburg.
At an early age, she confessed Christ as her Personal Savior and joined First Baptist Church. She was a dedicated worker in her church and also was the oldest active member of First Baptist Church. Mrs. Gerst was a member of the Senior Choir for seventy years and held the position of Secretary for fifteen years. She loved to sing and she held singing with the choir -"close to her-heart". She also was a member of the Missionary Society, the Women's Auxiliary and the History Committee. She attended church regularly until her passing.
In 1927 she graduated from James City County Training School. She continued her education at Virginia State College (now Virginia State University) in Petersburg. She did advanced studies at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), focusing on Early Childhood Education. Mrs. Gerst was employed as a Substitute Teacher in the Barhamsville School System and Warni School, in New Kent County.
Mrs. Gerst was united in Holy Matrimony with the late Lisbon Gerst. Unto this union, they were blessed with four loving children: Wilbur, Lawrence, Jean and Arden, who were the joy of their life. She was a caring person and a very loving mother. She was so affectionately called by many names: ''Mom, Nana, Mother Gerst, Mama Gerst and Mrs. G.".
She was also involved in many community organizations. She was a member of the NAACP, the Retired Teacher's Association, and the James City County Training School Alumni Association. She also was a Brownie Scout Troop leader.
A loving relative encouraged Mrs. Gerst to open a private pre-school in her home. She named the school, "Wee Wisdom Kindergarten". In 1950, the school opened and operated successfully until she retired in 1975. At its inception, Mrs. Gerst was the owner, operator and teacher. However, through the years, as the school's enrollment grew, it was necessary for her to employ additional staff. She provided a safe and happy environment for children to learn and play. She was often referred to as the "Kindergarten Lady". She received many hugs and kisses from her former students. In 2006, a Kindergarten Reunion was held in her honor. It was attended by many of her former students, who are now working in various careers. She was awarded a plaque for twenty-five years of community service from her Kindergarten parents. Mrs. Gerst dedicated a great portion of her life to teaching young children.
Mrs. Gerst will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved her, but we find comfort in knowing she is now resting in the arms of Jesus where she will find eternal peace and rest.
She was preceded in death by two of her sons, L. Arden Gerst and Wilbur L. Gerst. She leaves to cherish her precious memories, her daughter, Jean G. Stewart; her son, Lawrence Gerst (Joan); a daughter-in-law, Doris Gerst, of Rochester, New York; her grandchildren, Lisa Gerst and Steven Gerst, of Rochester, New York, Paula Gerst, of Newport News, Darrin Gerst (Cassandra), of West Hartford, Connecticut and Victor A. Stewart, Jr., of Hampton; her great-grandchildren, Lafayette Gerst, of Hampton and Ethan Gerst, of West Hartford, Connecticut; her cousins, Patricia Chappelle (Darrell) , Malcolm Roberts (Mona), Thelma Boone, Michael Boone (Deborah), and Percy Boone (Paula); her extended family members, Elliott and Natalie Ross and Sam and Lauren Wynn; her longtime friend, Dorothy Driscol; and a host of other loving relatives and many caring friends. She was loved by all and her warm smile of enthusiasm will remain a part of the memories, which we will keep in our hearts forever.
A funeral service, celebrating the life she lived, will be held at noon on Saturday, Aug. 11 in First Baptist Church, 727 Scotland St., with the Rev. Dr. Reginald Davis officiating. Interment will follow in Cedar Grove Cemetery. Family and friends will assemble at 118 Braxton Court by 11 a.m. on Saturday. Mrs. Gerst may be viewed, only in the church, beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday, until the hour of her service.
In lieu of flowers memorial contributions may be made to the First Baptist Church Scholarship Fund, 727 Scotland St. Williamsburg, Va. Professional service entrusted to the staff of Whiting's Funeral Home.