Nona Lee Behel Barr, 86, died Wednesday February 10, 2021 at North Alabama Medical Center, in Florence, Alabama.
Born July 11, 1934 in Florence, Alabama, Nona Lee was the daughter of Joseph Allen Behel and Beulah Mae Futrell Behel. Gospel preacher, Ira North, visited her family when he came to preach in the community. He worked in the field with Nona and her siblings. He taught Nona that an education was a gateway to a different life. Nona Lee obeyed the gospel and attended Mount Zion Church of Christ. Nona Lee picked cotton to pay her tuition at Mars Hill Bible School beginning in grade seven until she graduated in 1952. She became the live-in nanny for Brother North and his wife, Ava to pay her tuition at David Lipscomb College.
Nona Lee met United States Coast Guardsman Luther Laken "Sonny" Barr, Jr. at a church youth party when she was a junior in high school. On July 5, 1954, Sonny and Nona Lee married. Lu and Lee (as they were known by their military friends) honeymooned on Dauphin Island and lived in Gulfport, Mississippi. When Sonny was transferred, Lee moved too. In Grand Isle, Louisiana, Lee became an air traffic controller for Esso Oil Co. In Staten Island, New York, Lee worked at Chase Bank in New York City. While Sonny attended Officer Candidate School, Lee took protocol and etiquette classes for the officer's wife. She credits this training for her ability to entertain a group of any size without the stress that can get the best of many hostesses.
Lee finished her bachelor's degree in education and became an elementary school teacher in Norfolk, Virginia. In Houston, Texas, Lee earned her master's degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology under the mentorship of Dr. Donna Fox. Her master's thesis demonstrated that patients benefitted even more from speech therapy when the therapist came to their home instead of the patient going to a clinic. This work led to the birth of the home health care industry. After finishing her degree, Lee worked as the speech pathologist for LaPorte Elementary School. Lee earned her PhD in Psychology and enjoyed a 25-year career as a speech pathologist.
In 1968, Lu, Lee and only daughter Lori moved to New Orleans, the city that captured their hearts. Lee considered New Orleans her earthly home for the rest of her life. In the warm, humid climate, her green thumb knew no bounds. Just like her mother, Beulah, Lee could grow anything from a stick or leaf.
No matter where she lived, Lee encouraged others to develop a meaningful relationship with God, strengthened the church and supported Christian education. She raised funds for the Mars Hill Bible School Speech Language Lab, and for scholarships supporting students at Lipscomb University, Heritage University and Freed-Hardeman University. After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Lee opened her home to preachers assisting individuals and congregations as they rebuilt their lives. She worshipped at Hickory Knoll Church of Christ when in New Orleans and Jackson Heights Church of Christ when in Florence. She quietly supported countless individuals who were in need of education, healing and love.
Lee loved to surprise and delight patients, family and friends. She was proud to entertain dignitaries and clients at Sonny's side. Lee was an accomplished sculptor, artist, florist, and author. As Lori's mother, Lee's love was unconditional. When Richard Barr Dent, her only grandson, was born, Lee immersed Richard in her love for children, farming and education as he spent summers on Sonny and Lee's farm. She joyously supported Richard as he explored life. As a widow, she cheered up farm visitors with her stories and concern for her cats.
Lee's parents, Al and Beulah Behel; her brothers, Dan, Jerry and Jim Behel; and her husband, Sonny Barr preceded her in death. Lee's sisters, Aliene Behel Wade and Peggy Sue Behel Ezell, both of Florence; daughter, Dr. Lori Lee Barr, and son-in-law, Dr. Steven Richard Dent, both of Austin; and grandson, Richard Barr Dent survive her. We who remain are grateful for the support of family, friends, caregivers, and professionals especially during the last four years while Richard supported his grandparents and the farm.
If you've tasted Nona Lee's ham, enjoyed satsumas she grew in New Orleans or were encouraged by her in another way, please join us to celebrate Christian life as Nona Lee chose to live, on Saturday February 20, 2021 at Mount Zion Church of Christ Cemetery. Drive by or don your mask and walk up to pay respects beginning at 1:00 PM. Eulogy at 2:00 PM. You may enjoy making a donation in memory of Dr. Nona Behel Barr to Mars Hill Bible School or Northwest Alabama Christian Children's Home in Florence.
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