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'Mother' Baggs honored
Church, community salute icon
Rel EA Pulpit2
Mary Baggs and the Rev. Frederick McIver, pastor of First Zion Baptist Church, pose for a photo. - photo by Photo by Lewis Levine
First Zion Baptist Church of Riceboro honored one of its longtime, faithful members, Mary Lecounte Baggs, who celebrated her 97th birthday last month.
Family and friends from Liberty County, surrounding areas and other states gathered for the occasion.
The event took place in the church’s Benjamin F. Holmes Fellowship Hall, which was packed to capacity with ministers, politicians, educators and former students  — all to honor the trailblazer, teacher, mother, grandmother and mentor.
“We come to honor a woman of virtue, victory, faith, power and praise,” Debra Bacon-Frazier said.
Frazier, principal of Midway Middle School and a member of First Zion, served as mistress of ceremonies.
One of Baggs’ longtime friends, Neloweze Cooper, 92, served as chairperson of the committee organizing the event and gave the welcome.
“What a difference you have made in the lives of so many people,” Cooper said.
Born on “Treesa Hill” in Riceboro on July 23, 1910, Baggs has been a pivotal force in Liberty County.
She is a graduate of the historic Dorchester Academy at Midway, where she was valedictorian of the class of 1932, senior class president, and played basketball and tennis.
She met her husband, the late Earl Baggs, while attending Dorchester. In 1961, he became Liberty County’s first black county commissioner since Reconstruction.
Mary Baggs began her teaching career at the Pine Hill School in Groveland and then with the Liberty County school system. She spent nearly 40 years as an educator.
“Mrs. Baggs was my third grade teacher. I have had many great teachers, but Mrs. Baggs was the best — even better than my mother who was my second-grade teacher,” Modibo Kadalie, a Riceboro City Council member, said.
One of the first students she taught at Pine Hill, Bernice Williams, also attended the celebration.
Baggs also served as a teacher and mentor in the community and church. 
“We had vacation Bible study last week, and Mother Baggs taught every day,” the Rev. Frederick McIver said.
McIver serves as pastor of First Zion.
“She has been such an inspiration to me and the church. She is dedicated, faithful and a great teacher,” he said.
In addition to her role as a wife, mother and educator, Baggs has always been active in the community. She has been involved in religious, educational, political and social activities for decades.
Positions she held with distinction included president and charter member of the Liberty Retired Teachers Association, Liberty County Chapter NAACP and Cosmopolitan Club; and president of the Dorchester Improvement Association.
During her tenure as DIA president, the institution was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
She also served as a member of the Liberty County Emancipation Proclamation Observance Committee and Limerick Chapter 336 Order of the Eastern Star and Silver-Haired Legislature. 
She has given, and continues to give, countless hours of service to her church.
She was also the director of vacation Bible school from its inception until 1980 and still serves as the adult class teacher. On Sunday mornings, she actively participates in Sunday school and church at Mt. Zion.
Speaker after speaker lauded Mrs. Baggs for her many contributions, each presenting her with a rose.
“Mrs. Baggs has been such an influence in Liberty County. She has been an inspiration, and we appreciate the many contributions she has made. She reminds me of my mother,” former Liberty County School Superintendent Ed Edwards said.  
The members of the Silver Divas of First Zion presented a silver crown and robe to Baggs.
“You are the queen of the community,” Liberty County Board of Commissioners Chairman, John McIver said.
Georgia State Rep. Al Williams presented her with a resolution from the State House of Representatives and a letter from the governor.
“In October, the members of the Black Caucus will honor her as an unsung hero at its annual dinner,” Williams said.
In response, Baggs said, “God has something special for you because you took the time to honor me. God has a plan for all of us. Go ahead and do what He wants you to do. God is depending on you.”
As special tributes, Riceboro dedicated July 21 as Mary L. Baggs Day and First Zion also dedicated its educational department in honor of her.
“The county of Liberty, city of Riceboro, community of Crossroads, is a better place because of you,” Debra Bacon-Frazier said.
“The members of the church worked hard because we wanted Mother Baggs to have a splendid occasion. We did not have to ask anyone twice to do anything. They were willing,” Betty McCray said.
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