Dirtress Haynes Gresham-Whitfield was born to Robert and Julia Haynes on December 26, 1928 in Jackson County, Georgia. She was the youngest of 16 siblings. Her early years of schooling were at one of the historical Rosenwald Schools, founded by Booker T. Washington.
At the age of 8, Dirtress, her mother and older sister, Lucy, moved to Ohio, where she and her sister worked alongside their Mother as she ran and operated a "boarding house" for men from the south who came north to work. At the young age of 8, she gave her life to Christ, beginning her life-long walk with the Lord and service to Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
Dirtress attended Middletown Public Schools, graduating from Middletown High School with the class of 1947. During her high school years, Dirtress, her sister Lucy, along with friends, Marie and Florence, started a singing group. Dirtress loved to sing and sang for many years in the Mt. Zion Choir and you could always find her singing around the piano with her family.
There are so many stories, we can tell about this great woman, who deserves to be recognized for all the lives she touched. One of the most memorable was the high school dance. Dirtress, along with two of her friends were pioneers as they decided to integrate a dance for high school students. McCarthy's, a car dealership, would empty out their showroom on the weekends for the high school students to have a dance. Dirtress and her friends decided they were students, and they we're going. Dirtress rallied black students from various parts of the city, and they were all going to show up at the dance. When the time came, most of them made excuses as to why they could not come, so Dirtress and her friends, Herbert Frazier and Florence Williams forged ahead, got their nerve up and went inside. To their surprise, they were welcomed by their white classmates. They danced and had a great time. Word got out about the dance, opening the door for many more integrated dances in Middletown High School.
After graduating high school, she was united in Holy matrimony to the late Garnett Gresham Jr. and to this union 3 children were born: Regina, Eric, and Bernetta. She was employed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where she worked as a skilled typist for the generals. After the death of her first husband, Garnett Gresham, she became the sole provider for her children. She was employed by the Middletown School District, worked part-time for Dr. Zollett and was known by many, as the "nice, but tough” lunchroom cashier at McKinley Jr. High School. She later utilized the resources at the local library, and taught herself data entry. She was then hired by Franklin Boxboard and was the first and only black woman working in the front office.
Throughout Dirtress's life, she held many positions of trust including Trustee of Mt. Zion Baptist Church and Treasurer of the Southern Ohio Ministers’ Wives Association.
In 1990, Dirtress married the late, Rev. Dr. Paul Whitfield and gained two additional children, Vera & Jessie Whitfield.
Dirtress was the matriarch of the family and was highly respected by her family who often looked to her for wisdom and guidance. She had a sense of humor and a way of correction that was well received, “pull those pants up”, “let your skirt down”, etc. Her daily prayer was, “Lord let me keep my right mind.” And that he did. Her mind was sharp, but her body was weary.
Recently, due to health issues, Dirtress moved to Cleveland to reside with her daughters, where she received her wings and was called home. “Job well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Dirtress was preceded in death by her parents Robert and Julia Haynes, her husbands, Garnett Gresham, and Paul Whitfield, and 15 siblings: Hattie, Fannie, Nellie, Bailey, L.D., Ernest, Pearlie, Nezzie, Birdia, Robert, Adam, Joseph, Eliza, John Wesley, and Lucy.
Dirtress leaves to cherish her loving memory: daughter, Regina (Van) Williams of Cleveland Hts. Ohio, son, Eric (Jacqueline) Gresham of Middletown, Ohio, daughter, Bernetta (Derek) Brantley of Euclid, Ohio. From her children she was blessed with 11 grandchildren whom she loved equally: Brandon Williams of Cleveland, Ohio, Erica Gresham, Erinn Gresham, and Elijah Gresham of Middletown, Ohio; Tramaine Turner of Hyattsville, Maryland, Derek Brantley II, Eboni Brantley, and Mia Brantley of Euclid, Ohio, April Farrell of Hamilton, Ohio, Valencia Gaston of Dayton, Ohio, and Jessica Whitfield of Lima, Ohio, and 24 great-grandchildren. Also cherishing her memory are her sister-in-law, Vera Smith, a host of devoted nieces, nephews, cousins, friends, and a devoted couple, Gregory and Melissa Hart, who are like family.
On April 26, 2021 at 1:48 am she had a Doctor’s Appointment with the Great Physician that she could not miss.
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