FLORENCE – Nona Lee Behel Barr, 86, died at North Alabama Medical Center in Florence, Alabama on Tuesday, February 11, 2021.
Nona Lee was born on July 11, 1934 in Florence, Alabama, to Joseph Allen Behel and Beulah Mae Futrell Behel. Gospel preacher Ira North visited her family while he was preaching in the ward. He worked in the field with Nona and her siblings. He taught Nona that an education is a gateway to another life. Nona Lee obeyed the gospel and attended Mount Zion Church of Christ. Nona Lee picked cotton to pay for her tuition at Mars Hill Bible School, beginning in seventh grade through graduation in 1952. She became the living nanny for Brother North and his wife Ava to help pay for their tuition at David Lipscomb College to pay.
Nona Lee met US Coast Guardian Luther Laken “Sonny” Barr Jr. at a youth party at church when she was in high school. On July 5, 1954, Sonny and Nona Lee married. Lu and Lee (as they were called by their military friends) were honeymooning on Dauphin Island and living in Gulfport, Mississippi. When Sonny was transferred, Lee also moved. In Grand Isle, Louisiana, Lee became an air traffic controller at 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 attributes this training to her ability to entertain a group of any size without the stress that can get the most out of many hostesses.
Lee completed her bachelor’s degree in education and became a primary school teacher in Norfolk, Virginia. In Houston, Texas, Lee received her Masters in Speech Pathology and Audiology under the direction of Dr. Donna Fox. Her master’s thesis showed that patients benefited even more from speech therapy when the therapist came to their home rather than the patient going to a clinic. This work led to the birth of the home health industry. After graduating, Lee worked as a speech pathologist for LaPorte Elementary School. Lee holds a PhD in psychology and a 25-year career as a speech pathologist.
In 1968, Lu, Lee, and their 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 limits. Just like her mother Beulah, Lee could grow anything from a stick or a leaf.
No matter where she lived, Lee encouraged others to build meaningful relationships with God, strengthened the Church, and supported Christian education. She raised funds for the Mars Hill Bible School language lab and for scholarships to support students at Lipscomb University, Heritage University, and Freed-Hardeman University. After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Lee opened her home to preachers who helped individuals and communities rebuild their lives. She prayed at the Hickory Knoll Church of Christ in New Orleans and the Jackson Heights Church of Christ in Florence. She quietly supported countless people in need of education, healing, and love
Lee loved to surprise and delight patients, family, and friends. She took pride in entertaining dignitaries and customers by 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 Richard was immersed in her love of children, agriculture, and education while spending the summers on Sonny and Lee’s farm. She happily supported Richard as he explored life. As a widow, she cheered up the farmer’s visitors with her stories and her 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 from Florence; Daughter Dr. Lori Lee Barr and son-in-law Dr. Steven Richard Dent, both from Austin; and grandson Richard Barr Dent survive. We who remain are grateful for the support from family, friends, caregivers and professionals, especially over the past four years while Richard supported his grandparents and the farm.
If you’ve tried Nona Lee’s ham, enjoyed the satsumas she grew in New Orleans, or otherwise encouraged by her, join us in celebrating the Christian life as Nona Lee turns out to be on Saturday, February 20, 2021 in Mount Zion Church has made from Christ Cemetery. Drive by or put on your mask and walk to pay your respects from 1:00 PM. Laudation at 2 p.m. You can make a donation in memory of Dr. Nona Behel Barr at Mars Hill Bible School, or the Christian children’s home in northwest Alabama in Florence.
An online guest book can be signed at greenviewmemorial.com.
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