Janet Lester and Vauna Bellury Share the Bounty
Vauna Bellury and Janet Lester are friends who have the same passion – to count their blessings and share their bounty. If you drop by Vauna’s house, you are likely to leave with some fresh eggs, courtesy of her nine chickens. After visiting Janet, your arms will be filled with some of her canned preserves and perhaps a rooted cutting from one of her hydrangeas.
Their generosity impacts the entire community. Janet and Vauna give leadership to the Fayette Master Gardeners’ Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR) garden that donates its entire harvest to help local families in need. Last year the PAR garden harvested 23,024 pounds of fresh food. Master gardeners also gleaned an additional 63,490 pounds of bruised tomatoes and peaches from local growers. The total donation of produce by the Fayette County master gardeners was 86,490 pounds – 88% of the entire amount of fresh food distributed in the Atlanta area to food banks, ministries and shelters. Vauna and Janet are quick to add that the PAR garden is successful because of the teamwork of all the master gardeners who volunteer in the garden and the mentoring of Lester Bray, a local farmer who has taught them how to maximize their yield.
Her roots run deep in the soil…
Vauna Bellury has the love of dirt in her blood. Born in Americus, Georgia, she spent the first five years of her life in rural Pitts on her grandparents’ 100-acre farm, where they grew cotton and peanuts. The family was self-sustaining, raising cows and chickens and growing their own vegetables. Vauna recalls that old farmhouse with fondness, remembering the pecan trees in the front yard and the good, clean smell of the earth after a rain. Vauna’s parents moved their family of four children to Macon where Vauna grew up, met and later married Tim Bellury, her high school sweetheart. Tim and Vauna moved to Athens in 1968 where Tim attended the University of Georgia. During this time, Vauna took night classes and worked to support the family. After graduation, Tim joined the Air Force and began pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas. Here, their first daughter Jennifer was born.
The family then moved to Mather Air Force Base in Rancho Cordova, California, where Angela was born. After a six year stint in the Air Force, the family landed in Atlanta where Tim became an Air Force reservist before joining Delta as a pilot in 1979. Vauna continued to take college courses whenever she could; her determination was rewarded in 1982, when she received her Bachelor of Arts in Accounting with a minor in Computer Science from Kennesaw State University.
Vauna is a gracious, down-to-earth and caring woman. Her core values include a love of God, family, her church and giving back to the community. These values sustained her when her younger sister, Joan, died of breast cancer at the age of 21. While her daughters were young, Vauna focused on her girls and enjoyed the role of stay-at-home mom. The family moved to Fayetteville so the girls could enjoy the benefits of Fayette County’s excellent school system.
Vauna volunteered at the girls’ schools as a room mother, chaperone for field trips and as the treasurer of the band boosters. In 1988, Vauna began working full-time at AIS Computers as a sales representative, and the local schools became her clients for computer sales and support.
Now retired, nothing in her life gives Vauna more joy than her grandchildren: five-year-old Kiran and 18-month-old Mirabella, the children of her oldest daughter Jennifer and husband Ravi. In December 2010, daughter Angela gave birth sooner than expected to Vauna and Tim’s third grandchild, Bryson Lee (Brylee).
Giving back to her community is Vauna’s passion. She recalls something her pastor, Mark Westmoreland, said in a sermon that expresses how she feels; “Life is a gift from God. You can share it or waste it.” She is a member of Fayetteville First United Methodist Church where she gives leadership to the Marie Lamb Circle. In addition to church involvement, Vauna has a wide range of interests and hobbies.
She has volunteered at Zoo Atlanta, the Fox Theater and Callaway Gardens.She never misses her weekly classes at Jazzercise and looks forward twice yearly to salmon fishing in Alaska on the Kenai Peninsula with friends. Her long-time friend, Lawanna Mott, says, “Vauna and I have been twin friends since high school. We love fishing for salmon in Alaska and we both love gardening. And, yes, we are good at both!”
Her love of gardening led Vauna in 1998 to take classes from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension in Fayette County to become a master gardener. Since becoming a certified master gardener, she has volunteered hundreds of hours to support local horticultural programs and earned her “Lifetime” master gardener designation in 2008 after serving ten consecutive years as a volunteer.
Deep roots in the community…
Janet Lester’s local roots can be traced back to the early 1800’s when her family first settled in Fayette County. She was raised in rural Woolsey, the fifth of six children. Her family cultivated a large vegetable garden and planted apple, pear and fig trees. They grew most of their food and canned and froze the surplus so nothing went to waste. Her mother was her first gardening mentor. Janet recalls, “My mother could grow anything and composted before it became the ‘green’ thing to do. She always did it. I still use a lot of her recipes for canning.”
In grade school Janet first met John Addison Lester, her future husband. The Lester family also has a long history in Fayette County. They started dating when Janet was a senior in high school and Addison was a freshman at Middle Georgia College. Addison went on to graduate from Georgia Tech while Janet finished her degree at Georgia State with a Bachelor of Arts in Marketing. They married in 1977 and raised two wonderful boys, John IV and Adam. She began her work career at Delta as a reservationist and then started her own window treatments business and has been self-employed for 26 years.
As her boys were growing up, Janet got involved in their school as a room mother and as a leader with the PTO. She volunteered with the Fayette County youth track program and served as a “soccer mom” for the Fayette County High School Tigers soccer program, feeding the players before every game and running the concession stand with another parent for all the home games. They actually prepared all the meals sold at the concession stand – a huge hit with the fans.
Her boys married within six weeks of each other – John to Tara and Adam to Jena – and both families gave birth to sons only five days apart in March 2011. Janet’s face lights up when talking about her new grandsons, John Addison V (called Jack) and Grady. Her only regret is that Adam’s family lives in Denver and she misses the daily opportunities to cuddle Grady. But, with her large extended family and many friends from school days and from church, Janet and Addison have ample opportunities for get-togethers with those they love.
Janet is a true “Renaissance Woman” with varied interests and many accomplishments.
She has a passion for many things, but her faith, family and friends are her priority. Debbie Walker and Janet have been friends for over 36 years. Debbie recalls, “I met Janet when my husband and I started dating. We became fast friends. I asked her to serve at my wedding, which she did gladly! She has a servant’s heart. Whether the need is a large one or on a very personal level for a dear friend, she is always there and so willing to serve.”
Janet is passionate about her church, Fayetteville First Baptist Church. For many years she has been an integral part of a mission group that supports Operation Christmas Shoe Box by collecting hundreds of shoeboxes filled with toys and personal care items for children around the world. She also assists with a home bound ministry, preparing and delivering meals monthly to those who are shut-ins. Janet loves this opportunity to make a nice meal from scratch, bring some flowers and enjoy a chat with her clients. She also helps to organize a ladies’ exercise program at church. She is a certified instructor and teaches free Pilates and body toning classes. Her other interests are photography, knitting, crocheting, sewing, cooking, reading, hiking, trout fishing with her four brothers and turkey hunting with her husband.
You realize that one of Janet’s greatest passions is gardening when she tells you her favorite gift from her husband was a truckload of composted horse manure! Her father-in- law, “Papa,” became another gardening mentor. He was a vegetable gardener and always ensured his family and friends had plenty of produce by leaving baskets of some of his bounty on their doorsteps.
Janet became a master gardener in 1997 shortly after her mother passed away. This volunteer opportunity came at an ideal time when she was grieving her mother’s death. She loves to see things grow. Janet says, “It’s amazing. What a miracle it is that a tiny tomato seed can produce a 3-5’ tall plant yielding 25 pounds of tomatoes! Addison and I love to share the bounty of our garden with our family, neighbors and the church.” Like Vauna, Janet is also a “Lifetime” master gardener, having devoted over ten years to the program.
Sharing the bounty…
Janet and Vauna’s favorite project is giving leadership to the “Plant a Row for the Hungry” (PAR) garden that they helped to start in 2000. It takes year-round planning and lots of willing hands. Master gardeners purchase seed and seedlings, plant, maintain and harvest a variety of vegetables, all of which are donated to local non-profits. Vauna says, “During these difficult economic times, it is so important to help those who are in need. I worry especially about the children. The PAR garden provides fresh, wholesome, healthy produce for families who may not be able to afford to put food on the table.”
Their mentor in the garden is local legend Lester Bray. Janet recalls admiring his garden as a youngster growing up in Fayetteville and is glad master gardeners are tapping into his vast knowledge of vegetable gardening. Mr. Bray trained them in the plasticulture method of planting to increase crop yields. The plastic sheeting (mulch) warms up the soil, allowing you to start planting earlier. The plastic also decreases soil compaction, water evaporation, weeds, soil-borne diseases and the leaching of fertilizer. These benefits add to big rewards – significantly increased crop production.
Mr. Bray loves working with all the master gardeners in the PAR garden, but our cover girls have a special place in his heart. “Vauna and Janet have a high level of energy and dedication for the program. They work hard to expand their knowledge. They are good leaders and just good people. You really need a deep concern for people to be passionate about what we do because it is hard work. They are passionate about the garden because they are passionate about people.”
Vauna and Janet are not sure they can beat last year’s record harvest, but they are both busy back in the PAR garden and enthusiastic about sharing the bounty once again with those in need. On Monday and Thursday mornings you’ll find them, along with Mr. Bray and many other master gardeners, caring for the one-acre plot on land donated for use by New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville. Willing hands are always needed to tend the variety of vegetables planted. If you’d like to learn more about vegetable gardening using the plasticulture method, stop by the PAR garden and you’ll get free advice from Mr. Bray, Janet and Vauna. They are glad to share their knowledge. It’s part of their passion to share the bounty and give back to the community.