After spending just five minutes with Sandy Golden, you realize three things – she is passionate about learning, fearless about trying new things and dedicated to helping others find their special gift to give back to the community.
Sandy is an Atlanta native who grew up near West End, in Oakland City, the southwest corner of Atlanta. She graduated from Brown High School and attended Mercer University in Macon where she majored in Psychology and minored in Biology and Spanish.
“I have always had wide interests and studied interdisciplinary subjects. I like to know how things connect,” says Sandy.
After graduating from Mercer, she spent time at Indiana University, pursuing an advanced degree and then moved to Austin, Texas, to do educational research on the effects of mainstreaming special education student populations in traditional classrooms.
While working in Austin, Sandy felt God was calling her to do some type of missionary work in Bolivia! Before leaving, she studied the Quechua language, the language of ancient Incas. She moved to Sucre, a mountain village in Bolivia, not knowing anyone and with no support from any church. She found a Bolivian family to live with for three months, and in the mornings taught English to former child and teen prostitutes living at a convent.
Learning English gave these girls the opportunity to get better jobs with American families in the area. In the afternoons, Sandy translated a Quechan book of legends.
Returning to Texas and her former research job, Sandy realized quickly that at heart, she thrived most as a teacher. She quit her job and went back to Indiana University to complete a master’s degree in psychology. From there, she moved to Atlanta, where she taught at Mercer Atlanta from 1974 to 1990 while working on her doctorate. She earned her Ph.D in Interdisciplinary Studies from Emory University in 1987. In 1993, Sandy took a position at Clayton State University. She worked here until 2010, first teaching psychology courses, then as the Director of the Learning Center, and then finishing her career teaching in the field of Human Services.
In March, 2010, Sandy fearlessly changed direction again – getting married for the first time, at the age of 63, to Bob Golden of Fayetteville!
“Bob was the husband of my best friend of 50 years, Gail, who died that year of breast cancer after an 8-year battle with the disease. During Gail’s illness, I got to know Bob very well and saw how tenderly he cared for her. He never complained or got mad about the situation. I fell in love with him, watching him with Gail.”
Before her death, Gail subtly encouraged Sandy to marry Bob, so Sandy knew she had Gail’s blessing. Three months after their marriage, Sandy retired from teaching, but did not stop making a difference in people’s lives…she was just getting started!
Q & A with Sandy Golden
How did you get started building garden beds at R.J. Burch Elementary School in Tyrone?
Although I did not consider myself a gardener at the time, I was captivated by a book, Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardeners Guide to the Soil Food Web. As a life-long learner, I was fascinated by the microbial life in soil – it’s teeming with life – and thought the book one of the most important I have ever read. Bob suggested I take the master gardener training through the Fayette County Extension Office to become more educated about gardening. I completed the training in 2011.
In the fall of 2014, the principal of Burch Elementary School, Dr. Felecia Spicer, asked members of Hopewell United Methodist Church (located near the school on Jenkins Rd.) if they could help pull weeds in the school courtyard. While helping with the weed pulling, I noticed two tiny garden beds, planted with vegetables, behind the portable classroom trailers that served the ESOL students. When I saw these postage-stamp-sized garden beds, I kiddingly said to one of the teachers, Lisa Gonzalez, “You need a bigger garden!” She replied, “Yes we do, can you build us one?” That was the seed from which the Burch Elementary gardens grew.
I worked with a group of volunteers from Hopewell Methodist Church to install four, 30-foot long, concrete block garden beds near the portable classrooms, to create an outdoor classroom to teach the students how to grow food organically. Starting in 2015, students began growing spring crops like radishes, carrots, potatoes, onions, lettuce, kale, spinach and cow peas. This year, we have expanded the number of beds, including a 47’ long trellis bed that is divided into sections for pre-K classes, with the middle portion dedicated to a pollinator garden. Each grade level at Burch with a desire to garden has access to half of one of the 30’ garden beds.
Tell us about Hopewell United Methodist Church’s decision to create a community garden on the church grounds.
Dr. Spicer shared with me that many of her students’ families are “food insecure” – they have lack of access consistently to healthy food. She asked if another garden could be created for families to grow their own food. The congregation at Hopewell Methodist Church, which is located within walking distance of Burch Elementary School, Flat Rock Middle School and Sandy Creek High School, views these three schools as an important part of their ministry.
They agreed to dedicate some church land to create a community garden. Burch Elementary School has a peanut patch bed here. (Peanuts cannot be grown at school because of peanut allergies.) Flat Creek Middle School tends an herb garden bed and a pollinator garden bed, and Sandy Creek High School hosts a culinary arts program at the community garden. High School students plant vegetables and then learn how to cook them! Several garden beds are also set aside for families of the students at these three schools to grow their own food. This is truly a community garden linked to our schools.
How do you define your legacy?
Even though I am retired, I am still teaching. I am teaching survival skills, self reliance – practical skills. If the electric grid goes down, I want our kids to know how to survive!
We have lost our ability to be self-sufficient. In the future I would like to start a skills school. I want those who attend to learn wood working, sewing, quilting, growing food, cooking and preserving food, masonry – all the skills that we no longer hand down to our children.
I want people to develop gifts they can use to bless other people. My legacy is to teach people they have something significant to share with others. Their lives matter. They can use their skills for good in our community.
What others say about Sandy’s legacy…
Dr. Felecia Spicer, principal at Burch Elementary School in Tyrone, says of Sandy, “Mrs. Golden’s only connection to Burch prior to (planting the school gardens) is that she attends the church across the street from our school. She has no children of her own here, no grandchildren, no nieces or nephews attending our school. She simply offered her knowledge, her time, and her finances to enhance the education of 517 amazing students. What started as three small ESOL classes and a small box of dirt has turned into a whole school endeavor and a beautiful garden, complete with fence, irrigation, and countless hours of fun! Sandy Golden has planted a seed in our students that can grow into a passion for gardening. Burch could be mentoring a future master gardener who will pass Mrs. Golden’s knowledge and love of gardening on to the next generation of children.”
For more information about Burch Garden, go to: burchgarden.weebly.com