Motivated by her aunt, a teacher who insisted that all of her nieces and nephews attend college, Bertina Iolia Wilson began her professional journey at Newark State College. She hoped to follow in her aunt’s footsteps and, after obtaining a Bachelor of Arts from the institution in 1960, immediately found a job as a teacher for the Newark Board of Education. She spent 17 years in the role before being promoted to project coordinator, and another 18 before advancing to vice principal in the Newark Public Schools. During her time there, Ms. Wilson implemented a program in the 1980s that allowed computers in the classrooms; she went to various companies in the community and asked them to donate computers that would have otherwise been disregarded because she knew that they were the future. Along the way, she furthered her own education with a Master of Arts from Kean University and elementary education teacher and principal certification from the state of New Jersey. She retired from the public school system in 1997.
Even after her retirement, however, Ms. Wilson couldn’t stay away from academia for long. She began teaching eighth grade math and science at St. Paul’s Roman Catholic School as a favor to the principal, who was short a teacher, and because her grandchildren attended and it would allow her to see them more often. The principal found out about Ms. Wilson’s involvement in music during her time there, and when the music teacher retired, asked her to step in. Although Ms. Wilson intended the post to be temporary, she ended up staying there for five years. She considers this the most enjoyable part of her career because of how much the children appreciated her. She was particularly moved when one of her students gave his valedictorian speech at graduation and mentioned that she taught him more than math, science, and music; she taught him about life.
Alongside her primary responsibilities, Ms. Wilson maintained professional affiliation with a number of organizations to help her stay abreast of new developments in her field. In 1981, she was a member of the executive board of the Newark chapter of the Project Coordinators Association, and she was the public relations director for PDK International from 1987 to 1989. She was also a longtime member of the Newark Teachers Union.
An active member of the Zion Hill Baptist Church in Newark for many years, Ms. Wilson was the church organist and choir director for the church from 1974 to 2014. She has also taught Sunday school for the church since 2007, and she is helping to train new Sunday school teachers as she prepares for retirement. She began teaching Sunday school roughly 50 years ago at her first church, the Reid Temple Church of God in Christ.
For excellence in her professional and civic endeavors, Ms. Wilson has been the recipient of a number of honors and accolades. In 1986, she was presented with the Outstanding Church Musician Award from the Order of the Eastern Star. She has also received the Living Legend Award from Zion Hill Baptist Church and a Community Service Award from the Essex County Civic Association. An honored Marquis listee, she has been presented with both the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award and the Marquis Who’s Who Humanitarian Award.
Born in Southampton, Virginia, to parents Purcell Lee and Clarine Branch, Ms. Wilson is the proud mother of two children, Brian Keith and Linda Elizabeth. She is additionally incredibly proud of her three wonderful grandchildren, Janee Janece, Jaycee Janece, and Brian Isaiah. Janee Janece is a graduate of New Jersey City University and works for the township of Old Bridge; Brian Isaiah is a police officer in Hillside; and Jaycee Janece is a student at Kean University. Enjoying singing and playing the organ in her free time, Ms. Wilson hopes to leave a legacy as a teacher who was able to instill good morals and values in her students.