Vanessa Dale Cato-Burmingham was born September 17, 1953, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to LaFrances Ponds (Cato) and Elroy McQuarters (biological Father). She was raised by her Stepfather QD Ponds in a loving home with siblings Donald E. Dumas (Patricia), Cynthia Ponds, Doreen Gentles (Cornelius), Angelia “Ann” Ponds, Archellus Ponds (Chiquita), Cassandra “Peaches” Ponds, Sydney Ponds, and Russell Ponds (Linda). Otis Deon Ponds (deceased 1974) and Clarence Ponds (stepbrother).
She attend Burroughs Elementary, Ralph J. Bunch, Monroe Jr. High, and Roosevelt Jr. High, and graduated from Central High School in 1971. After graduation, she continued her education at Tulsa Junior College, Oscar Rose Jr. College (Rose State), Central State University (UCO), and Oklahoma City Community College, focusing on Early Childhood Education, and eventually received her associate’s degree. In addition, to her concentration on higher education, she held employment at Miss Jackson’s Dress Shop (Tulsa), Blue Cross-Blue SHiled (Tulsa), Frist National Bank (Luther, where she was their first African-American employee), and Armstrong Head Start where she was able to put her skills to use serving and teaching the children of Luther, Oklahoma, for over 38 years.
From birth, Mrs. Birmingham attended St. Andrew Baptist Church (Tulsa) until 1968 when she joined Pentecostal Temple C.O.G.I.C. (Tulsa 1968-73). She went on to join and serve at Luther C.O.G.I.C (Luther), Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church (Jones, 1983-84), New Jerusalem Temple C.O.G.I.C. (OKC, 1984-92), Faith Mission C.O.G.I.C. (Luther, 1992-96, Birmingham family created and led church), and back to NJT C.O.G.I.C. (OKC, 1996 – Homegoing).
She was united in holy matrimony to Joe Lee Birmingham Sr., (Tupelo, MIS) in November of 1982 and divorced in 1999. She remarried and divorced later, however, reclaiming her Birmingham name. To the union of Joe and Vanessa came children Cornelius Deverle Birmingham, Shalisha Dionne Birmingham, Demetrius Ben Birmingham, and Joshua Lee Birmingham. She also helped raise Shantelle Lenae Birmingham and was Stepmother to Joe Lee Birmingham, Jr.
While Vanessa was extremely dedicated to and passionate about uplifting, nurturing, and educating the youth, her first love was music. From a very young age, she enjoyed listening to music, playing the piano and organ, and singing. We affectionately called her, “Songbird,” because she always had a song in her heart.
She was an active member of the NJT Choir and used the skills she learned as a child to melodically and lovingly teach her own children the right ways to live and how to praise God through song. She and her children were able to go all over Luther, Oklahoma, and other cities to sing, dance and praise God through song!
She also enjoyed sketching, sewing (making most of her clothing growing up), painting, being in nature, fellowshipping with anyone because she never met a stranger, and learning the history of the people around her.
Mrs. Birmingham’s love for children took on a new role as she became a foster parent. She cared for nine children as a foster mother and worked with therapeutic children for over 10 years. She still has a strong relationship with J’Veyah and JaKarre who knew her as Nana.
Her love for her community of Luther, Oklahoma, allowed her the opportunity to become a member of the Neighborhood Council of Luther and served as the Treasurer of the Luther Historical Society (under the leadership of Maurice Hill).
Of all the things Vanessa Dale Cato-Birmingham achieved and loved in her life, nothing was more important than family. She loved her mother and father, sisters and brothers to the bone. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for them. They made her who she was and she was so very moved by their love!
While she is now rejoicing with her Father, QD Ponds, Uncle Larry Cato Sr., Aunt Mae Wilson, and the Love of her Life, Joe Lee Birmingham, Sr., she will forever be cherished by her children: Cornelius Deverle Birmingham (Ashley), Chicago, Shalisha Dionne Birmingham (Luther), Demetrius Ben Birmingham (Muskogee), and Shantelle Birmingham (Tulsa), Godchild, Joyce Barnett, grandchildren, Janette “Cari,” Charles, Larry (deceased), Malik, JOseph, Kariauna, Ataya, Terry, Roderick, Micah, Demetrius “Meechie,” Berkley, Ava, Zoey, and Oaklynn, great-grandchildren, J’Hordyn, Ka’Cya, and Joseph, Jr., Mother LaFrances Cato-Ponds, Donald E Dumas (Tulsa), Cynthia Ponds (Tulsa), Cassandra “Peaches” Ponds (Tulsa), Sydney Ponds (Tulsa), and Russell Ponds (Linda), San Antonio, and a host of devoted nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends!
To Those I Leave Behind
I want you to know; it’s really great up here
Living with the Lord I Love so … Be encouraged and try to abide
In the loving arms of Jesus, Cause I know He’ll be your guide.
I Love You All
Good-Bye, See You Later
Love, Vanessawritten January 8, 2010
A Celebration of Life for Vanessa Birmingham was held Saturday, April 22, 2023, at Fairview Baptist Church, Oklahoma City. Arrangements were provided by Rolfe Funeral Home.