GREAT GOSPEL PREACHERS OF THE PAST
(Part 10: Five Who Greatly Influenced Me In My Youth)
(Note: In my “News & Views” of May 7, I inadvertently tagged it is Part 10 in the series on “Great Gospel Preachers Of The Past.” Actually, it was Part 9. I apologize for the error. In this final installment of the series (Part 10) I will write about five preachers who had a great impact on me in my youth).
WILLIAM TIPTON (TIP) GRIDER (1885-1949). The first true gospel preacher I ever heard was W. T. (Tip) Grider of Rose Hill, AL. I was about nine years old when I heard him. Brother Grider would come one or two Sunday afternoons a month to the Liberty community north of our home in DeFuniak Springs, FL and conduct services in the school house. My mother and maternal grandparents were members of the church, but my father was a Methodist. However, all of us would attend the services at Liberty, and it was brother Grider who first got my father’s “attention” and interested in what the Bible actually teaches about Christianity. Brother Grider also conducted one or two tent meetings at Liberty. As a young, impressionable boy, I remember brother Grider as a stately, dignified man. He was born December 19, 1885 in Inverness, AL. At the age of 18, while serving as a steward in the Methodist Church, he was baptized into Christ by Amos Harris during a meeting near Opp, AL. Brother Grider went on to devote 43 years as an evangelist in the Lord’s church. He never served as the full-time minister of any congregation, but always preached by appointments and in gospel meetings. He attended Jackson Bible College in Valdosta, GA and a Bible school conducted by W. J. Haynes at Grady, AL. For a period of time he published a paper, The Gospel Messenger, and later served as a staff writer for Sound Doctrine, edited by Rex Turner, Sr. His longtime friend, T. H. Enzor of Andalusia, AL, described him as “humble, optimistic, generous and sacrificing.” He was one of the pioneer preachers of south Alabama, and passed from this life on October 20, 1949 at the age of 63. Brother Enzor states that 3,000 people passed through the building where brother Grider lay in repose. Raymond Elliott, longtime preacher in south Alabama, was a student at Alabama Christian College in Montgomery when brother Grider died and says that the crowd was counted and that the 3,000 number is believed to be accurate. (In addition to being a well-known preacher, brother Grider was a successful farmer and businessman, known and highly respected throughout south Alabama by people in and out of the church, accounting for the large number who attended his funeral). The number was widely reported throughout south Alabama for many years. Raymond also reports that on the day of brother Grider’s death Rex Turner, president of the college, said, “A great man has died today in south Alabama.” Brother Grider is buried in the Dozier Cemetery in Dozier, AL.
PAUL OTTO SIMON (1907-1971). Paul Simon was born in Pensacola, FL on April 7, 1907. He was baptized into Christ by W. T. Tracy in 1919 and began preaching in 1929. He attended Freed-Hardeman College and Abilene Christian College. He preached for various congregations throughout northwest Florida, including churches in Pensacola, Panama City, Tallahassee, Chipley (three different tenures with this congregation) and Milton. For a number of years he served as president of Mars Hill Bible School in Florence, AL and was the full-time minister of the Mars Hill Church of Christ. For about two years in the mid-1950s he preached for the church in Henderson, TN. Brother Simon did a great deal of evangelistic work throughout the Florida panhandle, as well as in Arizona, Minnesota, and Maine, and was instrumental in establishing several congregations of Christ. In 1948 he conducted a tent meeting in the west end section of my boyhood home of DeFuniak Springs, FL. During this meeting my father obeyed the gospel and was baptized by brother Simon. The direction of my family’s life was greatly changed. In 1953, due to brother Simon’s influence, our family moved to Florence, AL so my sister, brother, and I could attend Mars Hill Bible School where brother Simon was then serving as president. Paul Simon was a good preacher, with a fantastic memory and a ready recall of scripture. More than once I heard him preach Christ’s Sermon on the Mount from memory! I still have in my possession a cherished signed New Testament that he gave me when I graduated from Mars Hill. Paul Simon was killed in a tragic automobile accident on an icy road near Booneville, MS on February 8, 1971 on his way to the Freed-Hardeman University Bible Lectureship in Henderson, TN. He was trying to get there in time to hear his son, John Paul, speak in a morning session. John Paul spoke, knowing already that his father had been killed in a car wreck, but he requested that President E. Claude Gardner withhold the announcement of his father’s death until after his speech. I remember the numbness I felt when I heard the announcement. Brother Simon is buried in Bayview Memorial Park in Pensacola, FL.
LEWIS CASEY. Unfortunately, I have no biographical data on this fine preacher of the gospel (when and where he was born, when he died, or the places he served). I know that early in his career he preached in Excel, AL where he did a considerable amount of evangelistic work, supported by the Catoma Street Church of Christ in Montgomery, AL. Later, he preached in Florala, AL; Pensacola, FL; Ozark, AL; and Montgomery, AL. In 1951 he came to my hometown of DeFuniak Springs, FL to conduct a gospel meeting. During this meeting my sister Hilda was baptized into Christ, along with Earl Lee Birdwell and his wife (Earl went on to become an effective preacher within the deaf community), Bennie Arnold and his wife, one or two of the older Arnold children, and perhaps others. He also conducted several meetings in the Liberty community, north of DeFuniak Springs, and we always attended these meetings. As a young boy I was greatly impressed with Lewis Casey as a preacher. He knew of my early interest in becoming a preacher and was kind enough to let me copy outlines from his notebook of sermons. I especially remember an evening in the home of my maternal grandparents where brother Casey was having a meal in which he allowed me to do this. The last time I remember seeing and visiting with him was during my college years when I was at home for a break between sessions and he was preaching in a meeting at Liberty and he and sister Casey were staying in the home of my parents. He told me that he had been able to attend Freed-Hardeman for only one quarter, and that what he remembered most were the delicious sweet potatoes served in the college cafeteria! Lewis Casey was a good man and a good preacher who made an indelible impression on me in my youth. In my mind’s eye I can still see him.
WILLARD W. WILLIS (1916-1972). Of all the outstanding preachers I heard in my boyhood years, for many years I said that Willard Willis was the best. Willard Wilson Willis was born on March 14, 1916 in Pensacola, FL. He was educated at Montgomery Bible College (later Alabama Christian College, now Faulkner University), Abilene Christian College, Huntingdon College, Auburn University, and Harding Graduate School of Bible and Religion in Memphis, TN. He lacked only his qualifying exams and dissertation for the doctorate degree from Auburn. He served churches in various places in Florida, and beginning in 1945 he was the minister of the church in Luverne, AL where he preached for several years. He conducted many meetings throughout south Alabama and northwest Florida, including one in my hometown of DeFuniak Springs in the early 1950s, and was an extremely popular preacher. Our family would drive miles to hear him. He was excellent in the use of charts, and as a boy I drew these charts on a sheet of paper and wrote down all the scriptures listed on the charts (of which there were many). Along with the outlines I copied from Lewis Casey (see above), the charts and notes I took from brother Willis became the basis of my earliest preaching efforts. Impressive sermons that I remember from Willard Willis were: Where Art Thou?, Life or Death—Which Shall It Be?, He Did Not Investigate, The Man Who Dug Deep, and The Great Invitation. In the 1960s Willard Willis began teaching Bible and the biblical languages at Alabama Christian College in Montgomery. On September 21, 1972 he left Montgomery to go to Andalusia, AL to teach an extension class for preachers. South of Luverne on Highway 331 he was hit head-on by a twenty year old driver who was attempting to pass another car near the top of a hill. Brother Willis, the young driver, and the young driver’s companion were all killed instantly in the horrific accident. His funeral was conducted the following day in the E. L. Cullom Rotunda on the campus of Alabama Christian College. Eris Benson and Rex Turner, president of the college, conducted the service before a sad over-flow crowd. The following day another service was conducted at the North Palafox church in Pensacola, Fl. He is buried in Jordan Cemetery in Pensacola. Writing of him in the November 2, 1972 issue of the Gospel Advocate, Rex Turner said, “Willard W. Willis, 56, was a man of sterling qualities, a charming personality, and of excellent preparation for the teaching of the Bible and the training of young men to preach the gospel. He was absolutely sound in the faith. He loved his Lord, and he was a thorough scholar of the Bible.” In my youth, how I did love to hear him preach! I did not think that anyone could possibly be any better.
ANTHONY ELBERT (A. E.) EMMONS, JR. (1911-1980). When our family moved from northwest Florida to Florence, AL in 1953 in order for my siblings and me to attend Mars Hill Bible School, Wayne Emmons became my closest friend. Wayne’s father was A. E. Emmons, Jr., minister of the Eastside Church of Christ in Sheffield, AL. Through my friendship with Wayne I came to know and love the Emmons family. Brother Emmons maintained a study (office) at his home, and on visits to his home he would share sermon outlines and sage advice with two young, aspiring preachers (Wayne and me). He was a master story teller and blessed with an unusually keen sense of humor. Anthony Elbert Emmons, Jr. was born in Henderson, TN on June 28, 1911, and was baptized by N. B. Hardeman in 1923. He began preaching in 1929 and went on to serve several large and prominent churches of Christ in Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky. His last full-time ministry was with the church in Bemis, TN where I spent many nights with him and sister Emmons while attending the Freed-Hardeman University Bible Lectureship each year. When I lived in Mobile, AL his daughter Toni (whom I had known since she was just a little girl) served as the church secretary. When brother Emmons died in January of 1980 I was asked to have a part in his funeral conducted at the Wood Avenue Church of Christ in Florence, AL (where he and Ruth had retired) and where he continued to teach a well-attended Sunday morning Bible class, of which my mother and father were appreciative members. He is buried in Tri-Cities Memorial Gardens in Florence. Throughout the years he was a source of great encouragement to me and my work and I was privileged to be the recipient of several important books from his library.
May 28, 2019