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Bethel AME Church honors four senior citizens
Faye Bush, Marguerite Bailey, Mordecai ONeal Wilson and Arabella Partlow receive recognition
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The Rev. Evelyn Johnson speaks Dec. 19 as Bethel AME Church honors and celebrates the lives of four individuals in their 80s, 90s and 100s. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Sharing your life story can be a daunting task, especially when you’re sharing someone else’s.

The lives and works of four individuals in their 80s, 90s, and 100s were honored and celebrated by the Bethel AME Church at 900 Mill St. in Gainesville. The annual event in the church’s chapel recognized Faye Bush, 81; Marguerite Bailey, 82; Mordecai O’Neal Wilson, 90; Arabella Partlow, 101.

“We are so honored to have the opportunity to recognize our elders,” said Cornelia Martin, chairman for the church board.

The idea was the brainchild of The Rev. Evelyn Johnson, who has been with the church since 2010 and implemented the program in her first year as pastor.

“I wanted the youth (of the church) to be able to see beyond the present moment,” Johnson said. “To see that if they can do it, we can, too.”

Johnson said while times are tough now, those who came beforehand had it much harder.

Myrtle Figueras shared a shortened version of each of the four’s lifelong achievements, stories and wisdom.

Faye Bush, 81, is known for civil rights activism, which was a big part of her life.

The octogenarian participated in two peace marches, created the Northeast Georgia Black Leadership Council and is involved in the Newtown Florist Club, general environmental justice and anti-racism education.

Since moving to Gainesville when she was 12 years old, Marguerite Bailey’s activities included working jobs ranging from selling shoes to working for the AARP. The 82-year-old gardening enthusiast has four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren and imparts her life’s motto on them: Treat everybody with respect and never look down on anybody.

Honorees Partlow and Wilson were not present for the ceremony, but their family members accepted their recognition.

Partlow was well-known through the church, especially for her attitude, Figueras said.

“We know Bella,” she said. “She can do whatever she wants to do.”

Partlow moved to Gainesville in 1939 and met her late husband, Willie Partlow. They ran a cab company, The Blue Bell Cab Stand, for many years together. She retired at the age of 89.

According to the program, her life motto is: Showing a person love is much better than telling them.

Wilson worked in the mental health system. He and his late wife Mary took in more than 30 teenage girls throughout the years. The 90-year-old also bought a home to house and care for 32 mentally ill patients for 25 years.

He received an award for his works in the mental health field from President George H. W. Bush, Secretary of State John Kerry and Gov. Bill Weld of Massachusetts.

Wilson also attended the famous “I Have A Dream” speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963.

Johnson explained by honoring the four seniors, the church is following in Jesus’ footsteps.

“As the Bible says, we show (seniors) the same respect as we show Him,” she said.

That lesson is not lost on congregation and community. Bryan Wells  shared the sage advice from his grandfather that has influenced him.

“My grandfather used to say, ‘You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip,’” Wells said. “Which meant you can’t get something out of something it doesn’t have.”

That advice stuck with him.

“I learned a lot from them,” he said. “Even in my frustrations, I learned a lot. Without them, there is no us.”

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