Evelyn Hancock has spent most of her life teaching young children about the Bible.
The 88-year-old lifelong member of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Gainesville has taught kindergartners Sunday school almost every week for more than seven decades. She retired in January after breaking her hip following 73 years of Christian service.
“I realized I had slowed down and I wasn’t getting any younger,” Hancock said. “I thought some younger person might be able to come in with more energy and new ideas. And because it’d give someone else an opportunity to have what I did.”
The church honored Hancock’s lifetime of service with a surprise announcement during the Sunday morning service earlier this month.
“They gave me this plaque which I was completely surprised about,” Hancock said. “Then they asked for anyone who had been in my class to come down and they just came. Some were from the last few years and some had their own children. That’s rewarding to see that.”
Hancock was just 15 years old, a junior at Gainesville High School, when she was approached to teach the first-grade Sunday school class.
“Of course I was a little apprehensive,” Hancock said. “But I said I’d try. ... Then I did it. And after several weeks I found I was really enjoying it. I liked being with the children and everything and I was having a good time.”
Hancock taught the first graders for several years and then was asked to take on the younger kindergarten class. She stayed with the younger class from then on.
Only a few times arose when she was not in class teaching: When her two sons were born, and when she broke her ankle more than 20 years ago.
She said she couldn’t have taught the class for so long without the help of her late husband Pierce Hancock, who watched their young children while she taught.
“He was real good with the children,” Hancock said. “He would keep them when a lot of times I wouldn’t be free on Sunday mornings. He’d keep them and get them where they needed to go and all that. He loved the children so much.”
In addition to the hundreds of young children she’s taught over the years, she’s had the “special” privilege of teaching a few of her own young family members. Hancock taught both of her sons, two nephews, her great niece and two of her four grandchildren.
“In fact the younger (grandson) decided when it was promotion time he wasn’t going to be promoted,” Hancock said laughing. “He wanted to stay so I let him stay just one more year.”
Hancock said very little has changed in terms of how the children are taught in the past seven decades. The church supplies literature to help direct simplified Biblical lessons, but the children are as eager to learn now as they have been in years past.
“They just accept it, what they learn in the classroom,” Hancock said. “We try to enrich their lives, too, with that. They’re eager and they’re always happy to learn. If they have older brothers or sisters, they’ll say I’ve learned (this.) I know that.”
Hancock said no real discipline problems occurred in her classroom through the years.
“I was lucky that it didn’t,” Hancock said laughing. “I might not have stayed that long if I’d had problems with that, but I really didn’t have any.”
After working in the church for so long, Hancock has taught multiple generations. She knows of at least one family where she taught the grandmother, the mother and the child.
“I was trying to think when I was sitting in the congregation,” Hancock said. “I tried to think about how far back it would go as far as the people were concerned. If I put my mind to it, I’m sure I could figure it out. But there were several generations. It always thrills the children to know that I had taught (their parents.)”
Jennifer Carlton hasn’t been in Hancock’s class since the late 1970s, but said Hancock is one of the people she’s known her entire life because of being in her class.
“I just can’t ever remember not seeing her,” Carlton said. “She’s just one of those people (who) if she’s ever not there at the church, you just want to find out what’s wrong. She’s just sort of a fixture there at church.”
Now the two women sing together in the church choir. Hancock has been singing in the choir for as long as she has been teaching. She said she’ll “stay busy with that.”