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Praises for pennies
Every bit counted for Ashworth, whose generosity gave Gainesville First United Methodist its sign
The Rev. Dr. Terry Walton, left, and the Rev. Dr. Steve Winter speak Sunday during a service to take the old First United Methodist Church sign down and break ground for a new one. Walter Ashworth, a member of the church until his death in 2003, raised the money for the old sign by selling produce. - photo by Tom Reed

The Rev. Dr. Terry Walton says it's the small things that make a big difference.

And when Walter Ashworth sold his fruits and veggies on Wednesdays and Sundays at Gainesville First United Methodist Church, his small acts of kindness had a big effect at the church.

"It's the kind word that can change a person's heart," Walton said. "It's the patience that we give one another that can help people be encouraged; it's the little ways that we give to one another that put a smile on our face, and I think Walter lived that out.

"He was just one that lived his faith in such a wonderful, generous and joyful way and in the simple things."

Ashworth, who passed away in 2003, was a member of the church and he grew and sold vegetables for 11 years. The proceeds from his vegetable sales helped buy equipment and materials not in the church budget.

"Walter was a very generous man, and he had an old Datsun pickup truck that he would sell vegetables out of," said the Rev. Dr. Steve Winter, executive pastor at the church.

Shirley Brewster, church business administrator, added that Ashworth also was able to fund two grand pianos and a grandfather clock.

"I bought many a tomato from him ... he was very faithful to his church, very loving of his church," Brewster said.

Brewster said Ashworth and wife Evelyn were both educators and went all the way to Alaska to teach.

"They taught in a one-room school house and they taught students of different ages," she said. "So stories like that he always enjoyed telling us."

Perhaps the largest mark Ashworth made at the church was the sign out front.

Since 1992 it stood tall, with its high arches and Methodist cross and flame. The sign was donated by Ashworth in memory of his wife, Evelyn Wheeler Ashworth, and son, Billy Bob.

But now that sign is being replaced with an electronic one.

"This congregation is really behind what we are doing and want to communicate with this community our hospitality," Walton said. "I think it is a great design and we are anxious to see it up and running."

And if Ashworth were still around, Walton said, he would be very excited about the new sign.

"Even the former pastor Gerald Thurman was telling me when they were talking about replacing the sign when he was here, and Walter was all for it," Walton said. "That was just his nature; whatever he could do to move the church forward."

The sign is part of an entire project that includes new signs throughout the church campus. The project will cost $85,000 when completed.

Walton said the project has really been 10 years in the making and only a couple members questioned the new sign.

"So they have talked about that now for probably eight to 10 years and across three pastors and it kind of took on a life of its own," Walton said. "We are real excited that we can do an electronic sign since we live in such an electronic age, and do it tastefully."

The old sign was removed Monday and the new sign is scheduled to be installed next week.

Walton added that the former sign marquee just wasn't big enough to list all the church activities.

"Every time we would have to have something, we would have to put up a separate sign," he said.

But the old sign isn't gone forever. Winter said parts of the old sign will be moved to the church's Memorial Garden.

"The cross and flame, which is the symbol of the Methodist Church, we had that removed from the sign and it's going to be refurbished," he said. "We are going to make a pedestal, maybe out of some of the rock that was saved, and be able to put the plaque that was on the original sign out in the Memorial Garden."

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