Louise Todd doesn’t get surprised too much. In fact, in her almost 88 years, she said she’d had only one major surprise and that was by the students at Union Elementary School when she retired back in 1990.
Last Sunday was the second one, when she walked into Evergreen Baptist Church, a place where she has been teaching Sunday school for the past 70 years, and was honored by the congregation for her decades-long dedication to the church.
“I walked in and didn’t think to much about what was going on,” she explained about going into the Delway church. “Then I saw all of my family, my friends and I was just so touched.”
To hear her tell it, the surprise was a well-planned one that caught her off guard. Although she wasn’t given a bulletin, and flowers on the altar rather than the usual Bible seemed a bit odd to her, Todd said she still didn’t give it all that much thought until, that is, she returned from her Sunday school class later to find a sanctuary filled with family, friends and long-time acquaintances.
“The preacher then let the cat out of the bag and said that they were celebrating me,” she recalls with a grin. “Then I saw Dr. (Tommy) Newton, that just about got me. He has been a doctor in my family for years — he is not only my doctor, but he is my friend, and to see him there, along with everyone else, just got me.”
Before worship, Todd taught the Sunday school class, just like she does every Sunday, but as the class came to a close, her students shared their feelings about her. “They told me how much I meant to them and all, it was absolutely wonderful and I appreciate it from the depths of my heart,” she said, wiping tears from her already moist eyes. “But you know what? I don’t deserve it; I am just a little old seed in God’s hand; He can use me, and anything that I have ever accomplished, the glory goes to Him.”
Born the youngest of seven children, she said her parents, Junie and Mary Francis “Fannie” Andrews, taught her the value of being strong in her faith, to hard work and to love and respect others early in life.
“My parents were very religious,” she says. “They taught me integrity and to treat everyone with respect. No matter where you were from, what color you were, what religion … it didn’t matter. I grew up in church; they made sure we were there every Sunday. My parents, they led by example.”
After high school, Todd went to work. Not wanting to can pickles, she answered an ad that, she says, changed her life.
“I grew up around Faison and I finished high school when I was 16 years old; this was 1941,” she stresses, reaching back into her life’s memories. “This was pre-war, there wasn’t any jobs and my family came up as farmers. We got The Sampson Independent and there was an advertisement in there that said they were looking for a part-time bookkeeper. It didn’t say where, but I answered it anyway.”
Two or three weeks later, Todd discovered that 100 people answered that same ad.
“I honestly forgot about it,” she explains. “I had my seventeenth birthday in October. The Saturday before my birthday, a car drove up to the house and my dad went out. A few minutes later, he came back in and asked me if I had applied for an ad. I told him yes and he said there was a man outside who wanted to talk to me about it.”
That man was Moody Ezzell.
“I went out and talked to him,” she said. “The next day, which was a Sunday, I turned 17, and on Monday, I went to work.”
The job was the beginning of a beautiful relationship with the Ezzell family that continues through this day.
“They treated me just like family,” she said. “James Ezzell, his son, became the brother I never had.”
Easter 1942, Todd made her foray into teaching Sunday school when the church’s regular instructor had to make a trip to Buies Creek to assist a sick family member.
“They didn’t have anybody to teach a class,” she remembers. “These were older people, too, 60, 70 years old. Her husband came to me and asked me if I could do it. I told him I couldn’t, but he said he believed in me, and I did it.”
Todd laughs at the memory of a young woman, in her late teens, teaching older parishioners.
“I don’t know if I was naive or what, but he brought the book to me and I taught my first class Easter Sunday of 1942.”
Now, some 70 years later, Todd said she knows why she had the courage to step in front of those seniors so many years ago.
“As I look back now, I don’t think I was naive at all; I think the Lord was leading me to do something for Him,” she explains, “because that was the beginning.”
By the fall of 1942, Todd was elected the intermediate Sunday School teacher at Evergreen.
“I never had a problem with the kids, never,” she asserts proudly. “We would take car loads of kids to White Lake, Wilmington … sometimes three car loads of them. Never did I have any trouble with any of them.”
These days, she is still teaching those same children, most who are now grandparents.
“Looking back on my life I can see the Lord having a hand in bringing me to Evergreen, giving me that job, meeting my husband, Noah, there, getting married and raising my three sons (Jimmy, Jerry and Billy).”
Through the years, she has been lauded for her volunteer efforts, her work with the WMU of the Eastern Baptist Association and her involvement with Sampson County Schools, where she worked for over 30 years, beginning when her oldest son, Jimmy, was headed off to college.
” Jimmy graduated from high school and was getting ready to go to college and Jerry and Billy were at Union Elementary, which was a K-8 school then,” she explains. “I wanted to go back to work to help him pay for college and that began when a friend of mine said there was an opening in the Union Elementary cafeteria.”
She got the job.
“I worked two or three years in the cafeteria … it was hard work, too,” she laughs.” They started hiring teaching assistants and I went to the principal and told him I would like to do that. He hired me.”
For the next two years, Todd worked at the kindergarten level as a teaching assistant and moved up to seventh and eighth grade when her two younger boys moved on to Union High. Then another opportunity came her way.
“One day the principal asked me to consider a job as a library assistant and I said yes,” she recalls. “A few days later I was sitting in there processing books and the principal came in and asked me to be his secretary and bookkeeper, and I did. I worked the next 20 years as a secretary bookkeeper.”
In all, Todd worked for five different principals before she retired in 1990.
But her happy, successful life would be rocked when her loving husband was tragically killed in a car accident coming home from work about 15 years ago.
“Noah taught me love,” she attests. “He would travel all over to help people, no matter what time it was, no matter where they were … He never met a stranger. You know the thing about him was, I never heard him complain. Someone would call in the middle of the night and he would get up, put his shoes on and go help them. He was just that kind of person.”
She said her husband brought joy to the lives of everyone he touched.
“He was semi-retired and sometimes I would ride with him when he would go on his routes. I remember telling him one time that he could get done a lot sooner if her wanted to by not stopping on the road so much. But you know what he told me? He said he really enjoyed stopping and talking with people, he loved people.”
It showed at his funeral, when hundreds came to show their respects for a man who obviously were touched by his life.
“Do you know when he died every one of those people that he visited on the road sent flowers?,” she says, astonishment evident in her voice. “Can you believe that? We went to the funeral home that night at 6 p.m. and we stayed until 11:30 p.m. He was just a special man.”
She says after Noah’s death the family was concerned about her spending evenings by herself.
“After he died, the children would sit in here and debate on who would sit with me,” she laughs. “I told them ‘wait a minute, you are not going to stay with me.’ They asked who was going to stay with me. I told them the Lord, and since then, I have never spent a night by myself.
“Someone asked me one time if I had a gun for protection,” she continues. “I told them I do, I carry it with me everywhere I go. To the grocery store, I carry it to church and to bed at night with me. When they ask what kind of gun it is, I tell them, it is not a gun, it is the Lord Jesus Christ, my Lord and saviour, who died on the cross for my sins and rose again. His presence is with me. He kept me from being by myself that first night (after my husband was killed) and His presence has been with me since. It has always been with me.”
She and Noah’s family have grown over the years to include six grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren, all of whom, she said, she holds great pride.
She is also proud that she has lived close to 88 years to share in the lives of her family and students.
“When I look through scripture, I look through it with dark-colored glasses, I really can’t see at all,” she offers. “But I will tell you this, when I come face to face with my Lord and saviour, He is going to enlighten me and let me know what I don’t know now, isn’t that wonderful? I don’t know why in the world he has kept me here for almost 88 years, but you know what, if he said that He wanted me to come home today, I would hate to leave my church family and my family, but I will say all right. I know it is going to be a better place. I feel like, as long as He is leaving me here, He is leaving me here for a purpose. I may wear out, but I ain’t going to rust out; I am here for a reason.”
Not surprisingly, Todd doesn’t look at 70 years teaching Sunday school as a job, she looks at it as if she was destined for it by a higher power.
“I am not much, but you know what? A little in the hands of the Lord can do marvelous things,” she said. “A lot in your hand used selfishly can be disastrous. When I look back on my life now, every stage of it, I can see the Lord being with me to God be the glory.”
To reach Doug Clark call 910-592-8137 ext. 123 or email to email@example.com.