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Spencer remembered as ‘pillar of the community’

111Eyvonne Spencer, looking at cameraBy Lynn Adams

editor@www.southwesttimes.com

Eyvonne Spencer, who mothered more than 90 children – 85 of them foster children from 1982 to 2011 – and founded a church in Pulaski, is being remembered today as “a pillar of the community” and “a great woman of God” after her passing on Wednesday. She was 79.

In addition to starting and pastoring New Beginnings United Holiness Church in 2009, Spencer was the driving force behind Blessings 2000, a benefit program that uses events to raise money to help people with specific needs, such as medical bills. What goes around comes around, because 16 years after helping found the program, she was the most recent recipient of those blessings.

But it was her work with foster children in addition to her service to the community that she is most remembered.

Spencer always wanted a dozen children — six girls and six boys. But things don’t always work out as planned.

She ended up with dozens instead. There were her seven biological children (two lost at birth), three stepchildren and 85 foster children.

“I’ve always loved children and older people,” Spencer told The Southwest Times in a February 2015 interview. “When I was growing up, I was drawn to children. I’ve always loved babies.”

“I have known her for many years through her work with foster children,” assistant county administrator Anthony Akers said Thursday by phone while driving back from Atlanta. “She was a wonderful woman with a heart of gold. She was all about doing the Lord’s work and gave praise to Him, and she had a zeal and love for children.

“She was a true community servant,” Akers said.

In November at the annual Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce banquet, Spencer was recipient of the Civic Honors Award, annual recognition given by The Southwest Times.

As a lifelong Pulaskian, Spencer touched many lives in addition to the scores of children she raised.

“I have known her since I was a kid,” recalls Randy Olverson of his nearly 50-year acquaintance with Spencer, including helping with Blessings 2000 at Randolph Avenue United Methodist Church. “She was one of my closest friends. She was influential, a great woman of God, a great lady, always a blessing.”

Likewise, sister-in-law and friend Naomi Davidson recalls the two singing together and how much she will be missed.

“Evyonne was one of my best friends. We were real close,” Davidson said. “I know how much she’s going to be missed. I loved her so much.”

While most might view death as leaving a void for those who remain, Rev. Sharon Bowers at Randolph Avenue UMC prefers to “embrace all that she was to us.”

“Instead of trying to fill the space [left by her passing], you need to live in the space [that she created],” Bowers said.

Bowers said Spencer was “my best preaching buddy,” and called her “a lifeline to me.” As women in the ministry, Bowers and Spencer had to contend with those, usually men, who didn’t think women should be in the pulpit. Bowers admits to taking a more aggressive approach to such criticism, while Spencer offered a softer approach to inclusion.

“She was a phenomenal, phenomenal woman,” Bowers said. “She was the essence of love. You hear over and over about how much love she had. Whatever people needed, she would give it to them. And she was always quick to testify about what God had done in her life.”

Bowers said Spencer’s life crossed racial lines, gender lines, socio-economic lines and age barriers.

“She was an unbelievable person. A great, great woman.

“People who attended her church really needed a new beginning, and she really saw all people as one in Christ,” Bowers said.

Bowers says that because of Spencer’s relationship with God, “all things she did, she did on her terms.” That included the last few months of her life, which included chemotherapy. Bowers got to spend time with her friend and colleague Monday at the hospital where they talked about her going home to Heaven.

Visitation is scheduled for 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday at Serenity Funeral Home, with funeral services at 3 p.m. Sunday at Bob White Boulevard Church of God.

Her life as a foster mother

“When I take in foster children, they’re not foster children. When they walk across my doorstep they become my children,” she said in her February 2015 interview with The Southwest Times. “I’ve never liked to call them foster children. A lot of them called me Mom and some still do.”

Skin color was never an issue either.

“In my home, we never had a color preference. All it needed to be was a child,” she said. “The children never had any problem with that either. We all got along pretty well.”

Spencer decided to become a foster parent after her children left home for college. She said she didn’t like being alone, and she wanted to put the extra space in her house to use.

She said she didn’t want to become a foster parent because she needed the money, but rather because she wanted to help children. So she waited until her finances were in order and started accepting foster children into her home at that point.

“I didn’t really want teenagers, but I started out with them,” she said. She found out she could handle teenage children, so she accepted all ages — even as young as two days old.

Eight years ago, she decided to adopt two of her foster children, Sean and Chauncey. They’re now 13 and 15.

Another child she took in at the age of six months, Terrance, is now 27 and still living with her. “He thinks he’s mine. I didn’t adopt him, but I tried to. His daddy didn’t want to let him go. He (Terrance) just stayed there and became mine anyhow.”

Guy Smith, director for the Department of Social Services, worked with Spencer as a foster parent, and “enlisted her help in securing a safe place for children to live.”

“She was genuinely concerned for children – it was truly a ministry for her. I was impressed with how unique and valuable she was [in the foster care system].

“She will definitely be missed,” Smith said.

Her life as a pastor

In 2009, she said, the Lord told her it was time to “go get a church.” She called her daughter, and they walked down Main Street in Pulaski, looking for a facility. She arranged to meet with the owner of 29 West Main St., and when she walked inside, she said, “It was like I was home.”

“I saw this building the night before in a dream. When I walked inside, everything I saw in the dream was right there,” she told The Southwest Times in February 2015.

When the owner told her how much it would cost, she said, “I looked at him and laughed. I didn’t have a dime. He said he would give me until the 15th of June to get the money together.”

She didn’t have a congregation at that point. It was just herself and her children. Her daughter gave her half of the money she needed, and she “cleaned out” her bank account for the other half.

She had a church.

She knew God was at work in her ministry, because “we never missed a month’s rent and we never missed a payment.”

After about a year, she praised God for having given her that facility, but she prayed for a church building that would provide more room for activities.

Before she mentioned her plans to anyone, a friend told her where she could get a church.

Unfortunately, the church and parsonage, at the corner of Walnut Avenue and Fifth Street NE, were priced at more than $160,000.

“That’s like saying a million dollars,” she said. But, the owner agreed to let her lease the church for a year, and then she could decide whether she wanted to buy it.

A few months later, she said, he approached her and said he liked what she was doing, so he offered the church and parsonage to her for $65,000.

She completed the purchase and, a month later, was able to lease the parsonage in an amount that covers half of the monthly mortgage payment.

Despite all she did, she wished she were rich so she could address the many needs she saw in the community. “I would like to be able to do something more. I don’t feel like I’m doing enough,” she had lamented a year ago. “I’d love to set up housing for the people who don’t have the money to pay for housing, and things like that.”

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