Evangelist Ted Knight eulogizes Joe Spaulding as ‘church builder’

Joe Spaulding church of Christ
Ted Knight (l.) and Joe Spaulding (r.) with their wives

SEARCY, Ark. (BNc) by Ted Knight — Many years ago I enrolled as a student at Harding College. At that time every student was assigned a counselor to assist them in making decisions or asking for help. My counselor was Dr. Joe Spaulding.

Of course, at 17 years of age, I didn’t need him then, but I would never have known that just a few years later, he would become not only a counselor but very dear friend who has lifted me up in more ways that I can count.

In about 1968 he and Donna came to North Little Rock to visit Francine and Gary who worshiped at the Levy church of Christ, where I was attempting to be the preacher. On Sunday night I preached a sermon that I called, “Going to Samaria.” Immediately after the service, Joe sought me out and was very complimentary in his remarks about that sermon, and that made me feel very good. Through the following years he has continued to be my counselor and brother in Christ, and he and his beloved Donna were among our dearest friends.

In a recent visit he asked me where I was going to be preaching the next Sunday. I told him that we were going to our hometown, Bay, Ark. for the next weekend. He said, “I preached at Bay one time in 1935.” He said that he had only one suit, and when he got there he learned that it had a hole in the seat. He stayed with brother and sister Fry and she got him some old clothes and took his pants and patched the hole and pressed them for him. He said, “You know, in those days you always wore a suit in the pulpit and it was always freshly pressed.”

First, Joe developed a passion for preaching and teaching that never ended until he took his last breath. Mediocrity or average was not good enough. A lukewarm state was not acceptable. He seemed to echo the passion of the Psalmist who said, “When I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare your strength to this generation.”

Joe was baptized into Christ in 1932. He was invited in 1935 to come to Huntsville, Ark., to preach one Sunday. When he got there he learned that they expected him to preach for a full gospel meeting and he had only one sermon. One of the men said, “You can come stay with my wife and me, and we will work on a sermon during the day and you can preach it that night.” And that is what they did.

There he met Donna Simpson who had a new car. They went out for a ride and had a flat, and he had to get out in his new, freshly pressed suit and fix the flat. From that lovely event there came a relationship that lasted until Donna’s death in Dec., 2010.

Joe preached for 80 years. Can you imagine the people that sat at his feet during that time? When he had been preaching for 70 years, I got a calculator and counted the number of sermons that he might have preached, classes he taught, including gospel meetings, VBS, and other times, then calculated that maybe an average of 50 people attended those sessions. I estimated that he had spoken to well over 100,000 people in public assemblies. I sent that to him and he loved it, but he lost it and I couldn’t go back and do that all over again.

Second, if I were asked to describe Joe Spaulding in a very brief description I would simply say, “Joe Spaulding was a ‘church builder’! Of course, Donna was right by his side and took almost every step that he did throughout his career. Joe didn’t believe that his retirement from teaching at Harding and Abilene meant that he had retired from teaching and preaching the gospel. He and his beloved ‘Dixie” never considered retiring and just sitting on the sidelines. They dreamed only of doing more than they had ever done, and they did it. I want to review some of what they did since their retirement.

HIGDEN: They moved from Texas back to Arkansas and worshiped with the congregation at Higden, where he served as the preacher and also one of the elders for several years. He passed the reins on to brother Carroll Sites, who has preached the gospel and also served as one of the elders ever since.

BIGELOW: We were sitting in their RV visiting with them at Toad Suck Park one Saturday evening, and there was a knock on the door. Two men said, “We have been told that you are a gospel preacher,” and he told them that he was. They asked if he could come the next morning and preach for the church at Bigelow, and he was happy to do so. The next morning five people attended the service. Brother Hez Leach, his son George and George’s wife, in addition to Joe and Donna were present. That night they had seven, because Joe got his brother and his wife, Earl and Louise, to go with them. They invited him to come and preach for them, and he was eager to oblige and soon others were added to the number. A short time later I preached there in a gospel meeting, and on Sunday 63 assembled to worship God.

EUREKA SPRINGS: Joe and Donna went to Eureka Springs and sought out people where were driving a good distance from there to worship elsewhere. Soon, the East Side church of Christ was established, and Joe would also serve as the preacher and one of the elders there for some time.

CENTER RIDGE: They went on vacation in Florida, and while they were gone, brother Robert Bird called me from Center Ridge and said, “We need a preacher here really bad,” and wanted to know if I knew someone. I told him that I knew one if we could find him, and we soon found Joe. He and Donna moved to Center Ridge, where he also served as the preacher and one of the elders. The church grew, and eventually Joe urged them to find a man who could live in the community and work with the church, and Brother Don Adkins began working with the church.

COLONY: They were on another vacation when Brother Carl Thomason called and asked if I knew someone who might come to The Colony and work with the church. Again I said, “I know one if we can find him.” We found him and Joe and Donna began their work with The Colony church where once more he served as the preacher and as an elder, until moving here to Romance where they resided until their deaths.

He and Dixie were indeed church builders. They never knew what retirement was, as most of us define retirement. They did not think that getting older meant growing obsolete. Joe felt as T.S. Elliott said, “Old men ought to be explorers.” He continued to explore ways to serve, minister, grow and mature in his work for the Master. He never intended to idle away his years after retirement, but to fill them with service to God and his fellowman.

One time I was in Iowa with a congregation with a large number of older people, and they wanted to learn some things about how they could be more involved in serving the Lord. Joe and Donna were in Nebraska where he was teaching at York College for a year free of charge. I called and asked if they would meet us in Iowa and help with a workshop on the theme, “Life After Retirement,” and they did. We had a great weekend with them and the church there, and much good was done.

My Lady and I watched them and worked with them for many years and learned so much. They were passionate and faithful in their labor for the Lord.

All of us today might enrich our own lives by heeding these words:

The longer we live, the more that we know;
Old age is the time for wisdom to show:
Who knows how much good some word we might say
Could do for the leaders of some future day.

I haven’t even mentioned his work as a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. He loved his family deeply and was proud of them. He was a great friend to many, many people whom he loved and who loved him.

A friend of mine sent me a note the other day that said: “When a Christian dies, there are many more souls in heaven saying, “hello” than there are here saying, “goodbye,” and that hello will never end in goodbye.”

Let me close with these words from which we see a beautiful picture of Joe Spaulding: Psalm 1:1-3.

Joe passed away Jan. 30. Visitation is Friday evening from 5:00-7:00 p.m. at Powell Funeral Home, Searcy. The funeral will be at 2:00 p.m. Sat., with burial at the Romance Cemetery beside the church of Christ building at Romance.

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