A ‘Word in Wood’ Testimony
THE IDLE AMERICAN
Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury
Not until his later years did Rev. Jerry Neill have the time needed to hone his woodcarving skills, but when he did, he was relentless, turning out small art objects that soon cluttered his workshop.
For about six decades, he and his wife, Judy, were immersed in Christian service, him centering primary efforts on church music ministry and her fully yoked. They reared two daughters, Kristi and Kasey, who are now Mrs. Sam Perry and Mrs. Brad Reedy, respectively. Judy also taught private piano lessons for a half-century .
Jerry and Will Rogers would have hit it off, each regaling the other with jokes and stories, all laced with laughter that were hallmarks of both lives.
A Lubbock native and graduate of Lubbock High School, Texas Tech and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Jerry never retired until last year. After serving as youth minister at First Baptist Church of Garland, he was Minister of Music and Youth at First Baptist Church in Snyder for 17 years. In 1989, they relocated to Palestine, Texas, where he was Music Minister at Southside Baptist Church for 17 years. Then, he accepted what he thought was to be an interim music assignment at Faith Church, near Tyler. The “interim” stretched over 14 years.
Not until 2021 did the Neills sign off on full-time Christian service, moving to Glen Rose to be nearer their daughters and their families.
That’s when the woodcarving accelerated, with objects stacking up when COVID suddenly claimed Jerry’s life on August 26. He died in a matter of days, this musical giant who was 81.
At his memorial service, his “word in wood testimony” was printed in the program.
It was a heart-touching account of his relationship with the Lord that began in 1951, when he was 10 years of age.
Dozens of his art pieces were displayed at his funeral, and guests chose items to take home. Many had Biblical sayings attached, but one read “Real Men Use Duct Tape,” and another, “A Grouch Lives in this House.” These hand-carved items will help friends to remember a wonderful friend and Christian servant.
My wife and I knew the Neills during our five years in Snyder.
Judy taught all three of our daughters in weekly piano lessons. As a result, all three were accompanists for church and school choirs.
We admired them greatly, as well as their daughters and families.
Judy learned early on that her hubby would ever thrive on practical joking, some of it bordering on impractical.
One Sunday service stands out. Our pastor was flanked by the minister of education–who had thick, gray hair—and Jerry, who wore hair pieces of varying quality over several decades.
That day, Jerry was sporting a new hairpiece. The education minister’s hair drew attention because he obviously was the victim of a “dye job” that went terribly wrong. It had a purplish hue.
Looking first at one and then the other, our pastor observed, “Oh my soul. One dyes it and the other buys it.”
Another friend, musician/university teacher Steve Goacher, remembers a piece penned a half century ago by his late father, Keith Goacher of Anderson, Indiana. It centers on the time pressures faced by college students. He thought combining months might help.
With school starting in hot weather, it opens with “Jugust.” As students attend fast-fleeting classes, the next pair of months is called “Septober.” Midterms and homecoming occur in “Octnember,” followed by finals and Christmas in “Decembuary.” Following are “Janufeb,” “Februarch” and “Mapril,” periods preceding “Mune,” which features finals, graduations and weddings.
Remember “ring by spring” stories?
One of Keith’s favorite stories began with a question (one that “fits” today as we face many shortages.) His question: “Did you hear that the Russians invaded the Sahara Desert?”
Hearer asks, “What happened?”
Mr. Goacher’s answer: “Nothing for a couple of years, but then there was a shortage of sand.”
Dr. Newbury, longtime university president, continues to write weekly and speak regularly throughout Texas. Contact information: Phone: 817-447-3872. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Facebook: Don Newbury.