Nash Odom: minister, historian, adventurer
Helen Odom Robeson Remembers
As a minister and historian, my husband, Nash Andrew Odom, lived an extraordinarily full and blessed life. Nash, who died in 2011 at age 78, spent his early years in St. Pauls, N.C. and later in Lumberton, N.C. after the family moved there.
From early on he spent his time with people who were absorbed in learning history and deeply committed to the Christian faith. Still, he found time to participate in play and work that was common to his peers in the neighborhoods of his several family homes.
After living in Robeson and Bladen counties, Florida and then Virginia, we returned to Lumberton, where we continued to be active and productive in our retirement years.
Nash, the youngest of six children was born in Rennert, N.C. on April 16, 1933. His parents were Emma Carlyle Johnson Odom and Bernice Mathuel Odom. The other children were Clara, Ewin, Ernestine, Nola and Alex. Soon after his birth, the family moved to Blue Street in St Pauls, where they lived for the next eight years.
His memories of St. Pauls included his mother’s good cooking; she would save for him his favorite piece of fried chicken, and she baked biscuits daily. His favorite place of recreation was the O.P. Odom Mill Pond, where people enjoyed picnicking, swimming and canoeing. He attended First Baptist Church and was influenced by the pastor, the Rev. Earl Robinson.
When he was old enough, on Saturdays Nash sold St. Pauls Review newspapers until he had nine cents to get in the movie. He would spend the rest of the day in the theater watching movies. Once at Christmas he visited Santa several times to get candy only to later discover that the Santa was actually his father.
The Odom family moved to Seventh Street in Lumberton, and Nash graduated from Lumberton High School in 1951. In later years his grandchildren enjoyed hearing about swimming at the Scout Hole in Lumber River and how Lumberton police often transported Nash and his friends to their homes. He also told how he and his brothers would climb to the roof of their house and throw rocks on the tin roofs of Eighth Street houses.
Nash was active in Boy Scouts. As teenagers he and J.C. Humphrey attended the National Jamboree of Boy Scouts in Valley Forge, Pa. Attendees were asked to take something representing their area of the country. Nash took wild cockleburs (fruit of plant regarded as a weed found in fields). He told the Scouts they were porcupine eggs and sold them for 50 cents or traded them for badges. After returning to Lumberton, Nash and J.C. spoke about their adventure to the Lumberton Rotary Club. The Robesonian reported that the Rotarians got a good laugh about the transactions.
As a young boy Nash knew that he wanted to be a minister. He drew pews in the yard for the church and, despite a speech impediment, preached to his congregation, which consisted of his dog MoJo. Older students made fun of him for saying things like “tool house” for “school house.” He heard that putting rocks in the mouth to practice speaking would help. So he would go to the High Hills section of the Lumber River, one of his favorite places, gather rocks and practice in this way. Two Lumberton teachers, Lena Bullard and Sarah Hamilton, also tutored him. And Mabel Powell at Campbell Junior College spent many hours helping him with his speech problem.
Nash was influenced at First Baptist Church, at Walnut Street in Lumberton, where he was baptized Nov. 12, 1944 by the Rev. J. Glenn Blackburn. Nash was proud that his grandfather, Elder Elias Johnson, had served as pastor there in earlier years. Nash was active in the youth group Royal Ambassadors led by Mrs. E. M. Johnson and Mrs. Horace Baker Sr. When Mrs. Baker’s daughter, Ann Culbreth, told Nash that her mother prayed for him every day, he asked if he was that bad or if she saw potential in him.
Nash attended East Lumberton Baptist Church after he moved to that community in 1950. The Rev. B.M. Glisson asked Nash to preach numerous times, and he was ordained by the church.
Nash sat out a year after graduating from high school before entering college. He earned the money for his college expenses by working for Lumberton Dairies during high school and the year that he sat out. He often told of driving the truck to pick up young people for cottage prayer meetings.
In 1952 Nash attended Campbell Junior College, beginning his preparation for the ministry. There he met his lifelong friend, the Rev. Alden Hicks. At Campbell Nash worked in the cafeteria and was student assistant for a professor, the Rev. Charles Howard. After Nash graduated from seminary, Leslie Campbell, who was president of the college, offered him a position at the college. But after much prayer Nash declined because he felt called to pastor churches.
During summers Nash worked at Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly and for the N.C. Baptist Training Union in the mountains of North Carolina. He attended Wake Forest College, where he served as president of the W.R. Cullum Ministerial Association. He joined Wake Forest Baptist Church, where the Rev. Blackburn was his pastor for a second time.
When Nash attended Southeastern Baptist Theology Seminary at Wake Forest, N.C., he was student pastor at West Lumberton and Back Swamp Baptist churches. We began dating after I met him at West Lumberton Baptist. I was attending Flora Macdonald College in Red Springs. After graduation I taught business education classes at Elizabethtown High School in Bladen County.
We married at West Lumberton Baptist Church June 18, 1960, two weeks after Nash graduated from seminary, and we were featured in “June Bride and Groom,” a special feature of The Robesonian newspaper, in June.
Nash accepted a call to serve as pastor at the Proctorville Baptist Church in January 1961, where he pastored until 1966 when he was called to First Baptist in Dublin, N.C., in nearby Bladen County. Our first daughter, Olivia Penny, was born during this time.
When Nash returned to Proctorville for the dedication of the W.R. Surles Memorial Library acceptance on the National Register, Kathy Richards of Lexington, Ky. reminded him that he conducted her dog’s funeral when she was a little girl living in Proctorville. They buried the dog behind the church.
State Sen. Michael Walters recalled that Nash was active with the Royal Ambassadors when Walters and his brother Daniel and Joseph Jones were children. Nash would camp with the young boys and fish at North Myrtle Beach and Little River State Park.
Nash preached revivals in numerous churches in the Robeson Baptist Association and in other locations as well. He often spoke to children. Two favorite children’s stories were titled “The Tator Family” and “The Shoe.” Both made the point that, even when abilities are limited, considerable Christian good can be accomplished.
We lived in Dublin 13 years. Our other daughters, Andrea Alexis and Mary Christy, were born in Bladen County Hospital. Nash had a love for history and published church histories in Robeson and Bladen Baptist annuals. He published various histories in The Bladen Journal that are on file in the Wanda Campbell Room at the Bladen County Public Library in Elizabethtown.
Nash was moderator for the Bladen County Baptist Association, served on the N.C. Baptist General Board and on the Elizabethtown Bicentennial Committee.
I was guidance counselor at East Bladen High School and both of us earned master’s degrees in counseling from East Carolina University during the time we lived in Dublin. First Baptist’s new educational building was completed and fall homecomings were established under Nash’s leadership. He was the first full-time pastor to live in the new pastorium on Albert Street.
In 1979 the Rev. Warren Huyck, former pastor of First Baptist in Lumberton, recommended Nash to Lake Park Baptist Church in Lake Park, Fla., a church composed of young families and senior adults. The church has a pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school. With strong support from donors, the church places emphasis on missions. For example, enrollment in the 1985 vacation Bible School, Nash’s last year there, was 450. Although I worked full time, I participated in Nash’s ministry by visiting parishioners and giving them handmade gifts and baked goods.
Our daughters were becoming defined during our Florida ministry. Christy, at age 5, would go with us on the senior adult bus, “Miss Edna,” as an honorary senior adult. Christy is now serving with her husband, the Rev. Phillip Hamm, at First Baptist Church in Palmetto, Fla. Their children are Abigail McCray, Jonathan Phillip and Ethan Thomas.
One of Andrea’s community contributions has been as a choir singer, even on a trip to Europe and when Princess Di visited Palm Beach. She is married to Joseph Lewis, and they have a daughter, Emily Ann, and son, Nathan Taylor. Penny has a business career in Burlington, N.C. She and her husband, Jeffrey Reid Holland, have two children, now young adults, Eva Elizabeth and Clayton Andrew.
Nash’s greatest joy was love for his three daughters and grandchildren. Nothing pleased him more than to be called “Papa Nash.”
In 1986 we moved to Colonial Heights, Va., where Nash became the director of missions for Petersburg Baptist Association. He worked with 59 Baptist churches in Southside, Va., and the Spain Conference Center in Dinwiddie. Two churches were Korean, associated with members from the Fort Lee area.
As director of missions for Petersburg Baptist Association, Nash worked closely with Virginia Baptist Disaster Relief, which helped to rebuild Pocahontas Island after a devastating tornado. Petersburg Baptist Association was honored as the Virginia Baptist Association of the Year.
Nash also helped begin the Virginia Rest Stop Ministry on interstates 85 and 95, which continues to the present. He served on the American Red Cross board and was active in the Virginia Baptist Historical Society.
Nash led members of the Petersburg Baptist Association on mission trips to 29 countries. They gave out Bibles in Russia and traveled the Lottie Moon Trail in China. In South Korea they visited family members from the Virginia churches. On several visits to the Holy Land they walked where Jesus walked.
Along with his church work, Nash continued to research and record history from his home in Colonial Heights and continued to pursue his passion for growing lovely gardens, as he had at each of the family homes.
Nash retired on April 23, 1999, and our family was honored by the Petersburg Baptist Association at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. Among other accolades, he was cited as a “peacemaker.” He served as interim pastor for two churches in the area until June 2002, when we returned to Lumberton.
Back in Lumberton
We bought the Frank and Lillian Odom McGrath home on 17th Street, and Nash continued the care that Lillian, his cousin, lavished on the grounds of the home. We thought that the household possessions we collected through the years reflecting our love of history seemed perfect in the new setting.
We joined the Walnut Street First Baptist Church, where Nash was baptized in his youth. Both of us taught Sunday school and sang with senior adults. Nash served as interim pastor at a number of area churches. He took pride in the young men and women who answered calls to the ministry during his pastorates. He could look back over his life and recall many of the sermons, revivals, baptisms (some in the Lumber River), weddings and all the related events that gave him fulfillment.
As co-chair of the Robeson County History Museum with Dr. Neil Lee, Nash helped to restart the Lumberton Christmas Tour of Homes, which brought in support money for the museum.
Nash did considerable genealogical research to provide a number of histories of family members, which he shared with his relatives and has willed to appropriate libraries.
He had a special love for Campbell College (now Campbell University) and Wake Forest University. He designated that his large library of religious and history books be donated to those schools, as well as to the Robeson County Public Library. A memorial scholarship in Nash’s honor has been started at Campbell University.
When Nash left home to begin his education for the ministry, a lady from St. Pauls gave him a framed proverb that he kept on his desk thereafter. It pretty much sums up his life: “Only one life will soon be passed. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
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