THE REV. Bobbie Whaley and her husband Ron serve the Newbury Full Gospel Church. Bobbie turns 80 Jan. 1 and plans to remain active as a pastor, Sunday School teacher, church custodian, songwriter and musician as long as God has work fo rher to do.

The Rev. Bobbie Whaley of Newbury Full Gospel Church does everything from playing the guitar to preaching; from teaching Sunday School to leading a weekly prayer meeting.

“I do whatever is needed to be done in the church,” says Bobbie, summing up her service to the 25-member independent Pentecostal congregation. “I even clean the church once a week.”

Bobbie turns 80 New Year’s Day.

“She keeps going and I keep trying to keep up,” adds her husband, the Rev. Ronald M. Whaley.

“It’s hard to believe when you look back and wonder where the years went,” Bobbie says.

Ron and Bobbie share pastoral duties at Newbury Full Gospel. Bobbie was ordained in 2003, but she was doing the work of a pastor long before that.

“When I applied (for ordination) the overseer asked ‘Bobbie, what took you so long?’” she says.

The Whaleys are ordained in the Full Gospel Christian Church, but their backgrounds and callings have taken them into congregations far beyond Pentecostalism. Ron grew up in northeast Ohio in a family that had no regard for church. His life was on a path of self-destruction when he yielded to the evangelistic efforts of a Pentecostal aunt.

“I thought she was kind of spooky,” Ron admits. “But she got through to me, she didn’t tell me I’d have to give up this or that, just that ‘You need to be saved, you need Jesus.’”

After Ron was saved in 1955, he played in a gospel group, the Living Water Trio. He was ordained and served as a pastor while working a variety of full-time jobs. He first met Bobbie at a church where she was singing and playing her guitar.

“I saw her up there singing and I saw these seven little stair steps sitting in the front pew all lined up. I thought to myself, ‘What an amazing thing, those kids are so well-behaved,’” he says.

Ron and Bobbie became friends as their paths continued to cross at churches where they would sing and worship. She and Ron married after Bobbie and her first husband, since deceased, were divorced.

“I am probably one of the few people who ever got married and never had a date with the person I married,” Ron says. “I tell everybody I married my best friend, which is not a bad thing.”

Kentucky roots

Bobbie is a native of Perry County, Ky. Her grandfather, Andrew Fugate, was a settler of Troublesome Creek, an aptly named community. Bobbie grew up in the Missionary Baptist denomination, but there were Pentecostal congregations, as well.

“They would do things I questioned a lot, so I stayed away from them,” she says.

Indeed, Bobbie recalls her mother locking the door and keeping the children inside the house when members of the snake-handling congregation decided to test their faith.

That was one of the things that kept me away from that in Kentucky,” Bobbie says of the serpent handlers. “I had an aunt who was into that. We didn’t fight about it, but we stayed away from it.”

Bobbie felt a call on her life at the age of 10 and was saved when she was 14. She learned guitar basics from her brother and was soon singing and playing her music in church.

In 1946 Bobbie married a coal miner, Henry Ross. By 1955 she and Henry had five boys. Caring for them on a miner’s wages was difficult.

“The coal mines were catching on fire, blowing up and we left there,” Bobbie says. Henry found work in a plant in Cleveland and called for his family. “I had a little ’51 Chevy, that was a nice little car, and that’s what we came in,” she says.

The family of seven moved in with a relative on the east side of Cleveland. “One day I told (her husband) to find us a place to live and don’t come home until you do,” she says. He did. “It was a two-room apartment. He didn’t tell the landlord we had five kids.”

The landlord soon discovered the truth and arranged to settle the family in a larger apartment on East 47th Street in Cleveland. Bobbie went to work for the landlord cleaning and painting apartments, labor that helped pay the rent and buy used furniture.

Two more children were added to the family in Cleveland, and Bobbie had to get a factory job to make ends meet. She worked 25 years as a machine operator at Chardon Metal Products.

Living in Cleveland was difficult and often frightening for the migrant. Bobbie says things improved in 1961, when the family moved to Summers Road in Hartsgrove Township. The rural lifestyle was more in keeping with what she’d known in Kentucky, but with it came tragedy. In 1965, her son Danny was shot and killed by his best friend as the friend emerged from the woods by their house with his hunting riffle.

“I was in the middle of a revival when the word came to me,” recalls Ron. “That was one of the hardest nights in my life.”

They’re a team

When Bobbie first moved to Cleveland, she found peace and strength by reading her Bible and writing songs. After the tragedy, her focus once again returned to God and serving him through her music. She often wrote lyrics while working at the factory. To this day, Bobbie has the originals of her songs written in pencil on the back of “dirty old work cards.”

Bobbie attended a Freewill Baptist congregation when she first came to Cleveland, but her music ministry exposed her to a variety of congregations, including Pentecostal. She says Pentecostal congregations in the North were less extreme in their practices, and she felt comfortable with their teachings and style of worship, although she never felt led to speak in tongues herself.

“I was saved at 14 and I feel my Lord is just as real to me as he is to anybody else, but I don’t speak in tongues,” she says. “I feel the Lord was just as real to me in the quiet of the Missionary Baptist church as he was in the Pentecostals.”

Her marriage to Ron, who does speak in tongues, helped round out their ministries. Ron describes himself as being “too flamboyant for Baptists” and not enough so for Pentecostals. He says Bobbie’s preaching is more spirited than his, which is focused on teaching. And Ron is a vocalist while Bobbie can both sing and play the guitar.

Although they come from different theological backgrounds, the Whaleys have a common goal.

“We’re trying to get people saved and to grow and mature in the Lord,” Ron says. “I’ve even done a revival in a Baptist church. In my opinion the churches in America need to quit fighting each other and fight the enemy.”

When Ron and Bobbie married, they envisioned the creation of a music ministry that would serve God in their retirement years, but Ron says God led them into pastoral ministry instead. They were asked to serve the Burton Free Methodist Church, which they did for 14 1/2 years. Ron says they planned to retire and move to Coshocton when they left that church, but then they heard about the Newbury congregation’s need and agreed to alter their plans. That was 10 years ago.

Their ministry is in a difficult area; Ron says the church building has been vandalized on several occasions. To them, that’s all the more reason to be there. Ron says the little church is not only light to the community, but a training ground for others who have gone out and started other works. “It kind of keeps us with the help-wanted ad out there all the time,” he says.

Bobbie’s ministry often takes her outside the congregation to fill the pulpit at other churches, as well as to provide music. Ron, who is several years younger than Bobbie, says it is a challenge to keep pace with his energetic wife, the oldest member of their congregation.

“She’s an inspiration to a lot of people,” Ron says.

Bobbie, who in her lifetime has suffered and healed from two broken arms, a broken back and broken neck, is otherwise in excellent health and takes only one medication weekly. She attributes her health to God.

“I stay focused on him and I stay busy,” she says. “I’ve never smoked, used alcohol or done drugs.”

“Cleaning living doesn’t hurt,” Ron says.

“The world scares me,” Bobbie says. “I don’t want anything to do with any of that stuff at all.”

Bobbie says she puts every day of her life in the Lord’s hands. “If he wants to keep me in good health, I’ll stay here as long as he wants me to,” she says.

Birthday celebration Jan. 12

A celebration of the Rev. Bobbie Whaley’s 80 years is planned for 1 to 7 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Troy Community House, Route 422 east of Route 700, Welshfield.

The Burton couple will celebrate Bobbie’s birthday (Jan. 1) with a number of musicians and vocalists. Friends are invited to stop by to visit, sing and play. A piano and sound system will be provided.

Bobbie is requesting no gifts, however she would enjoy receiving greeting cards, which she plans to place in an album.

She has seven children: Henry of Geneva, Bob of Salem, Jack of Chardon, Tom and Larry of Hartsgrove, Linda Weber of Warsaw and Danny (deceased). Linda is a gospel vocalist who has recorded several of the songs written by her mother.

The mailing address for the Whaleys is Newbury Full Gospel Church, 14156 View Drive, Newbury, OH 44065.

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