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Stories of preachin’ and preachers



Rev. George Washington Lanear was a street preacher who proclaimed the word of God anytime, anywhere that people would listen. This photo was taken in 1982 by Leon Pantenburg.

He was a familiar figure on Vicksburg streets in the 1970s and 1980s, perhaps before and beyond those times, and folks called the street preacher “Rev,” short for the Rev. George Washington Lanear.

He was small in stature, usually dressed in black, and held his worn Bible up for all to see. He was usually smiling, his grin revealing a gold tooth.

Jimmy Dupuy, a lay minister in the Episcopal Church, befriended Rev, and he told me this story.

On a visit to the Warren County jail where Dupuy conducted a jail ministry, he was accompanied by Rev. There was a young man behind bars who said, “Hey, Rev. I’ve heard you preach,” to which Rev replied, “Naw, boy. You haven’t heard me. If you had, you wouldn’t be in here.”

Rev might not have had much formal education, but he had plenty of smarts.

The story about Rev triggered my memory about some other preacher stories I’ve heard, and I want to share them with you.

Dr. John G. McCall, pastor of First Baptist Church in Vicksburg from 1952 to 1982, was pastor to anyone who needed spiritual help. He may have coined the word “ecumenical.”

One day he went home in midmorning just in time to hear the once-a-week housekeeper tell a friend on the phone that she was working for Dr. McCall. After a moment she added, “Oh, no, honey. He’s the kind of doctor that doesn’t help anybody.”

Dr. William P. Davis was pastor of Wayside Baptist Church in the early 1930s, and on a return visit in the 1950s he told about the time he and a visiting revival preacher went each day to a different house for dinner or supper.

At one unpretentious country dwelling that was without any modern conveniences, including screens on the windows, the guests were ushered into the kitchen, seated at the table, and as the minister began to ask God’s blessings on the food, a chicken that was sitting on a nest on a corner cabinet laid one egg, stood up and cackled, and then flew out the window.

Dr. Davis said he had no doubts about the freshness of the food, especially the eggs.

Volumes have been written and untold numbers of sermons preached explaining the doctrine of predestination as believed by John Calvin and scores of other theologians.

The late Elder Clyde Stegall, who was the first pastor of Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church on Warriors Trail, told of hearing an uneducated preacher in Crystal Springs explain the doctrine:

“You go down to the railroad station. Everybody is milling around, talking, having fun, when someone shouts, ‘All aboard,’ but everybody don’t get on that train — just them that has tickets.”

The deceased lady was greatly loved, for she had a large heart.

And that wasn’t all — she was a very, very large lady, and a special casket had to be built for her.

The funeral was held at Crawford Street Methodist Church. The casket was placed in front of the pulpit, and the first words of the prayer by the pastor, Rev. Willard Leggett III, were thanking God for “opening wide the gates of heaven” at the death of this dear lady.

No one but Charles Riles, undertaker extraordinaire, noticed the wording, and he never let the Reverend forget it.

I was in college at Summit when I discovered Mississippi’s oldest denomination, the Primitive Baptists, which I eventually joined. One of the sacraments of the faith in taking Holy Communion includes the washing of the feet.

I often visited Redbone Methodist Church where Rev. Billy Dean Case was pastor. I read somewhere about a denomination called the Primitive Methodists, and one Sunday, I asked Br. Case who they were. He very solemnly told me that at communion “they sprinkle their feet.” He then admitted he had never heard of them, but I thought it was a great answer. By the way, Gen. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, was a Primitive Methodist

Dr. Scotchie McCall was a professor at the Baptist seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and he sometimes preached revivals at First Baptist in Vicksburg; Usually, he conducted one service in the country at Wayside, which I attended as a youth.

Dr. McCall had a shock of white curly hair. He was a large man with an almost musical voice. He was a wonderful speaker. One night at Wayside, he was illustrating a point with a story. He told of a cat in a cage chasing a mouse. He started out slowly, but his voice gained volume and speed, and when the cat caught the mouse his voice rose, and he clapped his hands loudly — and Joyce Cogan, who had dozed off, fell off the pew!

In the 1920s, Dr. J.C. Greenoe, a very dignified gentleman, was pastor of First Baptist Church and also of old Antioch on Fisher Ferry Road. He and Mrs. Greenoe often visited their country parishioners. On a call to my grandparents, Mrs. Greenoe had gone to the barn to see a litter of pigs. She just had to have one. My grandmother advised her that Baum Street, where the Greenoes lived, was no place for a pet pig, but Mrs. Greenoe persisted. When she returned to town, she had a little pig so small she would fit into a bucket. She named her “Queenie Duroc.”

As Queenie grew, she was moved from the back porch to the backyard. She became a favorite pet with the children and was the love of the family. Soon, however, Queenie became sizable and adventuresome, not at all content to remain in the Greenoe’s backyard.

One day Queenie ran away toward Cherry Street, and Mrs. Greenoe, dressed in a brightly colored housecoat, chased after her, zigzagging through lawns and shrubbery. She finally caught Queenie at the corner of Baum and Cherry where the pig sat down. Mrs. Greenoe took off her belt and tied it around Queenie’s leg and tried to pull her home, but the animal refused to budge.

At that time, a funeral procession came down Cherry Street, led by Dr. Greenoe and the Presbyterian minister in an open touring car. As they passed the lady with the squealing pig, Mrs. Greenoe turned her back hoping no one would recognize her.

Later, when Dr. Greenoe came home, he walked into the house laughing.

“Oh. We’re disgraced!” Mrs. Greenoe moaned, but the Reverend said no — that those with him had commented, “Oh, that poor lady,” but he never acknowledged that she was his wife.

Elder Sonny Pyles of Graham, Texas, seldom took his Bible into the pulpit when he preached — he could quote any scripture in it. Br. Pyles often came to Mississippi where he usually preached at Grace Primitive Baptist Church in Brandon. He was a no-frills preacher — none of that “Six Flags Over Jesus” type doctrine for him.

He was a grand speaker with a quick wit, and when he was a guest on a talk show, he and the hostess got into a lively discussion. She finally said, “Br. Pyles, have you ever read Norman Vincent Peale?” and he replied, “Yes. I’ve read Peale, and I’ve read Paul, and I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling.”

He grew up on Dana Road, named for his family. Harvey Dana finished the eighth grade in a one-teacher school. He studied books from his uncle’s library on religions, and he was admitted to Mississippi College on an exam. After graduation, he earned a master’s at Northwestern and then a doctorate in Hebrew and other languages at Heidelberg University in Germany.

Harvey Dana was a professor and seminary president, but he loved to come back to Warren County to preach at Wayside where he knew everyone. Half of the congregation were probably kin to him. He was a brilliant man, but he never talked down to his audience, and he loved to tell the story of someone telling him that what they liked was, “When you preach you never snow your education.”

Dr. Dana also had advice for young preachers: “The mind can absorb only as long as the seat can endure.”

I’ve known some who must have been absent the day that lesson was taught.

Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.


Martin and Mosher inducted as ERDC Distinguished Civilian Employees



Dr. William "Bill" Martin and Dr. Reed Mosher (photos courtesy ERDC)

The U.S. Army Engineering Research and Development Center will induct two former employees to the Waterways Experiment Station Gallery of Distinguished Civilian Employees Oct. 15 at 1 p.m. in the ERDC Headquarters Auditorium.

Dr. Bill Martin and Dr. Reed Mosher will join the ranks of more than 100 former employees whose significant career achievements left a lasting impression on both ERDC and the nation.

Martin and Mosher both served as directors of laboratories at the ERDC. Both pioneered technologies that proved to be life saving for American Soldiers and both left behind a remarkable legacy when they retired from federal service.

Each year, the ERDC inducts new members to the gallery, the highest honor bestowed to those who have worked at WES in Vicksburg.

Martin, a U.S. Army veteran, ended his 41-year ERDC career in 2013 as director of the Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory. In that role, he led a $90 million research program that provided cutting-edge technology solutions to more than 500 projects around the world. Martin was also instrumental in updating the lab’s world-class facilities, including the development of a state-of-the-art Ship Simulator Complex, which allows engineers and pilots to simulate ports, harbors and maritime environments all over the world.

Martin is also remembered for being a leader in addressing complex groundwater issues on military installations, as well as for leading a team that performed emergency modeling of the Sava River in Bosnia-Herzegovina in support of the 1st Armor Division’s peacekeeping role after the Balkan War. His team provided daily river condition forecasts and answered engineering questions for more than 450 consecutive days, which led to the creation of the WES Tele-Engineering Program. Today that program is known as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reachback Operations Center, which is located in Vicksburg and connects deployed troops in the field to subject-matter experts back home who can help solve engineering challenges for them.

Mosher, who spent 40 years as a federal employee, retired as director of the Information Technology Laboratory  in 2018. Under his leadership, the lab’s staff grew by 108%, becoming the second largest ERDC laboratory. He also oversaw the construction of a 66,000 square-foot expansion to the laboratory, and his vision for a new secure computing facility is under construction and scheduled for completion later this year.

Before his ITL role, Mosher served as the lead technical director for military engineering in the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory, where he was also directly involved with assessments after some of the world’s most notorious attacks and bombings — Oklahoma City in 1995, the U.S. Embassies in Africa in 1998 and the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon. He was instrumental in developing new technologies designed to protect soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan from rockets, mortars and other explosives.

Even after their retirements, both inductees are still involved with the ERDC today. Martin is a member and served as the 2019 president of the ERDC Alumni Association, while Mosher is the director of the Mississippi State University Institute for Systems Engineering Research, a partnership initiative with the ERDC.


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Karla McHan experiences the unique challenge of leading her school in 2020



Karla McHan and her colleague and mentor Mary Arledge on the first day of school this fall. (photo courtesy K. McHan)

When Karla McHan was looking for a challenge last year, she had no way of knowing exactly how challenged she would be.

McHan spent 22 years teaching social studies (mostly U.S. history but also world history, government, psychology and sociology) at Warren Central High School when she was offered the lead teacher position in 2012.

“I really enjoyed seeing education from a different perspective and loved the opportunity to work more directly with teachers,” McHan said.

The experience motivated her to go back to school for her master’s degree in educational leadership, something she had put off when her children were young.

“I decided it was time to venture out and knew I could bring my perspective as a longtime teacher to educational decision making,” she said.

A rare history position opened at Vicksburg Catholic School in 2016, and McHan could not pass up the chance of working with a man who had been the principal of her elementary and junior high schools when she was a student: Dr. Buddy Strickland.

“It seemed like everything just fell in place,” she says of making the move to St. Aloysius High School. VCS also offered McHan a unique opportunity to advance her career and more openly share her faith.

“As a practicing Catholic, I was excited about being in a school environment that so beautifully incorporates faith and love of God and neighbor in its daily activities.”

St. Aloysius is much smaller than Warren Central, and McHan said it was a great place to step into the role of principal last year. “The smaller setting helped create a stronger sense of family, and I got to know everyone better,” she said. “That’s important when taking on an administration role.”

As far as finding the challenges she was searching for, McHan got what she wanted in more ways than one in her position as the school’s principal. She experienced the typical new-principal challenges such as gaining the faculty’s trust and learning how to best utilize each staff member’s individual strengths, but then life threw her a curve ball.

”Hands down, the biggest hurdle I have faced has been COVID-19,” she said. “I think all new principals spend their first year in survival mode, but that moves into a whole different level when a pandemic hits three-quarters of the way through.”

McHan said that creating a distance learning program and putting it into action effectively was one of the most difficult tasks she has faced on any level of her education career, but it has been especially trying when coupled with the responsibility of every student and faculty member in her school.

“I considered all of the typical administrator duties when I was deciding to move,” she said, “but helping teachers and students adapt to distance learning while identifying the academic gaps that come with extended time away from the classroom was never on my radar.”

McHan credits her faith, the support of her family and the “fabulous faculty and staff at St. Al” for her success. She also credits the great relationship she has developed with Mary Arledge, principal of St. Francis Xavier Academy. “She is just an incredible mentor and supporter,” McHan said of Arledge.

McHan is clearly not a person to relax when the going gets good. In addition to constantly trying to better the distance learning processes, she plans to continue her education and pursue a specialist’s degree. Her plans also include more time with family and traveling with her husband, David.

“It may sound crazy considering the current state of educational practices, but I definitely foresee being able to relax a little soon,” she said, “and I can confidently say that because I know I have the backing of such a hard-working, supportive staff.”

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Those who keep us safe: Elwin Johnson



From an early age, Elwin Johnson, Jr. has been taught to always help those in need.

“Without family there’s no me, Johnson said. “Family is my foundation, my support system.”

It was his family who instilled in him the value of working hard and giving back to his community.

Johnson is a homegrown Vicksburg native who has always admired not only the work of firefighters but more importantly the firefighters at the Vicksburg Fire Department.

“I had always grown up looking at the Vicksburg Fire Department as an establishment in Vicksburg that was extremely respectable,” Johnson said.

He started his career with the department as an emergency medical technician, or EMT, in February 2019. In a little over one year, the Vicksburg Fire Department has formed him into the person he has always wanted to be.

“I strive to be the best person I can be each and every day,” Johnson said.

Being new, Johnson has really relied on other guys in the department to help him along the way.

“Lieutenant Jabaris McDaniel was one of my biggest motivations when I first started, him and really all my co-workers have been there for me,” Johnson said.

As an EMT, Johnson has been faced with some devastating calls that have turned into life-saving efforts. At one incident, he recalls a man that was overwhelmed and how Johnson made him feel safe. He called Johnson his hero. After that incident, Johnson agreed with the man’s comment.

“We really are heroes, and he made me really feel like a hero that day,” Johnson said.

Johnson had a normal first year as an EMT, but since his anniversary with the department, things changed when COVID-19 hit. Johnson said procedures are a little different, but it has been business as usual for the Vicksburg Fire Department.

“We make sure we are highly protected when we go on calls to keep not only ourselves safe but the patients safe as well,” Johnson said.

Overall, his short experience with the department has been the start to, hopefully, a long career.

“I really enjoy being there for my community,” Johnson said. “I love being there for all the citizens of Vicksburg in their time of need.”

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