Pastors' Memoirs

Paul Emmanuel Folkers, 1901-1993

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"That's where I tied old Nellie when I rode to town to preach my first sermon." lt was 1917, the "preacher" was 16, and the Methodist church was in a little Kansas town called Nashville. Thousands of sermons later, the hitching post still stands.

Paul E. Folkers was born near Wichita, Kansas, on June 7, 1901, the ninth of 11 children of Aleida Flyr and Weert Folkers. He graduated from John Fletcher College, now Vennard College, in Iowa in 1929 and went east with his bride, Julia Olson Folkers.

He graduated from Drew in 1933, was ordained an Elder in 1935, serving churches in New Jersey: West New York, Westwood and Roseland. In 1942, he returned to the midwest with a move to Minnesota where he served Tracy, Owatonna and Anon.

His retirement from the Minnesota Annual Conference in 1968 was the beginning of another 22 years of ministry in Virginia. He was appointed to the Danville District. His daughter Eloise and her family lived in Chatham.

When he arrived, he was told that Concord and Mt. Pleasant churches didn't have "preaching" on fifth Sundays. Having just retired as the senior pastor of a large multistaff church with three services, he said he would be there, and anyone who wanted to could come to worship. They came.

His congregations also learned that snow didn't stop worship services either. The rare exceptions were the Sundays when it was too icy for his rural congregations to drive. On those Sundays he always walked the six blocks to Watson Memorial United Methodist Church in Chatham.

He served Concord/Mt. Pleasant for five years, and remained at Concord for a total of 14 years, "re-retiring" after raising the money and building a parsonage.

A few weeks into his new retirement, he was back to preaching for the next year at Liberty Christian Church at Smith Mountain Lake. In addition to loving the people, he came to a very deep appreciation for the United Methodist connectional system, which, he said, he had not always "cherished" in his many years of ministry.

The next year he came back to the Danville District where he served Sledd Memorial (now St. Luke's), Westover Hills and finally Bethel.

He "re-retired" for the last time at the age of 88 in January of 1990. The 4O-mile drive each way to Bethel from his home in Chatham was more than he wanted to deal with during the winter ice. "It takes a younger person."

Well-known for encouraging young people who felt the call to ministry, there are a large number of clergy today who came from the churches he served in New Jersey, Minnesota and Virginia.

He went on preaching missions to Cuba, England, Ireland and spent two summers starting and growing a new church in Yamato, Japan, in the 1950s.

Julia, his wife of 61 years, died at 88 in May of 1990. That fall, after his flowers had bloomed, he gave away most of his large flower garden in Chatham and moved to Stratford House in Danville. For more than a half century in New Jersey, Minnesota and Virginia, people had come to visit his iris garden each year.

An active, avid flower gardener all of his life, he left his last garden to his friends. Resplendent with irises, roses, lilies and other flowers, it consists of the three islands in the parking lot in front of his retirement home, Stratford House in Danville.

When asked in his last days how he wanted to be remembered, he said. "Preaching the Gospel, loving the people and growing the flowers." He died on July 20, 1993.

A Memorial Service was conducted at Stratford House by the Rev. John LeGault, pastor of the church across the street, Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church.

The funeral, celebrating his long life, was held at Concord United Methodist Church near Chatham. Officiating clergy were the Rev. Louis Carson, Danville district superintendent, the Rev. John LeGault of Mt. Vernon, and the Rev. Ray Miller, pastor at Concord.

The Rev. George Riggins III, of Whitmell, fulfilled Paul Folkers' request by singing "It Is Well With My Soul" and telling the story. While those gathered sang "We're Marching to Zion," his casket was carried across the road to the cemetery for the conclusion of the service.

He is survived by his children: Eloise Folkers Nenon, Palm Beach, Florida; Winston E. Folkers. Cincinnati, Ohio; Elaine A. Folkers, Suffield, Connecticut; six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

-Eloise Folkers Nenon



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Background photos courtesy of VDOT.

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