Pastors' Memoirs

Wilmer Allan Blankenbaker, 1909-1994

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Wilmer Allan Blankenbaker was born on April 26,1909, in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, the son of Nellie Lee Dunavant and Wilmer Ervin Blankenbaker. Wilmer's father owned a general store and his mother was the postmistress of the community. Wilmer attended the Spotsylvania public schools, and after a brief stay in Richmond he enrolled at Randolph-Macon College. While a college student, he came under the spiritual influence of Dr. Albert Shirkey and made the decision to answer God's call to ministry. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of 1936, he moved on to Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, where he graduated in 1939. He was ordained an elder in 1940.

Wilmer served United Methodist churches across Virginia, including Kenwood Church in Elmont, Oakland Church in Richmond, Luray Church, Huntington Court Church in Roanoke, Memorial Church in Lynchburg, First Church in Salem, Annandale Church, Centenary Church in Portsmouth and Centenary Church in Richmond. He retired in 1979. Still eager to serve, he returned to Centenary, Richmond, as a pastoral assistant, working with senior adults and homebound parishioners. He entered full retirement in 1989. In recognition of his competent work in ministry, Randolph-Macon conferred on him the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.

Most of his friends knew him as "Dr. B." This was their way of properly acknowledging his excellence of leadership and at the same time affirming his down to earth humanity. He was a distinguished pastor, an authentic friend, and a thoroughly engaging human being. With equanimity he handled both the honors that came his way (of which there were many), and the struggles of life (and there were some of those). He had all the natural equipment to be a leader. He had a quick and probing intellect. He was neither dull not timid. He had a way of speaking the truth in love, and was a man of integrity, unafraid of being prophetic in his ministry. He was a lifelong servant of the church, but he knew that the church, like every other institution, must stand under the judgment of the God it proclaims, and to do so the church must be in touch with the real world and open to change.

With Wilmer, there was no generation gap. The young people heard him gladly. His letters to the children he baptized, his careful work with couples he married, his mentoring of young pastors -- all were hallmarks of his ministry. He was interested in things of nature, and in his last years he tended a garden, and loved to be in the out-of-doors.

After a long illness, Wilmer departed this life on August 9, 1994, gaining entry into the church triumphant. A memorial service was held August 13, 1994, at Centenary Church in Richmond, led by the Rev. Timothy W. Whitaker, the Rev. William S. Ferguson, and the Rev. David F. Jarvis, II. Wilmer was preceded in death by his eldest son, Wilmer Allan Blankenbaker, Jr., in 1966. He is survived by his wife, Frances, one son and daughter-in-law, Robert Emory and Maureen Blankenbaker; three daughters, Jane Lee Kirk, Susan Adell Blankenbaker, and Beth Anne Wise and son-in-law Frank R. Wise; and three grandchildren, David Allan Kirk, Michelle Christine Kirk and Jeremy Robert Blankenbaker.

--David F. Jarvis, II



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