Originally created 05/17/03

Seven generations have stayed faithful to church



Warren Baptist Church holds a treasure of memories for seven generations of one Augusta family.

Much of the shared history of the Washington Road congregation and the family of Edna Skinner Warren is contained in photographs and other memorabilia in the church heritage room, which was created during Warren's centennial in 1998.

One of 14 charter members, Edna Skinner Warren gave the then-tiny congregation a boost with the gift of an acre of land along Washington Road, the site of its first meetinghouse.

One heritage-room photograph features four generations of the family: Mrs. Warren's daughter Lillie West, granddaughter Alma West Gardner and great-grandson Ben Warren Gardner are pictured with great-great-granddaughter Billie Gardner Hunter. Mrs. Hunter's children and grandchildren represent the sixth and seventh generations at Warren. Mrs. Hunter was in her early 30s when Lillie died at age 107, bedridden in her mother's (Edna Warren's) house, across Washington Road from the church.

"Lillie was a delightful person," she said.

Lillie was 75 when Mrs. Hunter was born. "As a teenager, my daddy would say, 'Go see Lillie. She might not be here when you get back.' You thought she might die over the weekend," she said.

When Mrs. Hunter's own daughter Beverly was not yet 6 weeks old, she took her to see Lillie. "She was horrified that I was out in the public before six weeks were up, and she would barely look at her," she said.

While many church members gravitated to other churches in West Augusta, many of Edna Warren's descendants have continued to worship at Warren Baptist, be baptized and marry in its sanctuary. In seven generations, none of her family line has left, Mrs. Hunter said.

Growing up, her son Ben Hunter recalls hearing people say that "when they would come to Warren you didn't talk about anybody because everybody was related."

During those early years when the congregation was smaller, the church seemed closer, too, because if they weren't related to someone, they knew them, said Beverly Hunter Taylor, whose daughters, Ashley and Caroline, represent the seventh generation.

Alma West Gardner's three-bedroom house, next door to the church, passed to the congregation in 1984, after her death the previous year at age 101. The present sanctuary was built on the home site and dedicated in 1989.

Mrs. Taylor remembers running over to her great-grandmother's house on Sundays on her way to services next door or afterward for dinner. She built snowmen in the yard in the 1970s. When she married in 1985, she posed outside in her wedding dress.

Her grandparents, Mildred and Ben Warren Gardner, shared the house with "Big Alma." When the property passed to Warren Baptist, the couple started looking for another place to live and decided to build a house on West Road, not far from the church.

The move "was real devastating to my granddaddy," Mrs. Taylor said. "In fact, he stayed up there a few nights. Grandma went on to the new house, but he stayed on. He wasn't going to leave that house."

The church agreed to let the family stagger the move. But before the last items were taken from the house, burglars came and stole all the pictures. They stashed things under the house, such as Big Alma's fox fur, until they could come back and get them, said Billie Gardner Hunter, Mrs. Taylor's mother.

When the family discovered the thieves at work, Mr. Gardner chased them down the road despite his 70-plus years while his daughter threw rocks at the intruders.

The church used the house for a couple of years before tearing it down to make room for the sanctuary. Her father died in January 1986. He loved his mother's house, but he wanted the church to have the property. He made good friends in the new neighborhood the last couple of years of his life, she said. "He was happy."

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.