News Articles

Boys become men, then seniors in VBS

HARRIMAN, Tenn. (BP) — Sanny Bowman, Jack Bowman and Don Alford participated in the first Vacation Bible School of Caney Ford Baptist Church in 1936.

Eighty years later, they are still attending VBS at the church in Harriman, Tenn.

In fact, they have only missed a few years of VBS among them, mainly because of military service. Sanny has attended 78 years, Jack has attended 77 years, and Don 78 years.

The Roane County News reported on their VBS tenure and also reported on the church’s 80th consecutive year of VBS.

The attention is deserved. Over the years neither the church nor the three men have wavered in their commitment to VBS, said pastor Taylor Phelps. Even one year when the church didn’t have a pastor VBS was still held, he noted.

This year, members built a huge aquarium in the back part of the sanctuary to support the LifeWay Christian Resources VBS theme, “Submerged.” Caney Ford Baptist draws about 60 people on Sunday mornings but saw a total of 68 attend VBS and one child make a profession of faith. The church’s VBS is held in the evenings and includes an adult class.

Caney Ford Baptist was one of the first churches to hold VBS in Roane County though it was a small, rural church, said Phelps. In the 1920s Standard Publishing produced the first VBS plans, he noted.

The congregation was encouraged and prepared to hold that first VBS by the wife of the director of missions there in 1936.

Sanny Bowman, 86 years old, and Don Alford, 86, were 6 years old and Jack Bowman, 84, was 4 at that first VBS — and they remember it. Jack, though the youngest, recalled he made a belt out of a wooden cheese box. He and Sanny are brothers, and Don is their third cousin.

“We didn’t have anything to do except stay at home,” recalled Sanny, noting they all grew up on farms and helped with farm chores. “It was a real treat,” he said.

“Country boys had never … done anything like Vacation Bible School,” said his brother, Jack.

“It was real fun,” agreed Don. He recalled, “When it came to church, there wasn’t any doubt about what you were going to do.” His family managed a 300-acre farm. “We milked the cows and got ready for church on Sunday morning. We never scheduled any work on Sunday.”

“We never thought about not going,” Sanny said.

VBS was an important part of their spiritual development, the trio noted. Jack made his profession of faith as a child during a VBS and Don made his “right after a VBS,” he said.

When they were about 15 years old, Caney Ford Baptist moved the VBS program to the evenings and has always served a meal before the activities.

As young adults Don served in the military during the Korean Conflict including a stint of 10 months in a tent in South Korea and Sanny served in the military in Washington, D.C. Both missed VBS at Caney Ford during those periods. Jack, a state legislator from 1967-76, also missed VBS a couple of years.

Back at home they started their families and brought them to Caney Ford Baptist, including its VBS. Now they enjoy seeing their grandchildren attend VBS.

Over the years, Don and Sanny were ordained as deacons. The Bowman brothers operate S.L. Bowman and Sons John Deere dealership. Don worked at a cable TV company for 30 years.

Jack’s wife Miriam began teaching Sunday School which she has continued for about 50 years. Sanny’s wife Barbara is church secretary and has served for 58 years and Don’s late wife Lorna was the long-time pianist.

Don is his pastor’s visiting partner and Sanny and Jack are always just a phone call away “when I need anything,” Phelps added. “They mean a lot to the church in general and they’re a blessing to me personally.”

The trio not only attended this year’s VBS but they worked. Don and Jack take care of the trash and Sanny rings the church bell to keep the schedule. Sanny added that “I mostly heckle my friends.”

Vacation Bible School was important “to the young people during that time and is important today” because if children don’t learn about their need for a faith, it is less likely that they will become Christians as young adults and “after 30 it’s almost nil that you will reach them,” said Sanny, as Jack and Don nodded in agreement.

“We need to hold it so the parents can bring the kids,” Jack said.

“Bible school is the main thing in church and Sunday School,” added Don.