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Orphaned but not alone: Sue’s fulfilling life

PRATTVILLE, Ala. (BP) — Randall Tucker has conducted countless funerals during 32 years as pastor of Prattmont Baptist Church. But he faced a challenge for the memorial service of Sue Chapman. Tucker had never known her.

Tucker learned that Chapman, 75, grew up at the Alabama Baptist Children’s Home in Troy, the ministry’s primary location for many years.

Chapman was 3 when she arrived at the children’s home with a younger sister. Their mother had died from leukemia and their father couldn’t care for them due to the demands of his job.

The children’s home brought stability, education and faith into Chapman’s life. As she told her longtime friend and former work colleague Laura Wheatley, “I often wonder what would have happened to me if it had not been for them.”

Chapman told Donna McQueen, who briefly was her caregiver, “They were really good to me. …. I don’t have any regrets.”

Alabama Baptists are among 21 state Baptist conventions providing child-care services at 255 sites. Through children’s homes, counseling centers and other family services, an estimated 589,232 children and family members received assistance in 2014. Nearly 9,000 children lived in residential care facilities.

Chapman is just one of the thousands of children’s home success stories.

“Sue Chapman represents the goal of Baptist children’s home ministries,” said Rod Marshall, president of Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries, now based at several other Alabama locations, having moved from the Troy campus in 1997.

“Our ministry takes broken people and aims to make them wholesome, able to contribute to society and fulfill God’s will for their life,” Marshall said.

Wheatley first met Chapman when they worked together at a telephone company. Chapman had a magnetic personality and was a talented singer but had never married, had no children, never owned a home nor learned to drive.

Wheatley helped Chapman with major decisions in later life when she became wheelchair-bound, including her move from Montgomery to Prattville to live in a nursing facility. Wheatley asked Tucker, her pastor, to conduct Chapman’s memorial service July 30.

Tucker admitted to the mourners that Chapman had not been an acquaintance. “I asked if anyone would like to share a word of tribute or testimony about Sue,” the pastor said, unsure if anyone would speak. “Everyone there knew more about her than I did.”

Almost immediately, McQueen spoke up, saying that Chapman loved people of color as much as she loved anyone.

McQueen met Chapman at a Winn-Dixie grocery store where she, an African American, had worked and where Chapman had shopped. After McQueen retired from the store, she became a caretaker for Chapman two days a week at her apartment.

“Some mornings when I would get there, I would hear her singing down the hall when I got off the elevator,” McQueen said after the funeral. “I would start laughing. ‘We’re in a good mood this morning because I heard you when I got off the elevator,'” she would tell Chapman.

Lightheartedness filled their time together, as did Bible study. “We would sit down and talk about the Bible,” said McQueen, a member of Bell Resurrection Baptist Church.

Chapman told the younger McQueen, “God sent me children in so many colors.”

Wheatley knew Chapman first as a long-distance operator, a job that Chapman held for 36 years before retiring in 1994. Then their relationship grew in a shared passion for Alabama Crimson Tide football. Wheatley had season tickets and invited Chapman to the games, which she attended for years.

At her apartment in Montgomery, McQueen said the neighbors would hear her yelling, “Roll Tide,” so loud they sometimes would come to check on her.

A member of First Baptist Church in Montgomery for most of her adult life, Chapman walked to church when she was able and sang in the choir and at weddings and other special events. Later, Chapman faithfully watched the church’s televised broadcasts and even served herself the Lord’s Supper.

“She was not going to be left out,” McQueen said.

Wheatley’s family grew to love Chapman. They seemed to represent the family Chapman never had.

“She was raised in an orphanage, never married and had never really been around a family that much,” Wheatley said. “Sue’s just a part of our family.”

Tucker, recounting his conversations with Wheatley and her family in preparing for the memorial service, said Chapman was “nurtured, raised and matured” at the children’s home. She was “led to consistently, faithfully hear a witness of the Lord Jesus Christ. … She made it something that equipped her for the rest of her life.”

    About the Author

  • Jim Burton