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Seminarian mother of 3 completes 25-year quest

COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP)–Twenty-five years and three grown children later, Annie Ruth Yelton fulfilled her dream May 17 of earning the seminary degree she first began working toward in 1972.
The road to her academic achievement, however, has not exactly been a field day for the 55-year-old, Columbia, S.C., native.
For the past year an a half, Yelton and her husband, Harold, a project manager for the state Department of Transportation, have been separated by a four-and-a half-hour drive. Yelton has lived on campus in the single women’s dorm while Harold has lived in a small apartment in Columbia.
The couple sold their 2,600-square-foot house, allowing Yelton to quit her job to enroll full-time at Southeastern in the master of arts in Christian education program.
“It’s been difficult,” Yelton admitted. “It’s probably (been) harder on Harold than on me. I was the one doing the leaving to do something I really wanted to do. He was the one who was left behind.”
Back in Columbia, Harold has been counting down the days to graduation: 525, 524, 523 … . “The hardest part was the length of time she was going to be gone,” he said. “At first the days just sort of drug by. I had a calendar and I started counting down the days. It seemed to last forever. The highlights were when Annie Ruth came home for a holiday or a break.”
Another struggle, Yelton said, has been the strain of separation from her children. Her daughter had lived overseas for two years and had just returned home the month before she moved to Wake Forest, N.C., to attend Southeastern.
Left with precious little time to be reunited with her daughter, Yelton recalled struggling with feelings of loneliness when her husband and daughter dropped her off at Southeastern and headed back home.
The recent marriage of her son and his subsequent departure provoked feelings of uselessness associated with what has been described by many mothers as the “empty nest” syndrome.
Suddenly, Yelton had nobody to care for.
“I didn’t have anybody to do anything for, … nobody needed me,” she said. “I would fix a cup of tea at home and somebody would want to drink out of it or drink the whole thing. Nobody wanted my cup of tea. Nobody needed anything, and that bugged me!”
For Yelton, adjusting to her new lifestyle was a little difficult.
She hadn’t been a full-time student since 1963 and had some concerns about measuring up to the younger students in her classes.
Personal insecurities were compounded by the “little things” that seemed to go wrong.
“I had a key that was progressively obstinate about opening the (dorm) door,” she recalled. “That key was not working and it was just a small part of what didn’t seem to be going right. There was a time when I thought, ‘Maybe I ought to pack all this up and turn around and go back home!’ It didn’t last long, … but I did go through that.”
Looking back on her experiences at Southeastern, Yelton said God was faithful beyond her expectations.
“I could not have asked God to have rolled out the red carpet for me any better than he has. He put people here that supplied the needs that I had. Whether it was, ‘Annie Ruth, here’s how to decide what classes you need to take,’ or ‘Here’s somebody to be your friend. Please get your head out of the book and go do something besides study,’ or whether it was somebody that I felt I had something to contribute to them. So I have blessed and I have been blessed.”
Yelton graduated with a master of arts in Christian education with an emphasis in children’s ministry. Her goal is to do children’s work in a local church or a missions-type ministry with children or families. Another area of interest would be Sunday school work with a state convention.
“These have been some of the happiest times of my life, to be here at seminary, where I dreamed to be for so long,” she said. “I put a great deal of effort and energy into seminary. I approach this church-related work I hope to get into in a different way than I did in the past. Now this is not just going to be a part of something I’m doing … it’s not a focus in life, but the focus. Now I have the education and the background knowledge I was lacking.”
Yelton first began pursuing a seminary degree at Lutheran Southern Theological Seminary in Columbia, S.C., in 1972. However, the discrepancy in theological beliefs and priority of raising three young children kept her from continuing. She turned her attention to the tasks of motherhood and part-time church work over the next several years.
With or without a seminary degree, Yelton is no stranger to children’s work.
She has been involved in various children and youth ministries throughout her adult life. In recent years, she has been a children’s specialist for the Dallas and Atlanta Metro Sunday school clinics sponsored by the Baptist Sunday School Board. She has also served as director of children’s ministries at First Baptist Church, Columbia, S.C.
Yelton said her inspiration for working with children was spawned by observing her grandmother’s dedication and love for her children.
“I saw lived out (in my grandmother) a deep concern in her heart for children,” she said.
Likewise, she worked hard at being a good mother while putting her personal ambitions aside. “One of the binding factors of our family life was a daily family worship,” Yelton said. “I would say if a family could do any one thing that would affect their children’s lives, I would say love them, communicate with them and have family worship, where you read the Bible and pray.”
Yelton has three grown children of whom she has good reason to be proud: David, 31, is a pharmacist; John, 27, is in his first year in pediatric residency; and Elizabeth, 25, is working on her master’s degree in social work.
Yelton said she is ready to move on, while missing the young people she has come to know during her stay at Lolley Hall. Many of the young women at the dorm likewise expressed admiration for Yelton.
“Annie Ruth is a very godly example of someone I would like to be at her age,” said Sonya Coyle, who lived across the hall from Yelton. “I admire her. I don’t know if I could be away for so long from my husband. God has given her the strength. She was really there for me. She gave me a lot of strength and was an angel to me when my grandmother died. I cherish her friendship.”
Karen Shaw was Yelton’s first roommate.
“I helped Annie Ruth plan her (first) schedule,” Shaw said. “She was also a friend to me. She has been a source of strength for me. We were two different people coming from two different places, yet we had a common bond and purpose for being here. We were able to bring to each other a needed friendship.”
Yelton also expressed appreciation for her professors and the impact they have had on her life.
“I am grateful for every professor that I sat under; they have each contributed immeasurably to my Christian life. They are men of the Bible. They have strong convictions and they do not hesitate to tell you what those convictions are. I believe they live life by the same thing they are telling you, which makes it authentic. They are dedicated to helping (students) learn and to be and to grow, and I appreciate that.”
If she had it to do all over again, in spite of the sacrifices, would she? “Oh, yes! Without question.”

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  • Alison Wiseman