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Tennessee church named Non-Profit of Year, 95-year-old member is Citizen of Year

Portland, Tenn., Mayor Mike Callis presents 95-year-old Parnell Suttle with the 2021 Citizen of the Year Award. Facebook photo

PORTLAND, Tenn. (BP) – Parnell Suttle baked 196 cakes for friends and events in small-town Portland in 2021. But at 95 and retired, she’s ready to slow down a bit.

“I’m not going to bake as many this year as I did last year,” she told Baptist Press, taking a few moments from the senior adult fellowship today (Feb. 10) at First Baptist Church of Portland, Tenn.

Suttle, or “Ms. Parnell” as she is affectionately called, is Portland’s 2021 Citizen of the Year, so named Monday by the Portland Chamber of Commerce in the town of about 14,000 people.

First Baptist Church received the honor of 2021 Non-Profit of the Year, the second time the church has received the designation.

“She’s been a staple in our community and just such a blessing to our church for many, many years,” First Baptist Church Pastor Tim Colovos said of Suttle. “She’s known for her cake-making. She has literally made thousands of, if not 10,000, cakes in her lifetime. … Anybody who gets a Parnell cake, they get very, very excited.”

Suttle has lived in Portland all her life, never missing the annual Middle Tennessee Strawberry Festival since its inception in 1941, selling Ramcraft clocks in nearby Gallatin for many years, and retiring as a visitation officer at the Sumner County Jail eight years ago. The widowed great-grand mother still drives her own car.

“Now that I’m retired, I get up in the morning, I have breakfast, and after breakfast, that’s when I make a cake,” she said. “I really have enjoyed it. I’ve got nine different kinds. I don’t make them to sell. I just enjoy making them for everything where we need to have a cake.

“But occasionally, somebody insists on buying, and I will sell them a Hershey’s chocolate or a strawberry or something that they want. I have a freezer in my garage that’s just right to hold all my cakes. So, I make them and freeze them and when I’m ready, for anything or anybody, I can just take them out and let them thaw, and they’ll be just as moist.”

Suttle attends Sunday school and services at First Baptist Portland, where Sunday worship attendance was about 400 before the COVID-19 pandemic.

First Portland’s community outreach first garnered the church recognition as Non-Profit of the Year in 2016. The church feeds hundreds of children weekly through its backpack ministry, conducts a summer feeding program and backyard ministry in concert with other area churches, and opens its sizable building for various community outreaches such as the Rotary Club Pancake Breakfast.

“First Baptist Church has always done a wonderful job of opening its doors to the community,” Colovos said. “The Lord has blessed us with a tremendous amount of space. … First Baptist desires to be a good neighbor to our community.”

About 800 people watch Upward Sports games at the church on Saturdays, the church indoor walking track is open to the public, and the church participates in the Strawberry Festival that draws about 30,000 attendees during good weather.

“It’s just a simple gathering place that the community can come and share our facilities. There is a friendship here that many people share, that is a big attraction for the people of Portland,” said Colovos, who has pastored the church since 2015. “We just want to continue to reach out to the community in love.”

Suttle loves the community, but the honor surprised her.

“My daughter came by and picked me up and we came together. And I like to come to the activities in Portland that we have. It was where the Temple Theatre used to be, where I used to go to see Hopalong Cassidy and all of those people,” Suttle said. “It was the biggest surprise. I didn’t even think of such a thing. That was very nice of them and I did appreciate (it).

“I’m just so thankful to be here, and get to make my cakes and enjoy my friends.”