Thelma Mabe

[ Age 97 ] A lifetime of religious activities started with her family and continued when she married a preacher.

Mrs. Mabe would send her extra money to children she knew when they went to college, her daughter said.

May 14, 2007|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun reporter

Thelma Day Nunley Mabe, who helped her husband establish new churches and run a summer camp, died of a heart condition May 7 at the Stella Maris nursing home in Timonium. The longtime Cherry Hill resident was 97.

Mrs. Mabe was born into a deeply religious family in Columbus, Ohio, where she and her four younger sisters were known as the "Nunley Girls." Her parents traveled the country sponsoring "Bible institutes," where people of different religions could hear dynamic speakers teach Bible studies.

After graduating from high school, she lived with her sisters in Columbus, helping to arrange speakers and lessons for her family's Bible institutes. She was single until her early 40s, when she met a minister from Baltimore, the Rev. John C. Mabe, at a church convention.

FOR THE RECORD - The caption for a photo accompanying the obituary of Thelma Day Nunley Mabe in Monday's editions incorrectly attributed information about her life. The information was provided by her cousin. The Sun regrets the error.

During a long-distance courtship, he wrote her love letters and brought his sister with him to Ohio to help make the case that she should move to Baltimore and marry him. The couple wed in 1952.

Mrs. Mabe performed in several church choirs as a soprano. She would sing before her husband preached.

Shortly after she married, Mrs. Mabe helped her husband to open new churches in Kingston, Jamaica, and St. Augustine, Fla. "It took us 18 to 22 hours to drive to Florida and we experienced great hardship because of segregation and the KKK," her husband wrote 20 years ago in a tribute to her. "But she never complained."

While on the road, the Mabes were not allowed to stop at places to eat and go to the bathroom because they were African-American. "He'd have to pull off the side of the road to go into the bushes," said a cousin, Gwen Bardwell. "She would pack her food, enough food for the whole trip. Then you had to be careful traveling at night. If the car broke down, it wasn't like help was on the side of the road. If it stopped on the side on the road, your life was in jeopardy."

The Mabes also helped to establish three Alpha and Omega Pentecostal churches in Baltimore, Ms. Bardwell said.

From 1955 to 1975, the Mabes left home for 10 weeks each summer. Mr. Mabe directed Camp Alpha Omega, a children's residential and day camp in Sykesville. Mrs. Mabe was the camp cook.

So strong was Mrs. Mabe's connection to the children she met - in camp, at church, in the community - that she would send any extra money she had to those who went on to college.

"She never had a lot of money, but she always gave money to any child in college that she knew of," Ms. Bardwell said. "Even if it was $10, it was a lot for her. It wasn't that she gave so much. It was that she gave so much from the heart."

An avid seamstress, Mrs. Mabe became known as "Mother Mabe." She and her husband would let needy people into their home and help them get back on their feet financially.

"She was a very strong woman, although she was in a role of supporting her husband in his ministry," Ms. Bardwell said.

Mrs. Mabe was a deaconess at the St. James Alpha and Omega Pentecostal Church, where her husband was a bishop.

After he died in 1995, she continued living on her own for more than a decade, continuing her husband's ministry. When she was no longer able to leave her home, she would use the telephone to check up on people. Last year, she left Cherry Hill, a community where she spent a half-century, for Stella Maris.

Services have been held.

Mrs. Mabe is survived by a sister, Pearl Nunley of Columbus, Ohio; a grandson, Terrence Mabe of Baltimore; and two nieces. A son, John Mabe Jr., died several years ago.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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