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Watermelon Boy Makes Good

February 22, 2011

By W. James Edminson

North Carolina Baptist pastor David Powell sits across from his father, speaking with admiration as he describes his dad’s childhood.

“I am the man I am today because of the man my dad is,” Powell says. “Part of the reason my dad is the man he is, is his upbringing at Mills Home.”

Seventy-four-year-old Harrison Powell’s only child pastors Cowee Baptist Church in Franklin. The younger Powell began his ministry at the church where he grew up – Webster Baptist Church in Sylva – the church where his dad still serves as deacon and lay leader.

“Dad is stoic and disciplined,” David Powell says, “but he has a soft heart. He always looks out for the down and out.”

Harrison Powell’s life had a rough start. After his father’s passing and his mother’s near-death illness, Harrison and his siblings were cast here and there. Powell ended up at Mills Home in Thomasville.

“I could not understand why I could not live with my family,” Harrison Powell says. “Every chance I had, I would try to run away. I was confused. I didn’t realize just how good it was at Mills Home.”

Powell’s childhood image is captured in a historic photo. He is one of the three “watermelon boys.”

Powell was six years old when he arrived, and he left when he was thirteen. The three years after he left Mills Home were chaotic as he “lived from pillar to post.”

“When I was sixteen, I came to live with my sister,” Powell recalls. “I went to the air force recruiting station immediately.”

Powell had to be seventeen, and he was required to have a pair of shoes. His sister signed for him to join at sixteen, and a deacon from the church they attended loaned him a pair of ill-fitting shoes. Powell would excel in the service, reaching the highest enlisted rank he could as he served with distinction for the next 20 years and four months.

“I came out of the military, joined a church and registered at the local community college,” he says.

Powell became the Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH) representative at Webster Baptist Church. He kept the needs of BCH’s children in front of the members and led annually in collecting a “Mile of Pennies.”

“Dad taught me that we could all do more if we cooperated,” David Powell says. “I realized that ministries like the Children’s Homes would not be possible if we didn’t work together. I saw the good things about being Baptist in my dad.”

Harrison Powell credits God for his direction in life and says the only childhood education he received was when he lived at Mills Home. He was baptized at Mills Home and learned the importance of being in church on Sunday.

“Things are different today at Baptist Children’s Homes,” Powell admits. “The problems have become more complex, and the need is great – it may be more so than ever.”