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Catherine Blackwell reflects on 50 years of marriage and service

On August 12, Catherine Blackwell will celebrate 50 years of marriage with her husband Michael. For nearly 35 of those years, the couple has called Thomasville home.

“Change was the most distant thing from our minds when Michael was called to become president of Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH). We just never imagined,” Catherine says. Although change is not her favorite thing, she admits it has been a constant throughout the couple’s marriage.

“Marriages are never 50/50,” she explains. “They are always changing. Some days the needs of one may demand 60% or 70%. On other days, it could flip while the needs of the other takes priority.” The commitment the Blackwells share and the teamwork they demonstrate have never faltered.

At each of the couple’s ministry opportunities, Catherine focused on putting down roots – first in Raleigh, then Carthage, Richmond, and finally in Thomasville. “Michael would focus on the ministries, and my energies were always put into making a home for him and our children Julie and Michael, Jr.” According to Catherine, the two invested fully in each place of ministry. “I never thought about leaving a place where we were called to serve.” Those decisions came about as the two followed the Lord’s calling, sensitive to His purposes for their life together.

Catherine knew from the first time she and Michael met over the Xerox copier at “Big WAYS” radio station in Charlotte that he was not like other young men. In the summer of 1965, Catherine, a student at Brevard College, worked a temp job. At exactly the same time, Michael was the station’s news/public affairs director.

“He was passionate about everything,” she remembers. “It was evident from the first time we met – he was special.” She smiles and recalls that later, when she needed to make copies, Michael always seemed to be in the hall. “He could see me from the newsroom.”

When Catherine returned to college in the fall, the two sent letters back and forth and spent time talking on the phone. Both were busy but stayed connected. When she completed her two-year secretarial science degree the following year, she took a job in Charlotte.

Michael asked her to dinner soon after she returned home. On their second date, they watched “Music Man” with Bert Parks only a few rows from the stage. Consequent dates confirmed the rightness of the relationship, and the young man who was “passionate about everything” wasted no time declaring his intentions.

“Michael proposed to me Christmas Eve that year. It was 1966,” she says.

On Christmas Day, Michael shared with his home church, Flint-Groves Baptist Church in Gastonia, that he was engaged to Catherine Kanipe. He then shared with the congregation his decision to dedicate his life to ministry.

“Michael was born and raised Baptist. I was raised Presbyterian,” she says. “And then he told me that he felt called into ministry.”

Catherine had always been active in her family’s home church where she grew as a committed Christian. While at Brevard College, she served as the president of the Westminster Fellowship, the Presbyterian student organization.

The summer ceremony took place at First Associate Reformed Presbyterian in Charlotte. Her pastor officiated the marriage and Michael’s pastor assisted. The inscriptions inside their wedding bands read: “Each for the other and both for God.”

Catherine decided to become Baptist despite her reservations about a second baptism, this time by immersion. “I was okay with my infant baptism and didn’t feel the need. But I understood the importance. It was hard at first, but my heart was willing. So after we returned from our honeymoon, Michael baptized me at Flint-Groves. I was the first person he ever baptized.”

The couple left for Wake Forest and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. “We lived in a small apartment three flights up in Bostwick Hall.”

At seminary, Catherine became the secretary in the registrar’s office while Michael devoted himself to his studies. The couple met daily and attended chapel together. They were there three years and made lifelong friends. “It was a meaningful time for both of us,” Catherine affirms.

In 1970, daughter Julie was born not long after they arrived at Ridge Road Baptist Church in Raleigh where Michael was the new student minister. Michael Jr. joined the family in 1973.

Shortly afterward, the family followed Michael’s call to First Baptist Church in Carthage. These seven years proved to be a “great experience” for Catherine. “I didn’t want to leave.”

In 1980, Monument Heights Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia became a great platform to highlight all of Michael’s strengths. Although Catherine made wonderful friends during their years in Richmond, she was glad to be coming home to North Carolina for Michael to take the position as president of BCH in 1983.

“We lived on the Mills Home campus at first,” she recalls. “It was beautiful. Our children loved riding their bikes and joining the other children playing and swimming in the pool.”

Again, Catherine turned her attention to putting down roots while Michael’s energy turned to the new presidency. Once they sold their house in Richmond, the family went about making Thomasville their home. The children attended city schools, went off to college, and began their adult lives.

Catherine was now able to pursue her dream of earning a four-year degree. She enrolled at High Point University and attended classes three nights a week until she received a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology.

Throughout these years, she supported her husband’s ministry and undergirded his work on behalf of children and families.

“I am amazed as I look back and see all that has happened since coming to Thomasville,” Catherine says with tears in her eyes. “These years have been wonderful for our family and for me. Michael and I have had a love relationship with the children, families and residents BCH serves, and with the wonderful staff who serve the Lord in this place.”

The couple plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary quietly with family. A highlight will be spending time with granddaughters, 17-year-old Gabriella and 10-year-old Piper.

Catherine reflects on the success of their marriage, attributing commitment and laughter as the keys. “Marriage is for life and laughter is good for life. Michael still makes me laugh. He tells the same jokes and I still get tickled – after all these years.”

It seems that some things do not change.